My mother prepares a cake that makes people forget. They forget their troubles, their diets, and their calorie count. They forget they only came by for a minute – they had other plans, places to go – and then they forget they promised themselves they would have only one slice.
Ugat shmarim – literally translated as yeast cake – looks like a braided Danish or a Jewish-style babka, European delicacies that made their way into Israeli cuisine and into my mother’s Jewish-Yemeni kitchen. Every Friday, before Shabbat, my mother mixes flour, eggs, sugar, lemon rind, and yeast. She throws in a package of margarine: that way the cake is not dairy, and can be consumed after a meaty dinner. While the dough rises, she beats cocoa and sugar with margarine, vanilla, and egg white for the chocolate filling. She flattens the dough on a flour-dusted table, applies a generous helping of chocolate, and braids it into a strudel. For thirty minutes the house smells so sweet you want to devour the air. When the cake is done right, the inside is moist and dense, the top is crisp, glossy with brushed yolk, and every slice presents a chocolate swirl that makes you dizzy with desire.