One would expect that a great-grandson of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook would be a Torah scholar. Michoel Raanan is that and more. One of his hobbies is making specialty cakes for engagement parties, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and birthday parties.
Thirty-nine year-old Michoel Raanan learned in various yeshiva settings—the main ones being Yeshivat L’Tzeirim (the yeshiva high school of Mercaz HaRav) and Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. He also learned in a kollel called Or Shlomo (Light of Shlomo) in Chevron.
The kollel was established ten years ago after Michoel’s father, Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, was stabbed to death by an Arab in the Raanan’s mobile home. A former Sephardi chief rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, said that a kollel should be set up in the room in which Rav Shlomo was stabbed to death. The room was enlarged and used as a kollel until a permit was obtained to build a permanent building in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Rav Shlomo’s widow, lives in an apartment that is attached to the kollel building.
Michoel’s sister lives in Chevron. His brother, who was thrown out of his home in Netzarim in Gush Katif, lives in the southern community of Yevul.
Michoel and his wife Amira have three daughters. Initially, Amira baked the birthday cakes for the girls’ nursery and kindergarten parties. Michoel started helping his wife and eventually became the baker. The girls sometimes celebrate quarter, half, three-quarter and whole year birthdays. That makes for a lot of cakes during the past eight years!
The first official order for a specialty cake was from a neighbor who requested a drum set for her son’s bar mitzvah. I was so impressed with the cake drum set that I decided that I must write a piece about Michoel’s talent.
For the most part, Michoel creates cakes as presents for special occasions. Our daughter Devorah Elianna received a cake with the prophetess Devorah sitting under a date palm tree. Her close friend Rachel received a cake of the Land of Israel, with the words “See, Rachel, see! They have returned to their borders” written in Hebrew.
Michoel uses a basic chocolate or vanilla cake recipe from UGOT YOM HULEDET (birthday cakes) by Josie Mandelson, which is based on CHILDREN’S BIRTHDAY CAKE BOOK published by the Australian Women’s Weekly.
Michoel told me, “They are stable cakes and tasty.” He bakes the number of cakes that he needs and freezes them. The night before the simcha he removes the cake from the freezer and the decorating phase begins. He works into the night. The dairy recipes are based on the Israeli cup size which is 200 ml in contrast to the American 250 ml.
White Cake Recipe
- 1½ cups flour
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 100 grams Margarine (about 7 Tablespoons)
- A few drops of vanilla flavoring
- Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl
- Make a well in the center and add the milk, the vanilla and the egg
- Mix a little, add the margarine and mix well
- Bake in a 200°C (400°F) oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
- 1-2/3 cups flour
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 100 g Margarine (about 7 Tbsp)
- 1 cup milk
- A few drops of vanilla flavoring
- Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa in a large bowl
- Add the margarine, milk and vanilla and mix with an electric mixer for two minutes
- Add the eggs and mix well until you obtain a smooth batter
- Bake in a 180°C (350°F) oven for 30 to 45 minutes.
At first Michoel took ideas from books and later on he looked for “original ideas of my own.” Among the specialty cakes he has created are a guitar, Harry Potter, a cat, an elephant, tefillin, a computer, a dreidel, a garden with a little girl…
He learned some of the art of icing decorations from a book in Hebrew called SHA’SHU’AY UGOT BY Tal Tsafrir (www.achiasof.co.il).The book is divided into sections: animals, Jewish holidays and children’s stories. I love the Chanuka doughnut house with a girl sticking out of the window. For Shavuot there is a basket of fruit.
I asked Michoel which of the cakes he has baked and decorated is his favorite. He did not have one specific cake that he favors. I borrowed his album of cake photos and let my family peruse it. We all love the treasure chest with chocolate coins spilling out.
How does he feel when a cake that he has spent so many hours on is cut? “I don’t have a problem with it. I know it (the cake) is temporary.”
Michoel does not advertise. He gets orders by word of mouth. Presently he does not have the time to open a business. Despite his wonderful creations, Michoel feels that he can do a more professional job if he took a course, but he does not have the time or money to take one at the present time.
In the mornings Michoel works at The Halacha B’rura Institute, which is situated in the basement of Mercaz HaRav. He is working on a project that was begun by his great-grandfather Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. His son Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook continued the project. The idea is to publish the Talmud with a summary of the major interpretations from the Talmudic discussions and to provide the halachic rulings. Approximately half of the Talmud has been completed thus far. Thirty-six Torah scholars work on this project.
Another hobby of Michoel is carpentry. He works in a local store which sells wooden furniture and builds wooden fences, pergolas, etc. Four hours a week he teaches carpentry and scouting (reconnaissance) to third and fourth graders. When he was younger he would sketch with charcoal. These talents show up in his cakes because he needs to build the structures out of cake and then decorate them.
When baking a cake for a simcha your imagination is the limit!
Directions for Making the Suitcase cake:
To make a suitcase cake you need about 2½ times the recipe of chocolate cake.
- Use one cake for the bottom.
- Put a pile of miniature Rubik’s Cubes on top of the cake.
- Put a strip of cake on top of each of the four sides of the bottom chocolate cake.
- Put another chocolate cake on top.
- Spread on a frosting of your choice.
- The handle of the suitcase was made with an Israeli chocolate called “mekupelet” (rolled).
- The suitcase ownership tag was made with fruit leather.
- The stripes on the suitcase were made from flat Israeli candies called “shatiach” (carpet) [sour belt and sour sticks might be a good American equivalent]
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.