I’ve written about my family in Israel- Myrim, Amatzia, Sivan– but haven’t mentioned the person who was the reason I moved there, Kohevet. It’s high time I told you her stories.
Kohevet was the only girl in her family of three children. She idolizes her brothers, Amatzia and Gavri. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that Gavri was sweet, much sweeter than she could ever be and that Amatzia is so smart, much smarter than she will ever be (neither are true- she’s plenty smart and sweet) and she adored her father, Myrim. Kohevet, like most of my Israeli family, is humble and would shy away from singing her own praises so I’ll have to do it here for her. She is smart, beautiful, kind, loving, and an amazing cook. She has a knack for knowing exactly what you need when you need it- food, a hug, a kind word, whatever. She is gentle and patient and the closest person to my grandmother I’ve been able to find anywhere.
Kohevet is the mother to three beautiful, smart, strong women and grandmother to a number of boys and girls (I think she’s up to 7 grandchildren now). She is a cosmetologist by trade and I can’t think of a better profession for her. Her words and deeds make people feel beautiful on the inside and her clever hands make them feel beautiful on the outside. She is someone who can bring you peace just by her mere presence. I moved to Israel after college to be near her- I moved to her kibbutz (and it is hers, she was sent there at 18 for her army service, met her husband and never left)- and considered living there permanently just to stay with her. And eat her cakes.
You see, the cakes of Kohevet are something special. She makes at least ten different kinds and each one is more delicious than the next. Her cakes are famous- anyone who has been lucky enough to eat one remembers it, even years later. I would have dinner with her on Friday nights and sometimes I’d be nice enough to bring along one or two of the other volunteers. Once they ate her food and ate her cakes, they would speak of it with reverence afterwards, sometimes weeks afterwards.
I left Israel with many, many recipes but none for her cakes. Instead, my cousin E., who stayed a bit longer than I did, sat with her and wrote down all the recipes she could give her. E. brought them back and handed them over and I am eternally grateful.
E. wrote them all out in her neat handwriting and I’ve kept them with me over the last decade (it was that long ago. how time flies!) but have never attempted any. I’ve been a bit intimidated. A few days ago, I decided the time had come. I flipped through and decided to try one cake that seemed simple and didn’t have any specialty ingredients (often her cakes call for a type of cheese we don’t have here- I can sometimes find it in one of the kosher groceries around me that import foods from Israel)- the Number 8 Cake.
It was like magic. I followed her directions (making some conversions from metric and making some guesses as her directions tend towards, “two spoons of sugar”) and it came out as light, airy and tasty as I remembered. That seals the deal- I’m trying them all. I’ll post them here as I do, as I wouldn’t want you to miss out.
If I ever open a bakery, I’ll name it The Cakes of Kohevet and have a photo of her in the window. I think it would be an instant success!Number 8 Cake
4 Tablespoons white sugar
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 Tablespoon white all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons Cognac
2 Tablespoons water
1 package instant vanilla pudding
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Or 356 degrees farenheit. Or 350 if your oven isn’t that precise. Grease a 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. I used Pam spray. Set aside.
Separate your eggs, whites in one bowl, yolks in another. I do this by letting the egg white slip through the fingers of one hand while holding on to the yolk. Messy but effective.
Place the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whip attachment. Or in a bowl and pull out your hand mixer. I actually used the hand mixer for this but it would have taken less time with the big mixer. Add the sugar.
Whip them together until stiff peaks form. It will start foamy, this is ok. Keep going.
Once you can make peaks with the mixer or a spoon- pick up some of the mixture and pull- if it forms a peak, you’re all set.
Measure the cocoa, flour and baking soda into a small bowl and whisk.
Add the egg yolks to the eggs whites/sugar and fold in gently with a spatula. Basically, you’re sort of making a line in the middle with your spatula and then pulling one half over the other. You want to be gentle because you just spent all that time beating air into the egg whites and you don’t want to lose it all.
Keep gently folding until it’s all incorporated.
Add the cocoa mixture and, again, fold gently.
Do this until it’s all mixed together and you can’t see any of the white. You’ll inevitably lose some of the air but that’s ok. Just be gentle and it will all work, I promise.
Pour into the cake pan. Try to smooth it out as best you can.
Bake for 15 minutes or until it starts to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out dry.
Let it cool and then remove it to a plate with a slight indent or lip. You’re going to pour something on the cake and you don’t want it to spill over the sides of the plate. Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in the top of the cake here and there.
In a small glass or measuring cup, mix cognac and water. I didn’t have cognac so I used Godiva chocolate liquor. I have to say, in the end, I would probably skip this step. Or maybe try something like kaluha or maybe just plain old chocolate syrup. I’m not a huge fan of alcohol in cakes, I always find it a bit bitter for my tastes.
Pour as evenly as possible over the cake. As the cake is basically a sponge cake, it will suck up the liquid. Let it cool further while you make the topping. What? You thought you were done? Not if it’s a cake of Kohevet!
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, combine the pudding mix, cream and milk. Beat the heck out of it. Once again, it will start out sort of foamy.
And if you keep going, you’ll be rewarded with a thick, creamy substance.
See? Soft Peaks. They sort of fall over whereas the ones with the egg whites stood up- that's the difference between soft peak stage and stiff peak stage.
Spoon all of this on top of the cooled cake.
Use a knife or icing spatula to spread it evenly around the top of the cake. Put into the fridge to let it all cool and firm up.
I dare you not to eat the entire thing in one sitting. Go ahead. Try to resist.
The best thing? If you can resist eating it all at once, it’s even better a few days later- the cream has time to really set and the flavor in the cake develops.
*UPDATE* Oh, you guys, you’ll never believe it! I was flipping through the little blue book, trying to decide which cake to try when the heat breaks and realized: I MISSED A PAGE. This cake is supposed to have a chocolate glaze on top! Another layer! Can you even imagine???! I’ll make it again someday and report back. I can only guess: decadence!!