Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Shavuot takes place exactly 50 days after the first Pesach seder (this year beginning the evening of
We customarily eat dairy products as part of the Shavuot celebration. Iconic foods of Shavuot include cheesecake, blintzes, kugel, and, for the Sephardim among us, siete cielos (seven heavens). Although there is no definitive explanation for this practice, one popular understanding is that the Torah nourishes the Jewish people the way mother’s milk nourishes a newborn. Additionally, having just received the Torah, Jews would have been obligated suddenly to prepare kosher meat and not have had enough time to do so; the Hebrew letters for the word milk add up to 40, a key number in the Torah; and serving only dairy would have distinguished Jews from the angels who ate dairy and meat together when they visited Abraham in his tent and questioned the wisdom of giving the Jews the Torah. Following kashrut scrupulously would reveal their worthiness.
Allow me to add that I am confident that somewhere in the Talmud, the rabbis explain that God removes the calories from cheesecake, blintzes, and similar delicacies if eaten on Shavuot. As a chef, not a rabbi, I cannot be expected to give the citation for this ruling, however.
I offer my favorite cheesecake for your pleasure.
VANILLA MOUSSE CHEESECAKE
2 cups chewy oatmeal cookies, smushed and packed into measuring cup (leftover Passover macaroons also work well)
4 Tbsps. melted butter
4 (8 oz.) blocks of cream cheese, softened and divided
1 cup sugar, divided
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. vanilla, divided
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping (like Cool Whip), thawed
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spray 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray. Mix cookies and melted butter; press onto bottom of springform pan.
Beat well with electric hand mixer: three packages cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 Tbsp. vanilla. Add eggs to cream cheese mixture, one at a time. Pour cream cheese mixture over crust. Bake 50 minutes or until center is almost set. Run knife around rim to loosen cake. Cool cake completely in pan.
Beat remaining cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla with electric hand mixer. Whisk in whipped topping. Spread over cheesecake. Refrigerate at least 3-4 hours before serving.