When we slather our mothers with chocolaty tributes on Mother’s Day, we will be stepping onto a chocolate trail pioneered by Jewish mothers before us, notably Rebecca Gomez of the 18th-Century Colonial Period.
Gomez, along with her husband and son, had an appetite for the chocolate business in Manhattan. After the death of her husband, she ran her own chocolate business and advertised her delectable chocolates in the local papers, “Rebecca Gomez at the Chocolate Manufactory Corner of Ann and Nassau-Street.” While there were about a dozen other women selling chocolate in the colonies, Gomez uniquely manufactured it as well.
Gomez’s chocolate also had yichus (pedigree, family lineage) in the Jewish community. Her extended Gomez clan led the Sephardi and civic community of New York. Within the city’s Congregation Shearith Israel, they enjoyed the most prestigious seats, and the affluent Gomez family’s donation was the highest of any single contribution. The vast majority of the 25 Sephardi members of the leadership committee of Shearith Israel were Gomezes. The prestigious northwest gallery of the synagogue’s women’s section, called the “banco,” was reserved for the Gomez women, symbolizing their wealth and stature.
Our colonial matriarch, Rebecca Gomez, contributed to the popularity and availability of chocolate indulgences in her day. From Gomez to our beloved mothers today, we celebrate them with the blessings of chocolate.
Today Gomez family descendants help support the Gomez Foundation for Mill House, the oldest extant Jewish building in North America, through its foundation. When the family gathers, it enjoys a delicious chocolate iced cake dubbed “family cake.”
Gomez “Family Cake”
For best results, make sure your ingredients — eggs, butter and milk — are at room temperature except where indicated.
For the cake
4 large eggs, separated
2 sticks sweet (unsalted) butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2½ cups cake flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the icing
1 pound dark chocolate (preferably 8 ounces bittersweet and 8 ounces 70% dark chocolate)
½ –¾ stick of salted butter
½ cup cold milk (more if mixture is too thick)
A bit of sugar to taste
1) Preheat oven to 375˚ F.
2) Grease (butter) and flour 3 round 8-inch cake pans.
3) Separate eggs and set aside.
4) Sift flour together with baking powder and salt. Set aside.
5) Cream butter and sugar in bowl (use electric mixture or hand held beaters). Add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well.
6) Alternately add small amounts of flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture. When the last of the flour is added, beat in vanilla.
7) In separate bowl, beat egg whites until very stiff. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into batter. Mix gently but thoroughly.
8) Pour mixture into prepared cake pans. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake. Cake should be very moist.
9) To prepare the icing: Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler or bain marie (do not microwave).
Add about ½ cup of milk. Mix well. Cool slightly, but spread while still warm. Spread icing between layers, on top and on sides of cake.
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao” (Jewish Lights), is in its third printing. Prinz also writes for The Huffington Post and blogs at .
An earlier version of this appeared at ReformJudaism.org