This recipe and story first appeared in the Nov. 26, 2012 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.
I’m a city girl turned country mouse.
Wait — I grew up in residential Silver Spring, and that’s suburbia. So I guess I’m a suburb girl turned yishuv mouse.
I never imagined that I would live in a place with mountain scenery. Or a place where kids sometimes walk around without shoes. Back when I was a single girl in Maryland, I said I’d live anywhere in Israel. It was hard enough finding guys who were sincere about making the big move, and I didn’t want to complicate things further by saying I’d only live in such-and-such parts of the country. If it was in Israel, I’d live there.
In the end, I met and married my husband here, where the question you ask the shadchan is not, “Does he want to move?” but “Does he want to stay?” Neither of us had strong feelings about settling in a certain community, so we signed a nine-month lease for an apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh and figured we’d use that time to find ourselves a permanent home.
We found Kochav HaShachar.
Kochav HaShachar is a religious yishuv located about 30 minutes from Yerushalayim. We’re one of 350 families, about 10 percent of which are Anglos. There’s just one shul, where Ashkenazi and Sephardi minyanim are held simultaneously in side-by-side rooms. There are no apartment buildings, no gas stations, and no traffic lights.
Of course, there also isn’t any traffic.
Life here is calm, tranquil, peaceful. It’s something you can sense when you walk the yishuv’s streets, any day of the week. The air is fresher here than in the city — after a day in Yerushalayim, I always feel the difference as soon as I step off the bus.
And it’s not like I’m a big nature person, either. It’s actually just the opposite. It might sound funny, but I never cared too much about things like super-fresh air or starlit skies. And yet, I find myself loving it all.
For my husband, one of the best things about living here is the unobstructed view of the nighttime sky. He’s the kind of guy who stops to smell the roses — literally. If we’re out walking at night, he’ll pause to look upward and show me the Little Dipper. I think he was meant to be in a place like this.
So where does one live on a yishuv, if not in an apartment? You have three choices: A permanent house (just like the ones in Monsey or Miami), a caravan (small prefabricated home), or an ashkubit, which is like a caravan in size but has walls that are more permanent.
Our caravan is one of 12 that makes up our shchuna (neighborhood), and it’s identical to the 45 others on the yishuv: On the outside, it looks like a 50-square-meter (a bit more than 500 square feet) white box. On the inside, it’s a two-bedroom “apartment” that feels like home. (Our families in North America have been known to confuse it with a trailer. Rest assured, we do not live in a trailer park!)
A neighborhood of caravans feels a little like summer camp. My husband and I often joke about borrowing eggs from “cabin six” or getting everyone together for color war. Just about the only sounds in our shchuna are its kids. No car horns, no noisy engines, just the natural sounds of the people who live here.
Kochav HaShachar is also unique in its agricultural focus. Many families grow plants and flowers on their property — one friend just put in a pomegranate tree, and another has all seven of the shivat haminim growing in his backyard. My husband tried his hand at garlic, and by the end of the rainy season, there were bona fide bulbs growing outside our front door.
There are also chicken coops at the edge of the yishuv, as well as the expanse of kramim (vineyards), where any ambitious soul can call a plot his own.
My cousin’s husband, who grew up in Kochav HaShachar, has a row of olive trees here. One day last fall, my husband and a handful of other guys joined him in the grove for a day of whacking. The olive harvest period is relatively short, and if you don’t get the fruit off the trees in time, it’s liable to go to waste. Never harvested an olive crop? The necessary skills include strength and vigilance: Strength to whack the tree with a large wooden pole, and vigilance to avoid being whacked yourself.
The timing of the harvest is such that you can enjoy freshly squeezed olive oil in time for Chanukah — which, in my opinion, is about as cool as it gets.
Although I love fried potatoes as much as the next person (actually, probably more), I also appreciate a Chanukah recipe that celebrates the nes without frying. If you’ve never tasted an olive oil cake, let me answer your first question right now: Yes, it tastes good, and no, you can’t actually taste the oil.
This almond olive oil cake is everything a cake should be: Light, moist, and flavorful without being overpowering. It’s not an overly sweet batter, but the glaze topping helps fill the gap without giving you gobs of frosting. If you need a reprieve from an excess of super-sweet sufganiyot, this is your man.
An almond olive oil cake would make a beautiful addition to the spread at your family’s Chanukah party, but it’s also nice enough to save for Shabbos Chanukah.
As for us, we like it best with a cup of tea…and the calm of the star-studded sky in clear view.
One year ago: Ginger crackle cookies
Almond olive oil cake with almond glaze
Yield: 12-14 servings
- oil/butter/margarine, to grease pan
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2/3 cup milk (or soy milk)
- 3 Tbsp amaretto (almond liqueur)
- ½ tsp pure almond extract
- ¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 4½ tsp plus ¼ tsp milk (or soy milk)*
- 1/8 tsp pure almond extract
- ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
* With powdered sugar glazes, the amount of liquid added needs to be really precise. Too little, and the glaze is too hard to drizzle. Too much, and it will dry clear instead of white, which is not nearly as pretty.
1. Preheat oven to 325 F/160 C. Grease a Bundt or tube pan very well, making sure to grease all crevices.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs with a hand mixer until pale yellow (about 1 minute).
3. Add flour, baking powder, lemon zest, oil, milk, amaretto, and almond extract. Mix well with a spoon. Add almonds and stir to evenly distribute, then transfer batter to the prepared pan.
4. Bake 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Slide a knife around the cake’s edges to loosen it from the pan. Invert the pan over a large plate and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the cake to drop. If it does not drop by itself, bang the pan gently to help it along. Let cool.
6. Make the glaze: Mix powdered sugar with milk and almond extract, adding a teaspoon or two of liquid at a time. Stir well and drizzle over cake, quickly sprinkling almonds on top before the glaze sets. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.