Simple Art of Cooking: Dessert for Mom on Mother’s Day

Have homemade dessert waiting for after brunch.
Have homemade dessert waiting for after brunch. Photo credit: Chorboon Chiranuparp/iStock/Thinkstock

My mom was truly a great cook. She loved to eat and so do I. She was a great baker, yet I didn’t grow up baking.

My mother’s cooking and baking stemmed from tradition and heritage. She baked a delicious challah every Friday night. I don’t have her recipe—I just never was much of a bread eater and nothing was written down. She baked a simple olive oil and honey cake, which I love, an occasional apple coffee cake, which my husband loves; she prepared her own phyllo dough, stretching it across our large enamel top kitchen table until you could see through it, to fill and bake her pita de spinaka (commonly known as spanakopita).

Of course the only way I could document her recipes was to bring my measurers to her kitchen, when I realized how much I wanted to cook her food. From an early age my children and grandchildren loved her phyllo dough-wrapped Greek/Sephardic specialties—and, thanks to store-bought phyllo, the legacy continues.

No doubt you have your own special “mom food” memories. Just preparing something of hers to celebrate the moment is to feel the closeness and the love. Even if you made reservations for Mother’s Day, probably the most popular dining-out day of the year, treat her to a special do-ahead dessert at home.

This sweet honey cake from Salonika is found in a great number of variations among Sephardic Jews and the Greek Orthodox.

Yield: About 38-40 pieces

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Lightly grease a 10”x2” round baking pan; do not flour.;

Preheat oven to 300°.

1. Put the cooled, melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetable oil, honey and sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly incorporated.

2. Add the beaten eggs and stir to mix. Gradually add the flour together with the baking powder and carefully mix until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

3. Pour into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cake is done when it pulls away from the side of the pan and the surface is a medium honey color. Place the cake pan on a cake rack to cool.

Note: Traditionally the cake was left in the pan to cool completely then cut into diamond shapes for serving. Ravani can be prepared several days ahead and kept at room temperature or securely wrapped for the freezer.


Pyota is a Sephardic custard dessert, much like a flan sans caramel sauce. Prepare the dessert at least three days before serving for the flavors to mellow. Refrigerated it will stay fresh for a week or longer. 

Makes approximately 24 diamond shapes 

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 large eggs
1 quart milk, whole or 2%
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 500°.

Prepare a bain-marie (water bath).

1. Melt butter and pour half into a 10” or 12” round baking pan. Swirl the butter around the pan so that the entire bottom and sides are coated. Set remaining butter and the pan aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are thoroughly combined, gradually adding the milk. Strain the mixture into another bowl, then whisk in the sugar and honey. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and drizzle remaining butter over the top. Half fill a larger pan with water (bain-marie) and put in the pan with the custard. The water should come up about two-thirds of the way

3. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes until top begins to color. Reduce oven heat to 225° and bake for 45 to 50 minutes longer.

4. Remove from oven. Custard is done when a cake tester or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Run a knife around the sides while warm and let rest on a rack to cool, about 1 hour. Make diamond “taju” shapes by cutting straight lines from the top to the bottom of the pan, and then cut diagonally. Transfer to a covered container in one layer and refrigerate for several days before serving.

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