Passover, the Festival of Freedom — also known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread — is celebrated for eight days. Over the centuries, Jewish cooks have produced a rich array of foods for the Passover holiday, and desserts are an especially important course of the meal.
No leavened ingredients may be used, such as flour, grains, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. One must substitute matzah meal, potato starch and egg whites to obtain the high-rising baked goods we admire. The good news is that it is not difficult.
Almonds and pistachios are delicate enough to flavor cakes and cookies without overpowering. Walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans go well with chocolate, and spices, and ground nuts are often a perfect substitute for flour.
The selection of dessert recipes that I am sharing will add a culinary sparkle to your family meals. All are fairly simple and will be a welcome addition to the seder, as well as to the brown-bag lunches that many will carry to avoid eating forbidden foods.
Passover would not be complete without at least one sponge cake recipe, as many Jewish households do not use matzah cake meal. I have developed a Spicy Orange Sponge Cake that rises to great heights with the help of egg whites and potato starch. Crisp almonds, spices and a glossy Chocolate Glaze make it extra good, and I predict that when you sample the Chocolate Truffle Cupcakes, you’ll never miss your usual favorites.
When friends drop in during the holiday, serve a glass of kosher wine or tea and pass a plate of Farfel Nut Clusters for another sweet treat, made with toasted matzah farfel, nuts and Passover chocolate. For a special touch, serve homemade Chocolate Macaroons with sliced strawberries that have been marinated in Concord grape wine; they are different from the usual Passover cookies.
Mini meringue shells with a lemon filling make another welcome dessert. They do not contain any dairy products and are just the right conclusion for any menu.
CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CUPCAKES
Apricot Glaze (recipe follows)4 ounces semisweet Passover chocolate1/2 cup unsalted margarine3 eggs, separated1/4 cup sugar1/4 cup ground almonds2 tablespoons sweet Passover wine2/3 cup Passover potato starch
Prepare Apricot Glaze; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Melt the chocolate and margarine in a small saucepan. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the chocolate mixture in a thin stream. Add the ground almonds and wine, blending thoroughly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry; spoon them over the chocolate mixture. Sift the potato starch on top of the batter and beaten egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites and potato starch into the batter.
Place ruffled paper cupcake cups in muffin pans. Spoon batter into cups, filling them half full. Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out dry. Spoon Apricot Glaze over hot cupcakes. Serve hot or cold.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sweet Passover wine
1/2 cup apricot preserves
Combine sugar, water, wine and preserves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; simmer 2 minutes.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
1 pound semisweet Passover chocolate, broken in pieces
1 1/2 cups toasted Passover matzah farfel
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Pour melted chocolate into a large bowl. Add matzah farfel and pecans; mix thoroughly. Spoon chocolate mixture onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or into ruffled paper candy cups. Refrigerate until set.
To serve: Peel the clusters off the waxed paper and place on a platter or serve in candy cups.
Makes about 30 servings.
SPICY ORANGE SPONGE CAKE
Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
9 eggs, separated, room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 cup Passover potato starch, sifted
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
chopped almonds for garnish
Prepare Chocolate Glaze; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Blend in the orange juice and peel.
In a separate bowl, combine the potato starch, ground almonds, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Blend into the egg yolk mixture, combining thoroughly.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. Fold 1/4 of the beaten whites into the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites until blended.
Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Invert the pan immediately onto a platter; let cool. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake; place it on a serving plate. Frost with Chocolate Glaze, and garnish with chopped almonds.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
Spicy Orange Sponge Cake. Photo by Dan Kacvinski
8 ounces semisweet Passover chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup strong hot coffee
1/2 cup apricot or orange preserves, strained
1 tablespoon sweet Passover wine
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate, coffee, preserves and wine together, mixing constantly with a wooden spoon or wire whisk, until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Add additional coffee if it becomes too thick. Spoon dollops of glaze on top of cake and spread over the cake.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
PASSOVER MINI LEMON MERINGUES
Lemon Filling (recipe follows)
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
Prepare Lemon Filling; refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 200 F.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Beat egg whites to firm peaks, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon sugar, and beat one minute longer. Gradually add remaining sugar, and beat until stiff and shiny. Beat in lemon juice.
Spoon the meringue mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip. Pipe mixture onto baking sheets in 1 1/2-inch-diameter pinwheels. Pipe a border onto the outer edge of each pinwheel to form small cups.
Or drop 1 1/2-inch mounds of meringue onto baking sheets at 2-inch intervals. Use the back of a spoon to create a hollow center in each mound, forming a shallow shell.
Bake about 55 minutes or until firm.
Carefully loosen the meringues with a spatula. Turn off the heat, and leave the meringue shells in the oven to dry
Using a teaspoon, fill each meringue shell with Lemon Filling. Garnish with lemon zest.
Makes about 4 dozen.
1/4 cup unsalted margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Blend the margarine, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and eggs together in a heavy-bottomed pan or in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Chill mixture thoroughly before filling meringues.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
PASSOVER CHOCOLATE MACAROONS
6 ounces semisweet Passover chocolate
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
In top of double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate; pour it into a medium to large bowl.
In bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff, but not dry. Gently fold half of the beaten egg whites into the melted chocolate. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining beaten egg whites. Fold in the ground almonds.
Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip. Pipe the batter into mounds, 1 inch apart, onto a baking sheet lined with foil or a silicone baking mat. Or, using a teaspoon, spoon the batter into mounds 1 inch apart.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Cool, then peel from the foil or silicone mat and transfer to a wire rack.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen.
Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks.” Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.
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