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Faith Kaplan

Faith Kaplan's Yontif Recipes : Gefilte Fish Wars and Chocolate Cake

by Faith Kaplan, September 12, 2012

In 1993, Hart and I hosted our first Kaplan family seder (I think). Hart's Baba Edith did all the cooking, and of course the extended Linder family was included. My Baba Dolly brought gefilte fish - eventhough Edith had made fish - and insisted I serve it. Our guests each received one piece of Dolly's fish and one piece of Edith's fish. Then Baba Dolly asked the question I had been dreading since she arrived with her fish:" So, whose fish do you prefer?" Her question was met by horrified silence and an ein horah from Baba Edith. Hart's sister Fran, a social worker, bravely jumped into the fray with "Dolly, your fish is delicious, but Baba Edith's is the fish I've grown up with and look forward to every yontif." And Newfoundland thought they were embroiled in fish wars!
The following is the Gifilte fish recipe but there is no comment as to whether the recipe is Baba Dolly's or Baba Edith’s. Only the Kaplans know for sure:
Gefilte Fish
Fish Patties:
1 pound pickerel fillets
1 small onion sliced and sautéed in oil
1 egg
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp matzo meal
2 Tbsp cold water

Grind fillets and sautéed onion in food processor until fine. Do not over process or it will be mushy! Mix in remaining ingredients with a wooden spoon. 

Make brine:

Grease bottom of large pot with oil. Slice 2 onions (with skins on), line bottom of pot and fill half full with cold water. Bring to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp white pepper, 1 tsp sugar to boiling water. 

Wet hands with cold water and pat a handful of ground fish into balls. Wet your hand and the fish won’t stick to you. Compress the balls slightly as you form them for a denser ball.

Add fish patties to boiling water as you form them. Add 2 sliced carrots. Turn heat to medium. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Take off lid and cook for ½ hour on medium. Turn heat down to low and cook for another ½ hour.

Fish can be kept in fridge for 3 days. You may double or triple the recipe, but make patties in batches of one pound and adjust the brine accordingly. Fish should be covered by brine as it starts cooking. Brine will reduce as fish cooks.


My dad's mom, Baba Ida, was a fantastic cook and baker. In fact, she ran a cafe at one point. She made a cake with ice cream in it when we were children, and it was THE best cake ever. When I was a teenager, I asked her for the recipe. "It's from the box," she said. Confused, I asked her what box. She went to the cupboard and handed me a boxed cake mix. I was too astonished to process whether it was Duncan or Betty's. I refused to believe it, and years later made this recipe from the back of the Swan's Down Cake Flour bag. It tastes like the cake I remember much more than the boxed mixes do. And it's great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!


Swan’s Down Chocolate Cake

2 ¼ c Swan’s Down cake flour

2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

½ c unsalted butter, softened

2 ¼ c firmly packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

1 c sour cream

1 c boiling water


Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.


Sift flour, salt, and baking soda into a bowl and set aside. Cream butter until soft, then add brown sugar and beat for 5 minutes. Add eggs one a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and chocolate. Mix well. Alternate flour mixture and sour cream. Mix well. Add boiling water – batter will now be quite thin. Pour into prepared cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes until done. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Ice when the cake is completely cool.



5 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

3 c icing sugar

½ c unsweetened butter, softened

½ c hot water

1 large egg


Mix all ingredients together and beat for 2 minutes. Put the bowl in the fridge (covered with wax paper or plastic wrap) until it cools and is fairly thick. Spread between layers to secure, then ice top and sides.

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