The chill of winter winds have come, blowing out the last vestiges of Sukkot, and scattering piles of dried up palm branches onto the paths of Jerusalem. Everyone is relieved to get back into schedule. No more meals outside in the colourfully decorated Sukkahs that popped up on the sidewalks, verandas and gardens like Autumn flowers. Unusual for Jerusalem it feels calm now. The month of festivals is over. Whole chickens have returned to the stores, and no one is manically stocking up for the next meal marathon.
The festival of Sukkot is the climax of family time, holiday time, a happy time. More than anything I realised this year that it’s a creative time. Where there was previously nothing, booths are built in every shape, size and corner possible. Decorated uniquely, from brightly coloured, painted wooden panels, paper chains and bright, glittery tinsel that reminds me of Christmas in Sydney. Jerusalem buzzes with an ingathering of Jewish and Christian tourists and pilgrims who pour in from all over the world.
I’ve realised that that’s what a Sukkah symbolises – ingathering. It’s a congregation of people, family and friends. Rosh Hashana is the crowning of God as our creator. Sukkot is the crowning of ourselves as His creative partners. We construct our world from planks of wood and scraps of leaves and bamboo sheets. The sukkah can be as simple as a cardboard box or as elaborate as a faberge egg. Yet they all hold the same table, chairs, food and the most important ingredient, the joy of people gathering around.
Now that Sukkot is over I’m tired from all the standing, the cooking and all the eating. Yet I’m left with a satiated soul as well as (over) satiated stomach. I’ve experienced what we can create out of nothing. The taste of the scintillating meals, stimulating conversations, and new connections made is still with me as I get ready to hibernate this winter into normal, daily life.
This cold season I’ll wrap myself up against the chilling Jerusalem winds with the joy of Sukkot, of being a co-creator with God. Truly understanding that we can create joy out of absolutely nothing, wherever we are, from our makeshift booths into our warm homes.
Creating Joy with Cake
One of the best creations we enjoyed in our Sukkah this year was a Middle Eastern pistachio and orange cake I made from the cookbook, ‘Cooking from the Heart – A journey through Jewish food’. It’s gluten free and was such a hit I had to share it. It has three different steps so it does take time, but it’s worth it. Here’s my copy of it below.
Middle Eastern Pistachio & Orange Cake (Gluten/Dairy Free)
2 large oranges
250 g caster sugar (I reduced this amount a bit as I prefer it not too sweet)
250 g ground pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the Syrup
1 cup caster sugar
juice and grates zest of 1 orange
1 coriander sprig (optional – I didn’t use it)
3 black peppercorns (optional – ditto)
4 cardamon pods
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
150 g dark chocolate chopped
75g unsalted butter (I used coconut oil)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
extra pistachios for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Butter and flour a 25cm springform cake tin or line with baking paper.
Put the oranges in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours, adding more water if necessary. Allow the oranges to cool, then de-seed (I forgot to deseed and it still worked well). Roughly chop the oranges, skin and process to a pulp in a food processor.
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Add the ground pistachios and baking powder and keep beating for a few seconds. Stop, add the pureed oranges and beat again for a few more seconds until well mixed.
Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and bake for about 1 hour, covering the cake with baking paper about three-quarters of the way through to stop it becoming too dark. The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Turn the oven down to its lowest setting and start making the pistachio ganache. Spread the pistachios on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes without colouring. Remove from the oven and rub with a clean tea towel to remove the skins (I skipped this part which was fine).
Meanwhile, bring all the syrup ingredients to the boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain (I didn’t strain it).
Gently turn the cooled cake out of the in. Pierce it all over with a skewer and pour the syrup over it.
Roughly chop the pistachios and place in a heatproof bowl with the rest of the ganache ingredients. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Leave the mixture until the chocolate and butter have melted, then stir well for a smooth, silky, shiny ganache, studded with pistachios.
Place the cake on a large, round plate and pour the hot ganache over, swiveling the plate about gently to achieve an even cover. Garnish with pistachios if desired.