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Eating Jewish: Almond Sponge Cake, to break the fast

Almond sponge cake (bocca di dama) that is traditionally served at the end of the meal that breaks the fast of Yom Kippur.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Romanow.

The meal that breaks the fast of Yom Kippur is one that is needed to revive the body after a long day of reflection and repentance, and the food which one eats to break the fast is an important consideration. The meal that is served after the fast should consist of dishes that are light on the stomach and easy to digest after this long period without food. Every community has their own traditions concerning the food that is usually served at this meal. Within the Ashkenazi community the fast may be broken with a dairy meal including things such as bagels and cream cheese or coffee cake. Some people may also serve chopped herring or chicken soup with mandlen. On the other hand, in the Sephardi community, a cold drink such as almond milk or apricot juice will be used to break the fast, after which a small dairy meal consisting of pastries, salads or dips will be served. A larger meat meal may also be eaten after this smaller dairy meal.

Another tradition that exists among the Italian Jewish community is to serve almond sponge cake at the end of the meal that breaks the fast of Yom Kippur. According to Claudia Roden, this cake originated within the Jewish community of Livorno and is of Portuguese origin. Jews living in Livorno enjoyed a high degree of freedom and esteem that was hard to find elsewhere. Due to this, many Portuguese Marranos chose to live in this city after the Grand Duke Ferdinando I dei Medici turned it into a free port in 1593 and merchants, especially Jewish ones, were invited to become residents. The large number of Portuguese Jews who chose to settle in Livorno greatly influenced the community and its style of cooking, introducing recipes such as this almond sponge cake into the local repertoire.

The deliciousness of this cake does not reflect the ease with which one can make this dessert. The most time consuming part of the process is the separation of the eggs. However, once this is done, all that remains is to mix the egg yolks along with the other ingredients in a food processor to form a paste. This is then folded into the egg whites that have been beaten. This mixture is then baked until the cake is firm and golden brown. This is a simple cake that is not too sweet, whose flavor is brightened with the hint of lemon that comes through in every bite. It is the perfect ending to the meal that comes after the fast and a nice accompaniment to a cup of tea. This is also a great cake to make in advance because it can be easily kept until serving time, when it will taste just as good as when it was first made.

Just as each community has its own food traditions when breaking the fast, what foods are usually served when breaking the fast in your family? Have these foods always been a part of this meal?

Almond Sponge Cake (Bocca di Dama)

5 eggs, separated
6 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup blanched almonds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cups flour
Confectioner’s sugar to garnish (optional)

  1. Beat the eleven egg yolks with the sugar in the food processor to a pale, light cream. Add the almonds and lemon zest and process to a smooth, soft paste. Then blend in the flour.

  2. Beat the egg whites stiff in a large bowl. Pour in the egg-yolk- and almond mixture and fold very gently. Pour into an oiled and floured 9-inch springform cake pan-preferable nonstick-with a detachable bottom and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for ¾-1 hour (it may need less time depending on your oven), until firm. Turn the cake out when it has cooled and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Topics: Food, Recipes, Yom Kippur
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How to cite this page

Romanow, Katherine. "Eating Jewish: Almond Sponge Cake, to break the fast." 17 September 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 1, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/eating-jewish-almond-sponge-cake>.