An Israeli apricot cake with an Austro-Hungarian soul
Shared by Anat Abramov
Recipe Roots: Chernivtsi, Austro Hungarian Empire > Haifa, Israel > Tel Aviv, Israel
Though Yaacov and Betty Abramov were from the same hometown of Chernivtsi, in a part of present-day Ukraine that was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the couple-to-be didn’t know each other in the old country. They were even members of the same Zionist youth movement, but Yaacov and Betty only met after immigrating to Israel—his family came in the 1920s, hers in 1933.
After they married, the pair settled in a German-speaking community on Mount Carmel, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. “They spoke German with friends and Hebrew with their children, and German when they didn’t want the kids to understand,” recalls their granddaughter Anat Abramov, who lived in Jerusalem but grew up visiting their home.
Betty had acquired a reputation as a consummate host and an excellent cook, and most of her specialties reflected her Austro-Hungarian roots. She was also hailed as the family’s best baker (though her two sisters might have disagreed). The Abramovs weren’t religious, but Betty was a true balaboosta, especially in preparation for Shabbat. She would get up early every Friday morning to make yeast dough, which she’d spin into a variety of pastries. Add to that her chocolate cakes and seasonal desserts, and you’d have the makings of the lavish afternoon teas that Betty was known for. There were always people in the house, and Betty was always entertaining. (This is the power of cake.)
From the age of 4, Anat was at her grandmother’s side while she baked, standing on a small ladder while executing tasks that Grandma Betty would give her—scattering raisins on yeast dough, cutting circles in the dough with a glass. One of the special privileges of being Betty’s granddaughter was having a cake of one’s own, so to speak. The dessert in Betty’s repertoire that Anat loved most, “her” cake, was a spiced creation scented with rum and studded with apricot halves that grew tender as they baked. Grandma Betty made the cake every apricot season in June, and would swap in plums later in the year.
Anat was just 15 years old when her grandmother passed away, but Betty made an indelible mark on her life. She keeps her memory, and her recipes, close to her.
Grandma Betty's Apricot Cake
Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
1 ¾ cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons rum (optional)
Zest of 1 small lemon
8-10 apricots, halved, pits discarded
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 9x9” square pan and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger and nutmeg.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until just blended.
4. Add the rum (if using) and lemon zest, and blend until just incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Pour the batter into the reserved pan and spread evenly, smoothing the top with a spatula.
5. Place the apricots with the outer skin sunk into the batter in a 4x5 or 4x4 pattern, depending on the size of your apricots.
6. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon evenly over the top.
7. Bake, turning halfway through for even baking, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 50-55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack for cooling.