The Shabbat Table: Singing the praises of Zingerman’s

(Katrin Gilger/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! Shavuot, which begins Saturday evening, commemorates the revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people and is also the Festival of the First Fruits. Delicious dairy dishes, such as kugels, cheesecakes and blintzes (which represent the shape of the Torah) are traditionally served.

Try my scrumptious Three Cheese Noodle Kugel from The New Food Processor Bible. Yes, three different kinds of cheeses (cheddar, cottage and cream cheese) – just in case you can’t decide which kind of cheese to use! Creamy inside, crunchy outside – totally delicious!

Enjoy Judi Permut’s nostalgic memories of Shavuot while growing up, plus some treasures from her late mother’s recipe collection, including Mom’s Cheese Loaf, Foileh Knishes and Cheese Muffins.

Cake, anyone? Shavuot is a perfect time to bake up some dairy delicacies made with real butter, sour cream and cream cheese. I’ve chosen some winning recipes from Zingerman’s Bakehouse (2017), which was written by co-owners and master bakers Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo. It’s a must-have cookbook for bakers of all skill levels. The scrumptious sweets below will make amazing additions to your Shavuot table and are also perfect fare for a potluck dinner, a picnic or even Shabbat breakfast. Hummingbird Cake (see recipe below) is made with bananas, eggs, flaked coconut, pecans and crushed pineapple, then topped with cream cheese frosting – sounds like perfect breakfast food to me.

Since 1992, Michigan’s renowned artisanal bakery, Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor has enticed customers with its delicious cookies, chewy-sweet Townie Brownies, famous Sour Cream Coffee Cake (see recipe below), rugelach, hamantashen and fresh, fragrant loaves of Jewish rye. It’s no wonder Zingerman’s has become a cultural and culinary institution. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Zingerman’s bakers have shared 65 meticulously tested, carefully detailed recipes in their beautiful hardcover book, which also includes more than 50 colour photographs and bountiful illustrations. Charming, behind-the-scenes stories of their phenomenal bakery business enrich this crave-worthy recipe collection.

You’ll find recipes for their beloved Hot Cocoa Cake, Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, New Deli Crumb Cake, Bagels, Coconut Cream Pie and Chocolate-Covered Glazed Donuts. The authors have also included unique variations on traditional challah, such as Moroccan Challah and Raisin Turban Challah, and a rare Shabbat cholent recipe. (Note: Not all the recipes in Zingerman’s Bakehouse are suitable for the kosher kitchen, but most can be adapted.)

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This is our most popular coffee cake and possibly our most popular sweet item. It is adored as a daily treat and is definitely a deli standard. Many Ann Arborites enjoy it regularly and send it to friends and family all over the country for holiday gifts.

Our cake is unassuming in appearance yet deeply satisfying in flavour. As you can see, it’s full of tasty fat – half a pound of butter, half a pound of sour cream and three whole eggs – which yields a mellow and moist cake crumb. Contrasting this mellowness is the distinctive flavour of the cinnamon-nut swirl created with Indonesian Korintje cinnamon, brown sugar and freshly toasted walnuts. Consider grinding your own cinnamon for this recipe to get an unmatched cinnamon flavour.

Why is the sour cream coffee cake considered to be a Jewish dessert? Yeasted coffee cakes, baked in kugelhopf pans, were somewhat common in eastern European Jewish baking, as was the use of sour cream. Without refrigeration, most milk was consumed in some fermented form. Sour cream, along with buttermilk, became an element common to their baking.

Fast forward to 1950 Minnesota, when a group of Jewish women wanted to bring back some of the old Jewish recipes. To be successful, they needed the right fluted pan with the tube in the centre, which wasn’t available in the United States. They approached a local pan-making company and asked the owner to create one. He generously obliged, and that first version was the inspiration behind the classic Bundt pans we are now all familiar with, branded as Nordic Ware. The ladies, thinking the European yeasted cakes were too time consuming, transformed them into a more American pound cake style, and the sour cream coffee cake as we know it was born.

  • 132 g (1 cup plus 2 tbsp) walnut halves
  • 41 g (3 tbsp) packed brown sugar
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 395 g (2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 227 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • 227 g (3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp) sour cream
  • 7 ml (1½ tsp) vanilla extract
  • 336 g (213 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt

Preheat the oven to 165 C (325 F). Spray a 23-cm (9-in) Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, coat with flour and set aside.

Toast the walnuts on a sheet tray for 10-15 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden brown. After they are done, turn the oven down to 150 C (300 F).

In a small bowl, mix together the toasted walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and butter. Cream by hand or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer on medium speed. Mix until the colour lightens. Add the eggs, one at a time, creaming thoroughly after each egg until the mixture is homogeneous. Add the sour cream and vanilla. Mix briefly until light and creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate medium bowl. Mix to combine. Add the flour mixture gradually to the creamed mixture and mix by hand or with a mixer on low speed until smooth and homogeneous.

Scoop one-third of the batter into your prepared pan. Smooth it evenly over the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Sprinkle one-half of the nut mixture evenly over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter. Smooth it evenly over the nut mixture and to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture evenly over the batter. Spread the remaining batter evenly over the nut mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes. Do not leave the cake in the pan for much longer than this. The brown sugar in the nut filling might stick to the sides of the pan and make it difficult to release the cake.

Put a wire cooling rack on top of the Bundt pan and then invert the pan to release the cake. Cool to room temperature before eating.

Makes one 23-cm (9-in) Bundt cake.

Storage: This cake is so rich that it keeps very well at room temperature for at least two weeks, if wrapped well. It also freezes nicely. Wrap it carefully in plastic wrap and then put it in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container. It will hold well for up to three months in your freezer.

Lemon Poppy Seed Coffee Cake

The second coffee cake we made was lemon poppy seed. If you’re a fan, simply make the sour cream coffee cake batter and add 5 ml (1 tsp) of lemon oil (below) and 130 g (1 cup) of ground poppy seeds at the end of the mix. Bake at the same temperature and for the same length of time as the sour cream coffee cake. The nut filling is not a part of this version.

Lemon Oil

At the Bakehouse, we love intense flavors and are always looking for ways to increase the flavour in our recipes. With citrus flavours, it’s not always possible to get the intensity we want with only fresh juice or zest. Fortunately, many years ago, we discovered a line of citrus oils from a company called Boyajian. According to Boyajian, they are “natural essences that are cold pressed from the rind of the fruit.” They are considerably more intense than extracts and are used in small quantities. Boyajian suggests starting with 2 ml (1⁄2 tsp) per cup of dry ingredients, plus 1.25 ml (1⁄4 tsp) per cup of liquid ingredients. We often use some fresh juice and zest and then a little oil just to bump up the flavor.

Hummingbird Cake

Looking for a tasty, very approachable, easy-to-make dessert for a potluck or picnic? This is it. The list of ingredients is long, but it’s a one-bowl wonder. The pecans and the coconut can easily be left out, if you prefer.

We started baking Hummingbird Cake for Zingerman’s Roadhouse when it opened in 2003. At that time, we made a variety of American desserts, but we had not actively focused on southern baking. The Roadhouse features classic American dishes from around the country, with a strong emphasis on barbecue and Southern cuisine, and this cake seemed like a natural fit. It has since become a customer favourite in our own shop and at the delicatessen, and it is a common choice for wedding cakes.

What does this have to do with the flow of our day? Well, the cake decorators have a precise order for their icing work. They start with vanilla Swiss buttercream and always end with cream cheese, which is what we put on this cake. We know that they’re at the end of one part of their day when cream cheese frosting is in the mixing bowls.


  • 85 g (3/4 cup) pecans
  • 305 g (1½ cups) granulated sugar
  • 355 g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) baking soda
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 230 g (1¼ cups) vegetable oil
  • 320 g (1½ cups) mashed bananas, very ripe
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) coconut extract
  • 70 g (3/4 cup) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 160 g (3/4 cup) crushed pineapple


  • 115 g (1/2 cup) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 115 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) lemon juice
  • 230 g (2½ cups) powdered sugar, sifted
  • toasted, chopped pecans for decoration (optional)


Preheat the oven to 165 C (325 F). Spray a 23-by-33-cm (9-by-13-in) cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Toast the pecans on a sheet tray. If you will be removing the cake from the pan and decorating the sides with chopped pecans, add more pecans for that purpose. Though the toasting typically takes 10–12 minutes, start checking them after 8 minutes. The browning happens suddenly when the nuts are heated to the point that their oil comes to the surface, and they can burn quickly. Use your nose while you bake! You will notice a toasty aroma when they are nearly ready. When they are done, remove them from the oven, let them cool completely and then chop them into 6-mm (1⁄4-in) pieces. Turn the oven down to 150 C (300 F).

In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the eggs, vegetable oil and bananas to the dry ingredients. Stir well to moisten the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract, coconut extract, coconut, pineapple and pecans (reserving some for decoration, if desired) and stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 minutes, until the cake bounces back in the middle when pressed gently and a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will release from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool before frosting. It can be iced in the pan or out, depending on your preference.


While the cake is baking, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, lightly beat the cream cheese until there are no lumps remaining. Add the butter and combine until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Stir. Slowly add the powdered sugar until it is moistened, and then stir until completely smooth.

Spread the frosting on the cooled cake. Make a decorative pattern if you feel inspired. If you’ve removed the cake from the pan, put a small amount of icing on the sides and then coat the sides with toasted, chopped pecans.

Store this cake in the refrigerator because of the frosting. Remove it from the fridge an hour or two before serving for the best flavour and texture.

Makes one 23-by-33-cm (9-by-13-in) cake.

Recipes reprinted from Zingerman’s Bakehouse by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo, with permission from Chronicle Books.