April 20, 2005
And you thought it was tricky to bake from scratch? Try baking without common leavening ingredients like baking powder, baking soda and
Ayeast. Or flour, for that matter.
That’s the challenge Jewish cooks face every Passover. The holiday begins at sundown Saturday. Flour and leavening agents are banished from the kitchen during the eight days of Passover because, in the time of Moses, the Jewish people had to flee their Egyptian captors in a hurry, leaving no time for their breads to rise
before being baked. They fled to the desert with only matzo, a thin, crackerlike unleavened bread made of flour and water.
At traditional Seders — ceremonial dinners held the first and second nights of Passover — the main meal isn’t too tough to put together. It might include matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, chicken, sweet potatoes and fruit salad.
Desserts, however, can be a little trickier. How do you bake a cake or cookies without flour or baking powder? It’s doable, with matzo playing a huge role.
But are the resulting recipes any good? That depends on the recipe — and more "good" recipes have been showing up in recent years.
"Most of the desserts I had during Passover when I was growing up were awful," says Jamie Gaynor, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-area veterinarian. "But Sara (Sugerman, his wife) makes a really great dessert — a chocolate candylike dessert."
She got the recipe, "My Trademark, Most Requested, Absolutely Magnificent Caramel Matzo Crunch," from a congregation in Fort Collins, Colo., where she used to live.
"It’s something you’d like to make even if you’re not Jewish," she says. "Just look at the ingredients: Butter, sugar and chocolate. What’s not to like about those?"
One thing Jewish cooks have in their favor is that they can use as many eggs as they like in their baked goods. And recipes can call for a lot of them.
It isn’t uncommon to see cake recipes calling for nine eggs. Egg whites become leaveners when air is beaten into them. When heated, the egg whites cook and set, trapping the air inside and creating a light, airy cake.
Nuts (except peanuts, which are actually legumes), raisins, dates, Passoverapproved chocolates and fruits are also dessert ingredients.
The glue in cakes is often matzo that has been ground into either matzo meal or an even finer cake flour.
"Sponge-type cakes are very popular for Passover desserts; also, recipes that use a lot of ground nuts to take the place of flour," says Eileen Wedeen, a member of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs.
Citrus-Scented Almond Macaroons, Passover Almond Cake With Strawberry Sauce, Passover Trifle (using sponge cake), and Chocolate Chip Passover Cookies are a few of Wedeen’s standby recipes.
Wedeen also has a recipe for Matzo Toffee that is similar to Sugerman’s candylike dessert.
Desserts aren’t just a way to cap off the special Seder meal. They can make a great excuse for a get-together anytime during the holiday.
Wedeen used to live with an Israeli family that would throw a dessert party during the Passover season.
"It was the first time I had seen such a thing," she says. "The neighbors made many, many desserts and went from home to home visiting each other.
"The even more interesting part was that they would do shots (of alcohol) at each home. By the end of the evening, everyone was getting pretty happy. It was a warm and friendly time."
In fact, Wedeen sees this type of casual, sweetscentered party as a less stressful way to entertain during Passover.
And here’s a news bulletin: Many of the special Passover dessert recipes are so good, they’d be welcomed on any table, by anyone of any faith, year-round.
Anyone who thinks Passover desserts are as tasty as cardboard will eat their words after trying these creative recipes.