If America's birthday cake is a yellow layer cake with buttercream, Israel's universally recognized birthday cake is this: A single layer, dark chocolate cake (could be round or rectangular) topped with chocolate ganache and colorful nonpareils. As the ever-popular Israeli preschool song goes, it's not a celebration without cake, and this is, invariably, that cake.Yum
A year ago (on the Jewish calendar), 24six was born with Shalom, World—a nod to "Hello, World," the default first output from the early days of computing, and later, the default first post on blogging platforms. I've been online since the early days of the internet, because my dad was a university professor and had early access to it. I actually remember him saying, when Netscape, the first image-based browser, was invented: "This is not gonna work. No one will ever wait for all those images to load." One of my college jobs was working for a web 1.0 startup (dating myself here) that crashed and burned, but paid spectacularly while it lasted. I came out the 2.0 side with a LiveJournal, then a Blogger account. Let's just say I'm a longtime fan of publishing power to the people. I bought Biz Stone's blogging book well before Twitter was a twinkle in his eye, and I had a few short-lived ventures back in the aughts heyday of the knitblog. But I was busy getting a doctorate, and married, then starting a family, and naturally it wasn't until 2019, when blogging supposedly died, that I came round to it again.
Well, I think that rumors of the death of blogging have been greatly exaggerated. I think blogging is amazing, in that it breaks the stranglehold that mass culture and its gatekeepers used to have on all of us. I know, you're here for cake, not sociocultural critique. (The death of the humanities, in contrast to that of blogging, has most certainly not been exaggerated.) But stay with me a minute. This is a tribute to you. You, who come here for kosher food, which is definitely countercultural. You, who come here for Israeli food and stories, when it's not exactly a secret that being, or being interested in, Israeli and Jewish things is an unpopular, even dangerous proposition. You, who come here because there is yet another holiday coming and there's no cultural support for figuring out how to celebrate it...if the general culture even knows that it exists. We're doing something radical here, just by caring about this stuff. Thank you for being here with me. And yes, now we can have cake.
About Israeli birthday cake
So, Israeli birthday cake. It's chocolate, with more chocolate on top (not buttercream though—more like ganache), and it's got to have round, nonpareil sprinkles. It's a point of cultural pride that Israel's birthday cake is chocolate, also known as the only correct flavor for a birthday cake. It's okay if you disagree, I still love you and I'll even make you a killer parve coconut cream pie (recipe forthcoming) to have with your steak birthday dinner, if you happen to be my husband. But today it's chocolate with more chocolate.
In old-school Israeli cookbooks and scraps of paper shoved into family recipe notebooks, you can still find recipes that have you reserve part of the cake batter, raw eggs and everything, for the chocolate topping. The was before my time; my childhood version was invariably, messily but deliciously topped with chocolate syrup, like the kind from a can. As this cake has evolved, it's often now made as a dairy cake, with cream and chocolate for a properly French ganache. However, I think a birthday cake must offer versatility for many kinds of birthday preferences and celebration needs. Therefore, I have decreed that the ultimate recipe requires switch hitting, dairy or parve, depending on the occasion. This is that recipe. Make it either way and it'll turn out irresistible, a true partymaker.
This is a simple one-bowl cake, made by melting chopped chocolate with butter or oil, then beating up some eggs with sugar, and folding in the chocolate and dry ingredients. The topping is just a matter of chopping up some more chocolate and melting it with cream butter/margarine (the microwave works). Truly an any day of the week, stop-and-mark-the-occasion bake. Chocolate cake is always welcome at our house, and I've made some sublime ones in my day, but this is the chocolate cake of my heart and also that of (almost) every Israeli I know.
Israeli Chocolate Birthday Cake (dairy or parve)
- 7 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate - 200 g - this is usually 2 chocolate bars
- 7 oz butter or ¾ cup (200 ml) oil - 200 g - this is a stick and 6 Tbsp
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour - 125 g
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 oz 5 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate - 150 g - about a bar and a half
- ⅔ cup cream, or 4 Tbsp melted margarine for parve - 150 ml
- Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Grease a 9" / 22 cm round cake pan or springform.
- Chop the chocolate. If using butter, cut it into small cubes. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate with the butter or oil in 20-second bursts in the microwave, or in a double boiler on the stove. Stir until smooth and glossy and set aside to cool.
- Beat the eggs on high speed using a mixer. After 1 minute, begin gradually adding in the sugar while mixing. Continue beating on high speed for 2-3 minutes, until pale yellow and thickened.
- Fold the cooled melted chocolate into the gg mixture.
- Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir just to combine.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes, but begin checking at 30 minutes. The cake is done when a tester comes out with moist crumbs. Don't overbake!
Make the topping:
- Chop the chocolate. Warm the cream to a simmer, or melt the margrine. Add the chocolate, leave to sit for a minute, then stir until smooth. Pour over the cake once it's cooled somewhat. Wait for it to begin to set, then sprinkle on the colorful nonpareils.