These delicate buttery rolls are soft and sweet. They are basically a type of brioche, or sort of a Czech kolach. They are wonderful on their own and even better with sweet butter and strawberry jam. The recipe is interesting enough, and you will want to make these, but what I really want to tell you about regarding Jacob Tofer's yeast cake is the medium of recipe transmission. This recipe, and only this recipe, is inscribed on the tombstone of Jacob and Mina Tofer in Kibbutz Na'an in Israel. Were they parents and grandparents? Did they survive the war in Europe? I understand that they did, but Jacob was famous for his yeast cake and wanted to be remembered for that, and you see; it worked. I never met the Tofers, but I will remember them every time I make their rolls.
Tombstone of Jacob and Mina Toper, Kibbutz Na'an, Israel. Reproduced from the journal Avoteinu
Here is the recipe as it appears on the stone:
Yankele’s Yeast Cake
1 kilo flour, 50 grams yeast, A pinch of salt,3 eggs, 7 spoons sugar, Margarine, 200 grams, A cup and a half milk, and cinnamon to taste.
No directions are provided, possibly because the assumption is that anyone sufficiently motivated to prepare a recipe discovered in a cemetery will already know how to prepare this kind of bread, and of course a tombstone provides limited space.
I have converted the recipe to English measurements and made a few minor changes. I added some water in which to dissolve the yeast, increased the salt significantly and substituted butter for margarine. Even in the interest of historical accuracy, I cannot bring myself to use the M-ingredient (And what is margarine doing in a milkhik recipe anyway? There is already a cup and a half of milk in here, for crying out loud). Let’s see, anything else? Ah yes. Cinnamon to taste, for me, means no cinnamon at all.
In the bowl of a large mixer, combine the milk with 3/4 cup hot water. Dissolve the yeast in the milk-water mixture and allow to proof. Add the salt, eggs, sugar, and butter, and mix well. Add the flour and knead for ten minutes, adding more flour as needed. The dough will be sticky and soft. Turn into an oiled bowl and allow to rise in a turned-off oven one hour or until doubled. Punch down and allow to rise until doubled again. At this point, you may form the rolls, or, if you have time, allow the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator (I recommend this step). Divide the dough into six sections and divide each section into seven pieces. Roll each dough piece into a ball, forming a tight, smooth surface. Arrange the rolls in rosettes and allow them to proof for about 30 minutes. Brush with egg-wash if desired and bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Serve with butter and jam.
Thanks to Jacob and Mina, may their souls be bound up in the eternal bond of life.
In Mol Araan: A blog about food and words in Yiddish and English including but not limited to cooking, recipes, culinary lexicography, delights and curiosities of the plant world, and cookbooks [Scroll down for English content] email: inmolaraan at gmail dot com