Shavuot is one of the big three non-High Holy Days, a moveable Jewish celebration that falls in late May or early June, commemorating the anniversary of the day God handed down the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Along with Passover in the spring and Sukkot in the fall, it is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, when ancient Jews were meant to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem (a practice that came to an end when the Second Temple was destroyed in the first century AD). It marks the symbolic beginning of the Jewish nation: after being freed by Moses on Passover, the gift of the Torah sanctified the Jews as a nation under God. Signed, sealed and delivered, just not quite in that order.
Also called Pentecost in ancient Greek, or the Feast of Weeks in English, Shavuot is celebrated (except by Yemeni Jews) with the eating of dairy dishes, which makes it a lot of fun for us. There are several different explanations for this custom, ranging from the association of kosher practices with the advent of the Torah to the metaphorical comparison of the holy book to “milk and honey.” And as with all Jewish culinary traditions, Shavuot dishes vary widely by region. Ashkenazi jews eat cheese blintzes, cheesecake and kreplach or dumplings, while Sephardic Jews eat cheese sambusek, ravioli and a seven-layer cake called siete cielos, or “seven heavens.” We’ve gone with a version of that New York City classic, the cheesecake.
Some cheesecakes are fluffy, some silky, some dense. They’re a perfect tabula rasa for invention: some have enough added ingredients to turn them into veritable Franken-cakes, while the classic, pristine “New York Cheesecake” is flavored only with pure vanilla. No matter how crazy or pristine, all cheesecakes benefit from the salty, gritty crunch of a cookie crust. Empires have been built on cheesecakes, which is more than most baked goods can claim, and for good reason.
For a light pre-cheesecake bite, why not try some cheese-filled bourekas? Equally appropriate for Shavuot, these feature a delicious pastry crust stuffed with a filling that’s infinitely adaptable to use whatever fresh vegetables or herbs you find in season.
Mushroom & Cheese Bourekas
Bourekas are stuffed pastries popular in Israel and throughout the Middle East. This turnover style pastry originated in Turkey as the borek, but when Sephardic Jews in Turkey merged the empanada with the borek, the boureka was born! Bourekas are usually made with puff pastry or phyllo dough and a variety of savory fillings, cheese being the most common. We added sauteed mushrooms to the cheese mixture, but feel free to experiment with your filling…you can’t really go wrong here.
2 sheets of puff pastry (we like Dufour)
1 cup cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 shallot finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp butter
⅔ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan or pecorino
1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or cooking spray.
In a medium sized sauté pan, melt butter. Add chopped shallots and cook until translucent. Add chopped mushrooms and thyme and cook over medium high heat until mushrooms brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine feta, ricotta, egg, parmesan and parsley. Use a fork to mix ingredients together, breaking up any large pieces of feta. Stir in cooked mushrooms, season with a bit of salt and pepper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a 12 inch square. Cut each sheet of pastry into nine four-inch squares. Place approximately 1 tbsp of cheese mixture into the center of each square. Using your finger, wet two edges of the pastry with some water. Fold other side of pastry over to create a triangle. Pinch the edges together firmly to create a good seal. Crimp edges with a fork.
Place 9 bourekas evenly spaced on each baking sheet. Whisk the egg yolk with a teaspoon of cold water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash on the top of each boureka. Now sprinkle the tops generously with sesame seeds.
Bake the bourekas for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
1 ½ cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
¼ cup sugar (preferably raw or demerara)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature2 cups mango puree, from fresh or frozen mangoes or canned puree (we like the Ratna brand of Alphonso mangoes, available in Indian shops)
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp lime zest
for garnish: approximately 2 fresh mangoes
Preheat oven to 325℉. Lightly butter a 9” springform pan with removable sides and place on a baking sheet.
Stir together cookie crumbs and sugar, then gently stir in melted butter until combined. Using fingers, press crumb mixture into bottom of prepared pan, pressing down hard enough to make crust firm, but not hard. Bake for 12 minutes, or until crust is set. Cool completely on a rack, leaving oven on.
In electric mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition. Add mango, lime zest and juice, beating until fully combined.
Pour filling over cooled crust, then bake for about 1 and a half hours, until filling is puffed and golden around the edges (middle may still be slightly jiggly). Cool on rack, about one hour, then refrigerate (uncovered or loosely covered) overnight.
Before serving, peel and neatly sliced fresh mangoes. Run a thin knife carefully around sides of cake, and remove sides of pan. Slice and serve with fresh mango slices.