When Julien Bohbot and Jacob Levy opened Delice Bakery on Pico Boulevard two years ago, they had one goal in mind: introducing the kosher community in Los Angeles to authentic French-baked goods that adhered to the highest standard of kashrut without sacrificing taste or quality. So during the year, that meant that Bohbot and Levy were paying three or four times as much as other bakeries for ingredients so that they could use cholov yisroel (milk that has been supervised), butter and cream to make Delice's flaky croissants. But at Passover time, the two men faced a greater challenge to make Passover cakes that tasted as good as year-round cakes and make the cakes affordable -- or almost affordable -- despite the high cost of kosher-for-Passover ingredients.
Even to the experienced bakers at Delice, some of whom Bohbot and Levy brought over from France, Passover baking was difficult. The main ingredient of regular baking, wheat flour, is chametz and thus not able to be used on Pesach, and over the years, bakers have come up with all sorts of ways to make cakes and cookies without that main ingredient. They have made cakes using only nut meal -- finely ground-up nuts, which, while resulting in an extra moist cake, does not make a very hardy cake or cookie. They have also used potato starch, that brownish gray residue that separates from the liquid that exudes from grated potatoes. It is a more robust ingredient than nut meal, but it is also very dry, and cakes made with potato starch only give the palate an experience of eating sandpaper.
The best thing to make Passover cakes with is extra fine matzah meal, which is also sold as cake meal.
"But there is no matzah meal here," said Levy, speaking from the special kitchen that Delice set up in the Valley to make its Passover cakes. Levy explained that the reason that Delice does not use matzah meal is because there are some Jews who have a custom to not eat gebrohkts on Pesach, which is when you add liquid to matzah, as a safeguard against some potentially uncooked flour in the matzah coming into contact with the water, and then turning into chametz.
Instead of matzah meal, Delice makes basic cakes using a mixture of nut meal and potato starch. It adds extra eggs and oil to its regular recipes to combat the dryness of the starch, and then, once the cakes are made, they gussy them up with different mousses and pralines so it just feels like you're eating velvety cream cakes instead of a dry Passover sponge.
"You won't believe it when you taste it," said Levy, preparing a little sample of a chocolate sponge cake that has been doused with sugar syrup and topped with hazelnut praline cream. "It tastes very nice, not too heavy."
Not that it comes cheap.
"The cost is about 25 times as much as regular," Levy said. "We are paying $5 a pound for almond meal, instead of 20 cents a pound for regular flour. We order 90 percent of our ingredients from New York, and everything costs two or three times the price of what it does during the year."
Delice makes about 30 different Passover cakes and cookies that retail from $9.50 to $38. This year it expects to sell 3,000 cakes.
"Some people like our Passover cakes so much, that they ask us, 'Why don't you make these all year round?'" Levy said.
Basic Passover Sponge
3Â¼4 cup sugar
1Â¼3 cup potato starch
3Â¼4 cup very fine almond meal
1Â¼8 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons cocoa (for a chocolate sponge)
grated rind of one lemon (for a lemon sponge)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (for a vanilla sponge)
Preheat oven to 350 F
Warm eggs and sugar on top of a double boiler, whisking occasionally, until slightly hotter than tepid.
Using an electric mixer, whip on medium speed for 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and cocoa, if desired. Fold dry ingredients and oil into the egg and sugar mixture. Add flavoring, if desired. Pour into a nine-inch round pan. Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes. Immediately invert the pan on baking sheet to cool.
Once cool, the cake can be frosted with kosher-for-Passover pareve whipped topping that has been whipped until stiff with a teaspoon of sugar.
Delice Bakery is at 8583 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.. For more information call (310) 289-6556.