The enticing aroma of baking on Friday afternoons is etched into every Israeli's childhood memories. Home baking has always been a great local tradition, finding expression in the informal “Drop-by-for-coffee-and-cake” invitation. And, mind you, the cake must be homemade.
Even in the Spartan conditions of the early kibbutz, many women insisted on demonstrating their culinary skills by baking cakes and kept “cake notebooks” with recipes collected over the years. Some had elementary ovens in their family dwellings, others used the ovens of the communal kitchen. This tradition produced many legendary bakers, and some of their notebooks were eventually published as cookbooks.
Fine cakes were once available only from a handful of bakeries run by professional pastry chefs. Every town had one or two famous ones, but as demand exceeded supply, home baking remained the norm.
Regardless of ethnic origin, Israeli bakers, both professional and amateur, usually adhered to the traditions and recipes of Eastern and Central Europe (the Austro-Hungarian and German heritage). This was probably because skilled bakers from these countries were the founders of the local pastry industry and shaped the tastes and preferences of the people.
In later years, as food became more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, the selection of pastries expanded to include French and American influences. Middle Eastern ingredients also became more prominent: halva, tahini, phyllo dough, silan, dried dates and rose water were creatively fused with traditional European ingredients to produce cakes with unique local flair.
Today the Israeli pastry industry offers an overwhelming selection of cakes of every conceivable type, with home baking relegated to an enjoyable pastime. Specialty kitchen equipment shops proffer an infinite variety of appliances and gadgets. Israeli foodies, and baking enthusiasts in particular, can learn new recipes and techniques from dozens of cooking schools, magazines, TV shows and websites. And they do. The smell of cake still wafts out the windows of most households on Friday afternoons.