Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Jewish women behind a culinary bestseller

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Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Jewish women behind a culinary bestseller

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

All smiles - the cooks of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, and some of the dishes created from the recipes they collected
All smiles - the cooks of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, and some of the dishes created from the recipes they collected

By Alex Galbinski 

Combining their love for food with helping charity, six Jewish women from Sydney may have found the perfect recipe for a tasty bestseller.

The Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, the Stories, the Sisterhood has already sold 40,000 copies worldwide and has now been published in the UK.

Its premise is simple. The group’s six members met in 2006 to start putting together a cookbook to raise money for WIZO. They emailed everyone they knew to ask them for the names of the best cooks they knew. Anyone who received more than two mentions was asked to contribute.

All smiles - the cooks of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, and some of the dishes created from the recipes they collected
All smiles – the cooks of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, and some of the dishes created from the recipes they collected

Out of more than 400 recipes, the group whittled down the list to the 115 featured in the book. It is an eclectic mix, with recipes from Australia and all parts of Europe, but also places as far-flung as Burma, India and Iran.

The MMCC has been praised by Nigella Lawson (“Just seeing it in the shop window made me feel comforted; having the book at home is pure cosy joy”) and Yotam Ottolenghi (“a remarkable excursion into the realm of comfort food – you just want to eat everything”).

The sisterhood comprises Lisa Goldberg, from Melbourne, of Polish stock; Merelyn Frank Chalmer, originally from Perth, with Hungarian heritage; Natanya Eskin, from Sydney, with Shanghai/Russian roots; Lauren Fink and Paula Horwitz, originally from South Africa; and Jacqui Israel, from Sydney, with an English background.

Some were friends beforehand, while others met through the Jewish community, via their children or at social events.

Goldberg, formerly a solicitor and known as the MMCC’s chief pot-stirrer, says: “It’s a heart-warming and gorgeous collection of recipes and stories which paint a picture of Sydney’s food-obsessed Jewish community and in turn reflect the beautiful melting pot that is Australia and which is reflected in the book.”

Monday morning was the one time in the week everyone could meet, between juggling family, work and personal commitments, and the idea expanded. Goldberg explains: “We made it our mission to take it one step further than the usual charity cookbooks. We wanted to try to find the best recipes from the best cooks in Sydney’s Jewish community and produce a work that could sit next to the best cookbooks in the world.”

“A couple of the cooks have had formal training, but [mostly] they had a massive love of food, feeding, and fressing.”

The group even managed to persuade some cooks who had kept their recipes secret for 50 years – but not everyone wanted to share.
“A couple of people refused to pass on their recipes and all we can do is try to
coerce them gently and then, when they refuse, throw our hands in the air and sigh. Such a shame,” Goldberg says.

A delicious dessert from the ladies’ cookery book

The group tested each recipe many, times. As Goldberg explains: “We are fairly obsessive when it comes to recipe testing. If a recipe was going to be included, it had to work. And it had to work for anyone – whether someone who had never cooked a thing or a food professional. This is why we are so confident all these recipes actually work.”

It was certainly a tall order – but it succeeded. Now the group’s second cookbook, The Feast Goes On, has just been released in Australia and is earmarked for publication in the UK in September.

So what are their own favourite recipes? “That’s like choosing your favourite child!” cries Merelyn Frank Chalmers, 51, who has worked in PR specialising in the food industry for more than 20 years.

The mum-of-two adds: “My mother’s custard chiffon cake recipe is a clear winner. It was a closely-guarded secret for more than 50 years. I begged and pleaded with her to immortalise her cake – I said her grandchildren would get so much nachas. My mother has now passed away and I am so grateful she finally agreed to share it so her recipe lives on forever.”

Natanya Eskin, 50, a former primary school teacher with three children, says: “There are a couple I always come back to: Lena Goldstein’s kindlech – the light and flaky pastry is unbelievable – and my grandmother’s lokshen kugel, which is such a warming dessert in winter that it always reminds me of being in her kitchen many years ago.”

Goldberg, a 50-year-old mum-of-four, says: “I love so many of them and many have become my go-to recipes. My favourite is the poppy-seed beigli, a delicious Hungarian strudel with a moist poppy-seed filling.

“It takes me back to the continental cake shops I used to go to in St Kilda in Melbourne. It is lovely to make and every time we do it for a cooking demonstration, it fills me with joy.”

Another tasty recipe from their compilation
Another tasty recipe from their compilation

The group has so far helped raise almost AUD $500,000 for WIZO, OzHarvest – which rescues food that would otherwise be thrown away and gives it to the homeless – and other worthy causes. But the project is as much about keeping the recipes going long after they were first written down.

Goldberg adds: “The charity side is really the icing on the cake. Our main aim is to preserve recipes from the older generation for us, and recipes from our generation for the future, so we need to continue with our concerted effort to reach those amazing cooks from the older generation.”

• Monday Morning Cooking Club is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.


[divider] Monday Morning Cooking Club’s Custard Chiffon Cake [divider]

175 g (1⅙ cups) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

35 g (ºcup) custard powder

6 large eggs, separated

345 g (1Ω cups) caster sugar

Ωteaspoon vanilla extract

80 ml (N cup) extra light olive oil or vegetable oil

170 ml (⅔cup) warm water

This was my favourite cake when I was young, and now it’s my children’s favourite, too. I remember eating it in the kitchen after school and calling it ‘yellow cake’ because of its deep buttery colour. This has been my mother’s secret recipe for close to fifty years. Many, many people have asked for the recipe, but until the Monday Morning Cooking Club, no-one was allowed a copy of it! Chiffon cake must be inverted while cooling to stop it from collapsing, so before you start check you have a bottle that fits in the funnel of the angel cake tin and that it will balance.


Preheat the oven to 180∞C. You will need an angel cake (chiffon) tin (see note). Do not grease it.

Sift the flour, cream of tartar and custard powder together three times to ensure they are fully combined.

In an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with 230g (1 cup) of the sugar until pale and creamy, then add the vanilla. Pour the oil and warm water into a jug. While the yolks are still beating on low speed, add the flour mixture and the oil and water at the same time, beating until just incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar and continue to whisk until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Very carefully fold the batter into the egg whites with a metal spoon until just incorporated.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake.

After removing the cake from the oven, immediately invert it to cool by balancing the middle funnel onto a bottle neck.

(The cake will be dangling upside down.) It is important for the cake to be inverted and suspended upside down until it is cool to stop it from collapsing. When cool, run a knife around the outside of the cake and the funnel. Lift the base out of the tin, then use the knife to ease the cake off the base.

Serves 12

Note: For the best results, you need to use a high-sided cake tin (25 cm x 10 cm deep) with an inner funnel and removable base; do not use a non-stick tin. It is important to use an ungreased cake tin, which will allow the batter to cling to the side of the tin as it rises.

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