Passover desserts rise above limitations
How many great desserts can you think of that aren't made with flour, baking powder or even dairy products?

The answer is: However many great desserts a Jewish kosher cook can serve for Passover meals while still following the dietary laws for this particular holiday, which begins March 29 and ends after sundown April 5.

All too often, kosher cooks limit their Passover desserts to 10- to 12-egg sponge cakes, flourless chocolate cakes or fudgy brownies made with matzo cake meal for leavening.

"When you use matzo meal, it's a very heavy ingredient, so it's hard to get a dessert that isn't a door stop," said Eileen Goltz, author of the cookbook, "Perfectly Pareve," published by Feldheim and a Chicago-based freelance kosher food writer.

"You tend to look for simplicity," she said. "You go with desserts that are beautiful, like sponge cake with fresh fruit or a glaze. Chocolate often is used because it masks the taste of matzo."

Keeping the dietary laws in mind -- and the varying degrees of kosher observance among Jews -- we posed a Passover Dessert Challenge asking readers to give us their best Passover dessert recipes.

We received about two dozen entries: bars and brownies, flourless chocolate cakes, tortes, rhubarb-apple crisp, sponge cake and macaroons. The winners were selected based on testing results of 10 recipes that either were classics with a unique twist or refreshingly different. Members of the food staff picked winners through a blind taste test.

Enid Barnes of Shorewood, Wis., submitted the first-, second- and fourth-place winners.

Her first-prize recipe is a tart with a chocolate-laced meringue shell filled with a lemon curd-style filling. Barnes' second-place recipe is a dense, moist blondie brownie. Taking fourth was her fudgy brownie with a decadent, coffee-infused glossy frosting garnished with fresh strawberries.

Third place went to Toby Colton of Glendale, Wis., for her strikingly simple, delicious macaroons.

Growing up, Barnes said, her family did not keep kosher, except during Passover, when they would use kosher-for-Passover ingredients.

Many Jews who don't keep kosher the rest of the year make a special effort during Passover.

Making sure food is kosher for Passover is more difficult than during the rest of the year because many of the ingredients routinely used and produced under kosher supervision are not kosher for Passover, according to the Web site, www.kashrut.com.

Nothing can be used during Passover that contains barley, wheat, rye, oats or spelt, except for matzo and matzo meal products, which are made with flour and water mixed together and allowed to sit for less than 18 minutes before cooking -- all under the supervision of a rabbi.

The time element attached to matzo commemorates the haste with which the children of Israel left Egypt when they were freed from slavery more than 3,000 years ago under the leadership of Moses. There wasn't time for their bread to rise, so they took unleavened bread with them.

Unleavened bread, called matzo, became a primary symbol of the Passover holiday, which marks the birth of Jews as a people. While many Jews love eating matzo with every Passover meal, its extremely low fiber content can wreak havoc on the digestive system and pack on the Passover pounds, said Chef Rebecca Guralnick of Cooking with Chef Becca (chefbecca@sbcglobal.net).

Jewish people are required to eat matzo as a ritual food during the Passover Seder, but they are not obligated to eat matzo, or any of its derivatives (matzo meal, farfel, matzo flour, etc.) for the rest of the Passover week, Guralnick said.

Matzo flour takes the place of regular wheat flour because all foods that are fermented or leavened are prohibited during Passover.

Baking without flour can be a challenge for a couple of reasons, Guralnick said. The kosher-for-Passover flour substitute affects the flavor, density and appearance of desserts. Traditionally, Passover bakers use a combination of matzo flour and/or potato starch in place of flour, Guralnick said.