By Leila Stein
For a member of a small community, it is not often that you come across something of your own history that you had absolutely never heard of.
In 2021, I was walking through a fantastic exhibition at Maker’s Landing at the Waterfront called 100 Flavours SA, showcasing foods that define South Africa. The exhibit that made me stop and pause was a multi-layered cake-like dessert which had a title card reading Jodetert (Jewish Tart).
The description explained that the baked good is thought to have been brought to South Africa by Lithuanian/Russian Jews and has become a feature at Afrikaans church bake sales and bazaars.
A bake-sale staple
Given the Afrikaans name I wanted to get some confirmation. Upon asking a few Afrikaans acquaintances it quickly became apparent that the Jodetert is indeed a baked staple in many Afrikaaans homes. A Northern Cape friend had never heard of it, while a relative from Paarl knew immediately what it was.
While the recipe may have simple ingredients, the techniques required have been perfected through generations passing down tips and tricks from one to another.
The centuries-old nature of the tart is also apparent with a quick Google search. You’ll find almost exclusively Afrikaans recipes. Some even post the original recipe written or typed onto paper which is faded and yellowed.
There are also a host of Afrikaans homemaker magazines that provide recipes — though often with little explanation for the name. A 2014 recipe from Sarie Magazine calls the recipe “Jodetert uit Oos-Europa” (Jewish Tart from Eastern Europe) but does not provide an explanation for the title. Similarly, a 2020 recipe in Sarie Kos says:
“There isn’t much history on the tart’s name. What we can assume is that there is a Jewish connection because of the seven layers. Though no one is sure.”
Almost, but not quite
In her exploration of the Jodetert for The Daily Maverick, Dr. Anna Trapido touches on these seven layers. Trapido, a historian and food writer, who was also the curator and copywriter for the 100 Flavours SA exhibition, explains how the seven layers can further hint at a Jewish origin. One of her sources considers that the seven layers of the Jodetert may represent the Shivat Haminim (the seven species listed in the Torah as being special products of the Land of Israel). With seven being such an important number in Judaism this feels like a relatively grounded theory. Though, again, there is no concrete proof.
In the English Huisgenoot Winning Recipes Cookbook, the writer explains the Jodetert as being “rather like milk tart” but this is really not the case. The custard filling is where the connection begins and ends.
Dr. Trapido takes a more granular look at the various cakes. These range from the Napoleon, which has similar custard but not biscuit layers, to the Russian Honey Cake (Also called Medovik). The latter feels like it should be the Jodetert because of its regional origin. However when looking at the ingredients, specifically the honey, cinnamon and sour cream, it becomes apparent that the structure is all that makes them similar.
Still searching for the origin
Dr. Trapido’s research through various Jewish Guild cookbooks and discussions with both Afrikaans and Jewish sources is among the most detailed and accessible information out there on this curious case.
However, definitive answers still remain a mystery. Despite being a link between the Jewish and Afrikaans community, the point at which the recipe moved firmly from one to the other appears to be so far back it has been lost to most living memory.
In an attempt to connect to this lost past, I took on making the Jodetert myself.
For Jewish people, connection is made and cemented through food. While I am not a good baker, working through the admittedly time-consuming process felt gratifying.
This recipe is a combination of both Dr. Trapido’s modification from Uitgesoekte Resepte and the Huisgenoot Wenresepte version.
Recipe for Jodetert
450g cake flour
10ml baking powder
200g white sugar
- In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
- In a food processor add the butter to the flour mixture and mix until combined. If you do not have a food processor you can also rub the butter in using your hands.
- Add the eggs and water and mix until a dough begins to form.
- Divide the dough into six pieces roughly 155g each. Cover and set aside for at least 30 mins.
- Roll out the dough and cut out using 20cm cake tins to form the perfect circles. Bake the offcuts for the crumble ‘seventh layer’.
- *Tip: Put a layer of baking paper between your rolling pin and the dough — this stops the dough sticking.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
- Put each circle in the baking tin and bake until starting to lightly brown. The time can vary across ovens (from 8-15 minutes). Keep an eye on the bases.
- Let the circles cool well before lifting them out of the tins otherwise you risk them cracking. Once cool, set them on a cooling rack.
- Don’t forget to bake the offcuts and crumble once semi-cooled.
250g castor sugar
100g cake flour
4 egg yolks
10ml vanilla essence
- Heat up the milk until boiling and then set aside to cool a bit.
- Mix together the egg yolk, sugar and flour. Mix until thick and it is turning lighter in colour.
- When cooled enough, slowly add the milk to the yolk mixture. This must be done off the heat. Pour in a little at a time and beat.
- Place back on the stove on low heat. Stir continuously as it heats up until it becomes a thick, custard-like consistency. If you do this part too fast you will cook the eggs ruining the custard.
- Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla essence. Cover and let it cool.
Building the Jodetert
- When ready, place the first base layer onto the cake stand, plate or board you wish to use.
- Put the custard filling in a piping bag and pipe in a spiral onto each layer stopping short of the edges.
- *If you don’t have a piping bag you can simply spread the custard onto each layer.
- Repeat this process. Finally layer the custard on the last piece before sprinkling over the crumbled biscuit.
- Put it in the fridge overnight to set. Enjoy!
• Published in the August 2022 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.
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