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 (email@example.com).
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.
Also, "you really start to miss those yummy carbohydrate snacks and desserts that you enjoy the rest of the year," she said.
Passover desserts have improved greatly through the years because better-tasting kosher-for-Passover ingredients, such as whipped topping, have become available, Barnes said.
Those who keep kosher in the strictest sense also do not eat meat and milk in the same meal.
Though depending on where one's ancestors are from, one could wait a certain number of hours between the meat course and dessert, and still have a dessert that included a dairy product.
Kosher-for-Passover margarine provides kosher cooks with a non-dairy substitute for butter.
"One of the nice things about dessert is you don't have a lot of it," said Goltz, the kosher food writer. "You want something special to end your evening with, but it's usually late and a Seder meal is heavy, so you want something light."
A common mistake of inexperienced Jewish cooks is to add too much matzo meal or matzo cake meal to a dessert.
"It turns out so hard, it sits in the stomach for days," Goltz said.
"A perfect tart for Passover," Enid Barnes, winner of the Passover Dessert Challenge, says of this Lemon Mousse Tart, a recipe she attributes to cookbook author Lucy Waverman of Toronto.
If you want to make this recipe for non-Passover meals, replace the potato starch with regular cornstarch. In either case, do not fill the shell until a few hours before serving. Though it's called mousse, the lemon filling is more like a curd.
Some more common ingredients, such as matzo meal and potato starch, are available in many supermarkets.
Passover floating lemon mousse tart
4 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup grated semi-sweet or bittersweet baking chocolate or kosher-for-Passover baking chocolate
Lemon filling (recipe below)
Passover whipped topping (optional)
Favorite berries for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat egg whites with electric mixer until frothy. Slowly add sugar. Continue to beat until egg whites are thick and glossy and form stiff peaks when beaters are lifted.
Beat in lemon juice. Gently fold in grated chocolate.
Spoon mixture onto large piece of parchment paper and spread into a 10-inch circle with 2-inch-high sides. It should resemble a free-form pie shell.
Bake in preheated oven 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until barely browned and dry. Turn oven off and leave in oven about 4 hours to cool. Remove shell from parchment paper and place on serving plate.
A few hours before serving, spoon filling into shell.
Top with kosher-for-Passover whipped topping, if desired, or with your favorite berries.
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons potato starch
1 cup water
In saucepan, whisk together the whole eggs, add sugar, lemon juice and lemon rind. In separate bowl, combine potato starch and water, then stir into lemon mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a separate bowl. Cool.
Enid Barnes also submitted the recipe that earned second place in our tasting, a rich bar with a smooth caramel taste. Similarly, cornstarch can be substituted for potato starch, if desired.
This recipe originally came from cookbook author Marcy Goldman of Montreal.
Servings: 30 to 40 bars
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher-for- Passover vanilla sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or kosher-for-Passover margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo cake meal
1 cup potato starch
1 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, chocolate chips or kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line an 8-by-10-inch brownie pan with foil; spray foil with non-stick oil. Leave enough foil overhang to lift out the blondie after it's baked.
In large mixing bowl, cream the brown, granulated and vanilla sugars with the butter or margarine.
Blend in eggs. Stir in salt, cake meal and potato starch. Fold in chocolate and, if using, nuts. Chill batter 20 minutes.
Spread or press batter into prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven 35 to 40 minutes, or until center is just set, not jiggly.
Cool well. Use the foil to lift blondies from pan. Cut into serving-size squares.
Passover macaroons (regular and almond)
"This is an absolutely fabulous Passover macaroon recipe," Toby Colton said. "You will probably never want to eat canned macaroons again.
"They are best eaten soon after they are made, when the outside is crispy and the insides are tender," she said. "But they can easily be made several days ahead and kept covered until it's time to serve them."
Colton adapted a recipe from a friend to make two varieties of macaroons from one can of sweetened condensed milk: one regular, the other almond-flavored. Most people prefer the almond, she said.
"I use the almonds with skins on, and that gives them a speckled look that differentiates the almond macaroons from the vanilla."
Servings: 6 to 8 dozen
5 cups unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut (divided)
1 cup white chocolate chips or kosher-for- Passover white chocolate chips (divided)
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk (divided) (see note)
2 teaspoons double-strength Madagascar vanilla extract (divided)
1 cup ground almonds (see note)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (add more if your whole almonds do not have a strong flavor)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make regular macaroons: In medium bowl, place 3 cups coconut.
In small saucepan over low heat, gently melt 1/2 cup of the white chocolate chips.
Add 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk and stir, removing from burner. Add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and stir. Add to coconut and mix well.
Drop a well-rounded teaspoon of the mixture onto the parchment, using a second spoon to push the mixture off the first spoon.
No need to leave a lot of space between cookies; they do not spread.
With wet fingers, pat down the tops a little so they don't get too brown.
Or, use a small cookie scoop of 2 teaspoons.
Bake in preheated oven 9 minutes or until very lightly browned.
To make almond macaroons: In same bowl, place remaining 2 cups coconut and mix with ground almonds.
In small saucepan over low heat, gently melt remaining 1/2 cup white chocolate chips.
Add remaining 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk and stir, removing from burner. Add remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and the almond extract. Stir.
Drop dough as before onto parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Each flavor of macaroons makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.
Note: This is a dairy recipe.
Note: Process 1 cup whole almonds in food processor with metal blade until very fine, but not to a butter consistency.
I can't believe these are Passover brownies
These are decadent brownies -- fudgy and dense -- and they are one of Enid Barnes' most requested recipes.
Like the blondies, the recipe originally came from cookbook author Marcy Goldman of Montreal.
They can be made in an 8- or 9-inch springform pan or a square baking pan. Display them on a cake plate.
Servings: about 20 brownies
2 cups granulated or packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or kosher-for-Passover margarine, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
3/4 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup matzo cake meal
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
2/3 cup water or brewed coffee
7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely-chopped or kosher-for-Passover semi-sweet chocolate (can be chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or kosher-for-Passover margarine, room temperature
Finely chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 10-by-7-inch rectangular baking pan, 9-inch square pan, or 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
In large mixing bowl, mix sugar into melted butter or margarine, then add eggs, coffee, cocoa, salt, cake meal and, if using, toasted walnuts.
Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven about 25 minutes. Do not overbake. Brownies should be set and seem dry to the touch, but there should not be a crust around the sides. Cool in pan.
Prepare frosting. In small saucepan, heat water or coffee. As it comes to a boil, reduce heat and stir in chopped chocolate.
Remove pan from stove and stir until chocolate is thoroughly melted. Cool in refrigerator about 30 minutes.
Whisk in softened butter or margarine and spread frosting on top of cooled brownies. Decorate as desired. Cut into squares (if baked in a square pan) or wedges (if baked in a springform).
To garnish, place strawberries, one on each brownie square, with narrow ends pointing upward. Or, place strawberries in a concentric circle over top, or in another arrangement.
Passover desserts tricks and tips
Here are some useful tips and tricks for Passover dessert baking from Chef Rebecca Guralnick of Cooking with Chef Becca (firstname.lastname@example.org). Guralnick teaches international cooking classes at Whole Foods, through the Nicolet School District's recreation department and at the Jewish Community Center.
• When you bake with matzo flour or farfel, opt for the whole-wheat version, and be sure to balance your diet with plenty of fruits (fresh or dried), vegetables and water.
• Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables in baked goods. Try using apple sauce, blueberry puree, mashed avocado, carrot, squash or sweet potato puree as substitutes for some or all of the oil in a recipe (as a general rule, you can use 1/2 cup of fruit puree or 3/4 cup vegetable puree to replace one cup of butter or margarine in baked goods, or 3/4 cup fruit puree and 1 cup vegetable puree per cup of oil).
• Lighten up the cholesterol if you wish by substituting two egg whites for each whole egg.
• For healthier desserts, stick to fresh fruit salads and kebabs, or make fruit cobblers with crumbled nut and whole-wheat farfel streusel topping. Alternately, homemade fruit sorbets -- such as banana and strawberry -- are always a crowd pleaser. Use these to make a Passover sundae bar for the kids.
• For an elegant dessert, serve chocolate fondue with assorted fruit, dried fruit and kosher-for-Passover marshmallows for dippers. Alternatively, flourless chocolate cake is a timeless classic and freezes very well. Serve it with fresh fruit and a dollop of honey-sweetened minted yogurt or kosher-for-Passover whipped cream.
• For easy after-school sweet treats, freeze chocolate-dipped bananas on a Popsicle stick.
• Opt for healthy fats in your cooking and baking. Olive oil is best, but you can find many oils that are kosher for Passover, including safflower, walnut and vegetable. Note that canola oil is not permissible.
• Use almond flour as a flavorful and healthy substitute for regular flour. Likewise, use almond butter in place of peanut butter (which is prohibited among Ashkenazic Jews).
• Quinoa, a grain-like product with a high amino acid (protein) content, is accepted by many Jews as kosher for Passover and also can be used as a flour substitute (please check with your own rabbi if you are unsure). Check for quinoa-based dessert recipes online.
•Add lots of flavor to your baked goods. Use citrus zest to offset bland Passover cakes and cookies. Vanilla is not an option during Passover, but you can use artificial vanilla powder in your recipes. Incorporate interesting sweet spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.
• Don't attempt to freeze a dessert with meringue or a custardy filling that is heavy in eggs to make up for the lack of flour. It will become soggy and weepy.
• Have fun trying new recipes and techniques during Passover. Nobody likes eating the same Passover recipes year after year and you just might surprise yourself with a new hit!
Suitable Passover subs
Cookbook author and kosher food writer Eileen Goltz has compiled a list of ingredient substitutions so mainstream recipes can be converted for Passover meals. Here, only ingredients that pertain to baking are listed:
1 ounce baking chocolate (unsweetened chocolate) = 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or melted margarine
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate = 6 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 7 tablespoons granulated sugar
14 ounces sweet chocolate (German's) = 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 2 2/3 tablespoons oil and 4 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar minus 1 tablespoon sugar plus 1 tablespoon potato starch pulsed in a food processor or blender
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk for dairy baking = 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a 1 cup measure, then fill to 1 cup with Passover non-dairy creamer. Stir and steep 5 minutes.
Butter in baking or cooking: Use pareve Passover margarine in equal amounts. Use a bit less salt.
1 cup honey = 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup water
1 cup corn syrup = 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar plus 1/3 cup water, boiled until syrupy
1 cup vanilla sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 split vanilla bean left for at least 24 hours in a tightly covered jar
1 cup flour = 5/8 cup matzo cake meal or potato starch, or a combination sifted together
1 tablespoon flour = 1/2 tablespoon potato starch
1 cup cornstarch = 7/8 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon cream of tartar = 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs = 1 cup ground cookies or soup nuts plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup bread crumbs = 1 cup matzo meal
1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese = 1 cup cottage cheese pureed with 1/4 cup butter or pareve Passover margarine
1 cup milk (for baking) = 1 cup water plus 2 tablespoons pareve Passover margarine, or 1/2 cup fruit juice plus 1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cups sweetened condensed milk = 1 cup instant non-fat dry milk, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup boiling water and 3 tablespoons margarine. Blend ingredients until smooth. To thicken, let set in refrigerator 24 hours.
1 cup wine = 13 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix together and let sit 10 minutes.
Eggs: Passover egg substitutes don't work quite as well as the chometz egg substitutes. For kugels, matzo balls, fried matzo and some cakes, the recipes would probably be OK. However, if you want to avoid them, add one extra egg white and 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil for each yolk eliminated when baking. Use only egg whites as the dipping to coat and fry meats.
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