This recipe and an abbreviated version of this story originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2012 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.
Special note: I originally made this cake out of desperation, in an attempt to use up the fresh ginger I bought for a batch of soba noodles. If you find yourself in a similar situation, give this a try!
* * *
Some people will tell you that their years in college were the best of their life. This never fails to surprise me.
I may only be speaking from the vantage point of a 25-year-old, but my years in college were certainly my worst.
I returned from a glorious year of seminary in Israel as a bright-eyed 18-year-old, still floating from the uplifting experiences of the previous ten months. I had always known that I would not receive college credit for my seminary learning, and I was prepared to spend the next four years at the University of Maryland’s journalism program.
How should a frum girl approach years of study on a secular university campus? I wasn’t entirely sure, but I established a few ground rules for myself.
The first was that I would not dorm on campus. Since my family lived just 20 minutes away, that wasn’t difficult.
I also decided that I would avoid making friends at all costs. I am not advocating this as the best way to navigate a secular environment, just being honest. I was wary of developing friendships with people who didn’t share my ideals, and I figured avoidance was my best bet.
There were some awkward situations along the way, to be sure. There was the girl in my Hebrew class who repeatedly invited me for lunch at her campus apartment. (A mention in passing that she ate at non-kosher dairy restaurants sealed the deal on that one.) Then there was the Korean Catholic girl in my history class who tried discussing Judaism with me at every opportunity. There were others, too.
I decided that even Hillel should be off-limits for me. For most Jewish students at Maryland, Hillel was indispensable. It was the only on-campus source of kosher meals during the week (on Shabbos, Chabad was also an option), and it supplied a steady stream of minyanim, lectures, and social activities.
But because I didn’t want to put myself in a co-ed situation, I avoided Hillel studiously. It’s kind of ironic, really — I can count on one hand the number of times I was in the Hillel building during my years at Maryland: Twice to meet my cousin for lunch, and twice to borrow a siddur for mincha.
Yep, that’s right. A siddur. For mincha.
The problem with all these rules was that I became quite lonely. Visits to high school and seminary friends hours away in New York never seemed often enough, and I felt all alone among the throng of 30,000 students on campus.
My family was supportive and encouraging, and I threw my energy into my coursework. I got those A’s, alright. But I just wasn’t happy.
As I muddled my way through college, I tried to hold onto the things I’d gained in seminary. I learned a sefer over the phone with my old roommate and spent a few minutes every day on my own learning. I kept in touch with my teachers and rebbeim in Yerushalayim, referenced my seminary notes, and tried to do regular chesbonei hanefesh.
And then there was melave malka.
Because my entire week was consumed by school work, Shabbos became my lifeline. For this one day in seven, I stopped typing papers, writing flashcards, and highlighting textbooks. I often thought to myself that without Shabbos, I would surely have gone mad.
But just as it comes, it leaves. Making the transition back into the week was always hard for me, and I was glad to extend my Shabbos just a little through melave malka.
I would sit there in the kitchen, still wearing my Shabbos clothes, and sing havdala songs off of the laminated sheet our madrichot in seminary had given us at the end of the year. I’d remember how it had felt to sing those songs with 85 other girls. And I’d feel that connection once again.
There are many different ways of fulfilling melave malka, many of them healthy. But at that time, my standard melave malka fare consisted of two large, thick chocolate chip cookies and a glass of iced coffee made with calorie-rich syrup.
I can’t blame it all on the melave malkas, but eventually, I realized I was gaining something else, too: Some extra pounds. (Where’s that neshama yeteira when you need it?)
* * *
I (somehow) survived my college years. The day I graduated was a proud one, as I relished my new degree and prepared to leave the university campus behind. These days, I live quite happily with my husband in a warm, frum community here in Israel.
And as for melave malka? I’ve since found other ways to enjoy it. After all, who said baked goods have to be unhealthy to taste good?
This gingerbread cake with vanilla glaze is the perfect winter treat. Most gingerbread recipes call for large amounts of butter and sugar, but this cake uses just three tablespoons of each, as well as some honey to give it that warm sweetness. The fall spices and fresh ginger give the cake a nice kick and are complemented wonderfully by the coffee in the batter.
This would be terrific to serve on a motsei Shabbos in the winter, when the nights are long and enough time has passed since your last fleishig seudah. Paired with hot chocolate or flavored coffee, you’ll have a delicious melave malka that you can gobble up without guilt.
And there’s nothing like a no-guilt treat to ease you into the coming week.
To really dial back the guilt, skip the vanilla glaze.
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (plus a bit to grease pan)
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour (plus a bit to dust pan)
- ¾ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp allspice
- pinch of salt
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp honey
- 3 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup buttermilk (To make buttermilk: Pour ½ Tbsp lemon juice in a ½-cup measuring cup, fill to top with milk, and let sit 5 minutes)
- ½ cup white chocolate chips
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- ¼ cup heavy cream, less 1-2 Tbsp
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
- Cinnamon and sugar, for topping (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Grease a springform pan with butter and dust with about 1 teaspoon of flour. Set aside.
2. Combine flours, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
3. In a separate bowl, cream together 3 Tbsp butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, honey, fresh ginger, coffee, and vanilla extract and mix well.
4. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, beating well after each addition.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5-10 minutes, then remove outer layer of the pan.
7. In the meantime, make the vanilla glaze: In a double boiler or in the microwave, gently melt chocolate, mixing in butter and oil until smooth.
8. Add heavy cream, vanilla and powdered sugar and mix again until smooth.
9. Carefully remove the bottom of the springform pan from the cake. Pour glaze gently over the center of the cake, nudging it slightly to cover the top and drip down the sides. Optional: Top with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.