Shavuot, the holiday of cheesecake…err, I mean, the holiday in which the Israelites receive the Torah, is here! No, but really, it’s all about the cheesecake.
Which makes this a great time to talk about Israeli and American cheesecakes. No, they are not the same. American cheesecake, typically a “New York Style” cheesecake, is based on American cream cheese, which is quite thick, similar to a 30% fat shemenet. New York Style cheesecake also calls for some flour, and is baked in a water bath to achieve the thick, custard-like texture. A New York Style cheesecake is dense and creamy, and a thin sliver is all you need ; )
Israeli cheesecake, on the other hand, tends to be lighter, more airy. This is primarily due to the difference cheeses used. Instead of American style cream cheese, the classic being Philadelphia cream cheese (which is not easy to find in Israel), a combination of lower fat white cheese (gevinah lavanah and shemenet) and sometimes sweetened heavy cream (shemenet metukah) are used.
In the Israeli winter there is nothing like hot Sachlav (pronounced Sock-lahv) to warm you up. Sachlav is a thick milk based drink seasoned with sugar and rosewater and topped with coconut, pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, or whatever else you enjoy. Sachlav actually translates to orchid, because in the old days sachlav was flavored and thickened with the starch from the orchid bulb. Since orchid bulbs are so expensive, these days, corn flour is used to thicken the drink.
Mallabi is basically a cold, thicker, pudding version of sachlav and is so pleasant when the weather gets warm. It is made with milk, heavy cream, corn starch, sugar, and rosewater. It is usually topped with a sweet raspberry or rosewater syrup, followed by the traditional sachlav toppings like coconut, nuts, and cinnamon.
You can buy mixes or premade sachlav and mallabi in Israeli grocery stores, but it’s very easy to make at home from scratch. This is especially useful if you want to replicate the sachlav/mallabi experience outside of the Middle East. I recommend these recipes for sachlav and mallabi.
For more on the history of sachlav, see here.