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Feb 24, 2018
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By the Book: Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray’s Etrog Cake

September 3rd 12:09pm, 2013



I always thought it rather peculiar that my mom, despite raising her kids Catholic, made us a Jewish meal on Holy Thursday to commemorate Passover. Matzo ball soup, hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water, horseradish… I guess she was honoring the last meal before the dawn of Catholicism; I don’t know. But I do know that the food didn’t taste very good. Then again, she didn’t have a bubbe to show her how to cook for Jewish holy days. So browsing through The New Jewish Table by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, I felt like a wandering gentile given a road map to the promised land. Granted, I’m just getting my bearings, so I can hardly argue the best route to Jewish food paradise, but the recipes in this cookbook are clear and have helpful side notes.

September being the month of Rosh Hashana, lox is on my mind, but Sauce contributor Stacy Schultz kind of cornered that Jewish nosh. But there’s another Jewish celebration, Sukkot, taking place this month from Sept. 18 to 25. As the Grays explain, “Sukkot is an eight-day holiday that takes place at festival time, four days after Yom Kippur. The word ‘sukkot’ refers to huts that Jews built in the fields during the harvest to maximize their time working there. Sukkot were also erected as temporary shelters during the 40 years the Jews wandered in the desert. The holiday therefore is a time to celebrate the earth’s bounty and remember the hardships of the exodus.”




One food that figures into the harvest ritual at Sukkot is etrog, an enormous, craggy-looking lemon that grows plentifully in Israel, and it is used to make a traditional sweet cake. Unfortunately, etrogs are pretty hard to come by. Around Sukkot, you can order them from some synagogues, but deadline necessitated that I make this cake weeks ahead of the harvest fest. Margi Kahn, food writer for St. Louis Jewish Light, suggested I substitute etrog with Buddha’s hand, another weird-looking citron variety. Too bad Buddha’s hand can’t be had right now either. I had to resort to plain old lemons to make what was essentially a lemon pound cake, but the results were still terrific.




The cake is tasty on its own (It is best eaten the same day it’s baked.), but the Grand Marnier glaze transforms etgrog cake from an average afternoon sweet treat to true dessert. I garnished each serving with orange segments plus fresh mint from the garden. The herb lent a colorful accent, and it’s such a great complement to sweet citrus. Happy Sukkot! Or, for those who prefer this expression: Chag Sameach!




Etrog Cake
Makes 1 4-by-8-inch loaf or 1 8-inch round cake

2 etrogs (or 2 lemons)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed etrog juice or lemon juice
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1¾ cups sugar, divided
3 large eggs
1¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice (3 to 4 oranges), divided
3 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
Orange and blood orange segments, for garnish

Make a citrus seasoning mixture:
• Grate the zest of the etrogs with a rasp or citrus zester, being careful to get all the zest off of the citrus without cutting into the pith below the skin.
• Whisk together the lemon juice and lime juice in a small bowl; whisk in the etrog zest. Reserve 1 tablespoon of this mixture to use later for the glaze.

Mix the batter:
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Spray a 4-by-8-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper or rub the pan with butter and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.
• Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
• Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter with the 1¼ cups of the sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth and scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Beat in the unreserved portion of the citrus mixture.
• Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating just to combine; add ½ cup orange juice, followed by 1/3 of the flour mixture, another ½ cup orange juice, and finally the last of the flour, mixing only until just combined after each addition.
• Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.
• Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.

Make the glaze:
• Meanwhile, stir together the remaining ½ cup sugar, remaining ¼ cup orange juice and the reserved 1 tablespoon of the citrus mixture in a small saucepan.
• Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, just until the sugar is completely dissolved.
• Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Grand Marnier. Let the glaze cool.
• To serve, slice the cake and place on dessert plates; drizzle the glaze decoratively over each portion – we like to use a ladle to do this. Garnish each plate with a few orange segments if you wish.

Reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press

What’s your favorite Jewish food? Tell us in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of The New Jewish Table by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Lauren, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won a copy of Fabio’s Italian Kitchen by Fabio Viviani. Lauren, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.



By Ligaya Figueras

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9 Responses to “By the Book: Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray’s Etrog Cake”

  1. Ben King Says:
    September 4th, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Honestly I have never experimented with cooking traditional Jewish food. Kreplech (forgive me if misspelled) is always one of my favorites though. I like it made with potato.

  2. Katie Says:
    September 4th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Jewish food isn’t something that we have often though I do enjoy latkes!

  3. Joe Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I haven’t had much Jewish food but I do remember enjoying a Knish from a hot dog cart in Manhattan as a teenager

  4. cathy ritter Says:
    September 7th, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Sounds amazing…

  5. Lisa Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 10:13 am

    So hard to pick just one. Of course there are the old standbys of matzah ball soup, knishes, challah and chopped liver, but my favorite would be a tossup between rugelach and chocolate babke, with a slight edge given to the rugelach. My grandmother never considered it a holiday unless there was rugelach on the table. She always made her own, but in a pinch the local deli would do. My favorite is with cinnamon and sugar, raisins and nuts, but I love the versatility to try most any filling. I have even done Nutella.

  6. Steve Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Lox and bagels! What a pairing…I want some now!

  7. Earen Hummel Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I don’t know too much about Jewish foods. But I do love a good matzo ball soup when I am sick.

  8. Veronica Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 11:28 am

    My mother’s brisket. Definite comfort food.

  9. Rebecca Marsh Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Chremslach: Muffin-like fruit and nut laden treat. Almonds, apples, raisins, currents, nutmeg and cinnamon mixed with matzah meal and eggs naked into a delicious light healthy snack.

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