In honor of Yom haShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I'm sharing a recipe from Recipes Remembered, a cookbook of recipes preserved by Holocaust survivors, published by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. This year's recipe, and its amazing story, comes from Ada Ehrlich Rubin, a survivor of Auschwitz: a old-world Polish chocolate-chip cake.
Last year, I started a practice of sharing a recipe remembered by a Holocaust survivor in observance of Yom ha-Shoah. I'd like to expand this practice and seek out as many recipes to try as I can. (If you have one to share with me, or that you've shared yourself elsewhere, I would love to know about it - email me or DM me on IG.) I also preserve my own family's food heritage on this site, which includes many survivors, among them three of my four grandparents. The recipe I chose to present last year, Hungarian Caraway Soup with Poached Eggs, was also an attempt to recreate a dish my grandfather might have had growing up, since I know the least about that branch of the family and have no recipes handed down from them. This year, I chose a Polish recipe, to remember and honor its creator as well as my grandmother, who was from a small shtetl in the northeastern corner of Poland, by Belarus. It's for a chocolate chip cake, but a decidedly old-world one. If you're thinking chocolate chips like the kind that come packaged as cute little cones in a bag, that's not what we're talking about here. No, today we are going to grate a chocolate bar to make delightful specks of chocolate to punctuate our cake, in a manner not unlike the tarrazzo trend. Not only that, but we're going to separate an extravagant number of eggs (seven) and whip them and fold them and all that business. And we're going to do that with old-school cream of tartar. In the end? We'll have an impossibly airy, unnervingly tall, chocolate-flecked trip back in time. Get out your doilies.
But first, the story. This recipe belongs to Ada Ehrlich Rubin, who survived Auschwitz, were she befriended Nadzia Bergson. They were separated, but later bumped into each other walking down the street in New York. The two reestablished their friendship and spent many happy years together, until Ada moved to Florida. When Ada's own children moved to California, the ties were dropped. Years later, Ada's Californian granddaughter (who preserved the story in Recipes Remembered) met and immediately connected with a young man who, it turned out, was none other than Nadzia's grandson. Both grandmothers lived to see their grandchildren as a couple, who have since married. There is a wonderful photograph in the book of this recipe written in Ada's handwriting.
Mixing the batter
The first step in making this cake is separating all those eggs. You'll want to put the yolks in the largest mixing bowl you have: this batter is just BIG. Like, so much volume. Place the whites in another mixing bowl and set aside for now.
The yolks get beaten with sugar for a while, until they're lightened up in color and thickened. Then the oil, vanilla (plenty of it, too), and water or milk go in. (I used almond milk.) Last, you'll stir in the flour and baking powder.
Now, we return to the egg yolks. For stability (and old-world charm), they're beaten to medium-stiff peaks with the aid of cream of tartar. When they're nice and whipped, fold them into the batter in the big bowl, a process that should take a while. It's a lot of egg whites!
You can go ahead and pour the batter into a generously greased springfiorm pan, because the chocolate gets swirled in once it's in the pan already.
Grating the chocolate
I wasn't sure what to expect on this chocolate grating adventure, but it turns out grating chocolate is easy. Well, it's easy if you're not doing it by hand, which I'm guessing Ada, or maybe her mom, did. To grate in a food processor, use the standard shredding disc and place the chocolate into the narrow feed tube. Then, process away. You can also grate using a handheld box grater, though I didn't try this.
Once the chocolate is grated, toss it with about 1 teaspoon of flour, which keeps it from sinking into the cake. I tossed it with my fingers and it was easy to get everything coated.
The chocolate then gets swirled into the cake using a knife, similar to how you'd make a marble cake. I swirled the chocolate in the cake in three parts: sprinkle and swirl with a knife, repeat, repeat.
The finished cake just tastes just like you'd imagine the flavor of "nostalgic yesteryear"; it's lovely.
Polish Chocolate Chip Cake (parve)
- Springform pan
- 7 eggs - separated
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar - 300 g
- ½ cup oil - 120 ml
- 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ¾ cup water or nondairy milk (I used almond) - 180 ml
- 2 cups all-purpose flour - 250 g
- 1 Tbsp Baking powder
- ½ Tbsp cream of tartar
- 6 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate - 170 g
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Grease a round springform pan well with cooking spray.
Make the batter:
- In a large bowl - the largest one you have, since this is a voluminous batter - beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light yellow and thickened, about 3 minutes.
- Add in the oil, vanilla extract, and water/milk. Beat to combine. Add the flour and baking powder and mix on low speed until just combined.
Whip the eggs whites and fold in:
- Whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until they hold medium-soft peaks.
- Fold the egg whites into the larger bowl of batter until fully incorporated. The batter will be airy and just overall big.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Grate and add the chocolate:
- Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disc, or by hand using a box grater, grate the chocolate into semi-fine bits. Toss with 1 teaspoon or so of flour, which keeps the chocolate from sinking down to the bottom half of the cake.
- Add about ⅓ of the chocolate bits to the cake in the pan. Using a knife, swirl to incorporate it into the cake. Repeat with another third, then the final third.
- Bake the cake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, checking it a bit earlier. The cake should be a medium gold on top, well puffed, and a tester should come out of the very center clean. If it doesn't, keep baking, checking every five minutes.