Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flooded - Parshat Noach

Good news - voting for the Jewish Community Hero award has been extended to Friday the 15th - I would so appreciate it if you voted every day between now and then!

Now, onto the portion. This week is kind of a big deal. It marks the anniversary of the very notion that started this blog. Let me take you back to the beginning.

In high school I was a counselor in a local youth group chapter for elementary aged kids. One year, on the week of Parshat Noach I decided to bake a cake that would teach them about the portion. While many people know some of the basics of the story of Noach and the flood, there are also some details that get lost. For instance, most people get this about the story; a number of generations after creation God wasn't happy with how humans were shaping up, so He decided to destroy them all, with the exception of Noah and his family. They would survive, along with a sampling of animals, to repopulate the earth and start off on a better foot.

But many people think that Noah only took 2 of every animal onto the ark he built, when in fact he took 7 of every male and female kosher animal and two of every make and female non-kosher animal. And the flood didn't only last for 40 days and 40 nights - that's how long it rained. The flood itself lasted for nearly a year, from when it first started raining, to when the waters subsided completely.

I thought I could clear a bunch of these things up through this cake I made - the “Mabul Cake.” Mabul is the Hebrew word for flood and this cake sets the scene from this week's portion and serves as a jumping off point for discussing the story. The cake is made up of a graham cracker reproduction of Noah’s ark sitting atop waters of bright blue frosting teeming with electric-colored gummy fish. While this cake would never win a TV show cooking competition, it has won the hearts of many who have helped to make it and eat it in the last ten years.

After making it the for first time, I got to thinking that I could probably come up with something yummy and educational for each weekly portion and create a whole collection for a cookbook. Ten years later I almost have a complete draft for that cookbook thanks to this blog. It was really the Mabul Cake that kept my cookbook dream alive - each year in the last decade it wound up in some version or other at whatever Shabbat table I was at.

There have been some interesting ups and downs along the way with the Mabul Cake. The year 2000 was a banner year. The cake got an upgrade and a photo shoot. My friend Shoshana told me her mom made a marble cake like mine to give the name a corny twist – mabul/marble cake. Shoshana, Shifra and I made the cake with a box of yellow cake mix and a box of chocolate cake mix in the impossibly smaller toaster oven of our Israeli dorm room. We got very messy as we covered the graham crackers in material that most resembled the pitch Noah might have used to cover the ark, Israeli chocolate spread.

But it was worth it when my friend Devo and I took it to the Glazer’s home for Shabbat. They were so enamored with it that they set it on their table, snapped a few shots with their digital cameras and emailed the pics to friends and family. The cake was gaining fans.

There was the year that I made it with Sam for the first time and he had the notion to actually build the ark to scale (its measurements in the portion are 300x50x30). He drove me crazy tediously measuring and cutting the graham crackers to be just right, but it felt very authentic.

Then there was the year that parshat Noach completely snuck up on me and I found myself without any of the necessary ingredients on Friday afternoon. Sam came up with a genius solution – he made an origami ark and brought colorful capsules home from the local toy store that we dissolved into various animal forms. I baked a mountain of chocolate chip cookies to form Mt Arrarat which Noah’s ark gets stuck on.

Last year I turned the cake into cupcakes and simplified the ark into a single piece of graham cracker covered in chocolate spread. I’m not sure if this presentation would’ve been more impressive to some Cambridge neighbors when we were new to the community, but I think they were a little appalled by the chemically dessert I brought to their meal five years ago.

I've been waiting a long time to tell you the story of the Mabul Cake and how this blog got started. It's nice to finally share it.

Below you’ll find the very healthy and complex recipe for Mabul Cake : ) It’s really incredibly simple but sincerely unwholesome. Part of me feels like I owe everyone a more grown up version of this cake given my current level of cooking, but I could never reinvent the Mabul Cake, it just holds a very special place in my heart.

P.S. My apologies for not having it together enough last week to post about the portion of the week, Parshat Breishit- the very beginning of the Torah. It caught me off guard since we went right from the two day holiday into Shabbat and began the cycle of reading the Torah all over again. You’ll just have to wait for my cookbook to come out to see what I come up with.

Mabul Cake

1 box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix

1 box of Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix


1 cup of oil

6 eggs

1 tube of blue frosting

1 box of graham crackers

1 jar of chocolate spread/frosting

1 bag of animal crackers

1 pack of gummy fish/sea creatures

Mix each box of cake mix in separate bowl according to the directions on the box (mixing in the water, oil and eggs). Pour each mixed batter into one 12x12 tin or disposable baking pan and swirl the two batters together with a spatula to get a marbled effect. Don’t over mix or you’ll loose the effect.

Bake the cake according to the directions on the box and then allow the cake to cool completely- one hour or more.

Start by building the ark. Take two full graham crackers and line them up next to each other with their long ends horizontally touching the cake. Wedge them into the cake for about 1 inch to anchor them. Break a graham cracker in half and put one half at a right angle with the left end of the two graham crackers and the other half at a right angle to the right end. Wedge those end pieces into the cake too. Then place another two whole crackers opposite where you placed the first and stick them into the cake. Remove each cracker and cover with chocolate spread, including the sides and edges and re stick into the cake. Stick the corners of the ark to each other, using extra frosting if needed.

Prepare two more graham crackers by covering in chocolate spread to create the roof. Before placing the roof insert 7 cow animal crackers (represents the kosher animals) and two elephants (represents the non kosher animals) into the graham cracker ark. Then cover the top of the ark with the two frosted graham crackers.

And finally, frost the exposed areas of the cake with blue frosting and lay the gummy fish on top.

Upcoming Class

I hope all the Boston readers will consider joining me on October 31st for the first LimmudBoston. I'll be teaching a class there (it's being held at Temple Israel in Boston) from 1-2pm titled Biblical Rivalry - Text and Tasting in the Kitchen. It will kind of be like this blog live - we'll explore the weekly portion and cook up a dish together that is related!


  1. Great blog! I think if I was to do a dish to go along with Parshas Noach, I might do an olive tapenade. :-)

  2. Thanks for the comment and compliment. That recipe could be a great connection to the olive branch that the dove brings back to Noah!