During the fall and winter months, Israelis have a fondness for something called krembo (which literally means “cream inside”). Krembos originated about 200 years ago in Denmark and began to be mass produced in Israel by the Whitman Company in 1966. Sometimes known as winter ice cream, the idea for the dessert, as stated by Whitman, was to produce a substitute for ice cream “that doesn't chill the throat.”
The original krembo is still the most popular: a cookie base, topped with a mound of vanilla cream, and all of it covered with chocolate. If you are venturesome, you can find krembo with other kinds of cream, such as strawberry, mocha, chocolate, and even banana. However, ultimately, you'll end up deciding to forgo all of the fancier flavors and stick to vanilla.
Much like the ancient debate concerning how to eat an Oreo cookie, there are a few opinions concerning krembo consumption. The safest and I believe least creative way is to eat the krembo on a first-comes-first basis: you begin at the top of the little mound and work your way down to the cookie. An alternate way of eating krembo is to do the opposite: pull the cookie out from the bottom and eat it first, and then tackle the cream-covered chocolate. My basic ideological problem with both these methods is that I believe that the cookie is meant to be integrated into krembo eating (for one thing, the cookie's taste will only improve from the mixture). Of course, you pay a price with gooey sticky fingers, but I think it's worth it. For the record, in a survey conducted by the Strauss company (which bought Whitman in 1979 and has cornered about 70% of Israel's krembo market, producing 35 million krembo a year), only 10% of krembo eaters do it my way, with a whopping 69% eating it from top down and 12% from cookie up.
This winter the krembo craze is in evidence even at fancy eateries. One gelateria in Tel Aviv, for example, produces a bite-sized krembo for 7 shekels, about $2 (regular krembo can be bought for as little as half a shekel apiece in boxes of 20 or 40 and can be snarfed in about 3 bites), where the wafer is covered with coconut first, then topped with a cream that seems close to marshmallow, and then all covered with white chocolate. A chef named Eldad Shemtov of the Shakuf restaurant in Jaffa uses krembo more like a palate cleanser than a dessert. His (also small) krembo is based on a seasonal fruit or vegetable juice, whipped together with eggs and cream; variations include krembos based on carrot and wild thyme. And at the Jaffa restaurant Carmela Banahala, chef Daniel Zach has had to once again continue his (decade-long) tradition of producing gourmet krembo because, as he says, “every time I want to take it off the menu, there's an outcry.” He acknowledges that “it takes a while to explain [to tourists] what a krembo is. To Israelis it's obvious.”
My personal fondness for krembo is due to the fact that most of the packaged variety are pareve. When we have guests with children over for a winter (meat) Shabbat lunch, and I bring out a banana cake topped with nuts for dessert, I don't have to fret at how many of the youngsters will turn up their noses at either the bananas or the nuts because I know that they will be delighted by a box of krembo (just the sight of the colorful foil that covers each krembo is enough to send them all a-tingling). And it is often the case that one or more of the adults will bashfully take one. And they are usually happy that they do.
Copyright 2011, Teddy Weinberger