With all the various restrictions, are decent desserts even possible during Passover?
"My particular talent is working around restriction," replies Paula Shoyer, author of last year's The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes From Traditional to Trendy.
Her cookbook contains a chapter on Passover baking, as well as many sensational recipes minus the flour or yeast — Passover taboos. Flourless Chocolate Cake, Marble Chocolate Matzah and Mocha Matzah Napoleon are some of the included gems.
Shoyer, whose magical touch is without peer in the Passover dessert genre, calls them "my gift to the Jewish people."
She says she wants the eye-rolling to stop upon hearing the words "pareve desserts" — pastries made without dairy products. She laments that kosher bakeries, year after year, offer the same-old dry brownies, sponge cakes, coconut macaroons and vanilla rolls with jam inside for the holiday.
"Have you ever noticed that packaged Passover cookies and cakes start appearing in supermarkets in February?" asks Shoyer, of Chevy Chase, Md. "With so many preservatives in them, they could survive a nuclear attack."
Before and during Pesach, Shoyer bakes as much as possible, mostly for the sake of her children: "Home-baked desserts are kind of a holiday bonus."
Using more than 20 dozen eggs during that time, mostly in pastries, Shoyer prepares plenty of Chocolate-Chip Hazelnut Biscotti and Chocolate Brownie Cookies for the kids' snacks. She also keeps a supply of her popular Amaretto Cookies on hand for visiting friends.
Her most stunning Passover dessert? Without doubt, it's the Key Lime Pie, even though Shoyer's personal favorite is the Chocolate Chiffon Cake.
Waxing poetic about the incredibly silky texture of her Strawberry Mousse, Shoyer confides that when she was growing up, her mother stuck to traditional dessert fare at Passover. She relied on Manischewitz mixes to make brownies, coffee cakes and sponge cakes.
Shoyer started baking for fun during college. She brought back chocolate from a trip to Belgium in 1984 and began experimenting with it in recipes.
During her 20s, she moved to Geneva and landed a job at the United Nations. In Switzerland, she tasted some sensational desserts and decided to reinvent them as dairy-free without sacrificing their buttery flavor.
In her 30s, while living in Paris, Shoyer received her pastry diploma from the Ritz Escoffier école de Gastronomie Française. She returned to Chevy Chase and started Paula's Parisian Pastries Cooking School.
With such a varied career, she still found time to get married and raise four children — and revolutionize kosher baking.
"I wouldn't eat a dessert that isn't worth the calories," she says.
In The Kosher Baker, Shoyer worried that the Passover chapter was too heavily weighted with chocolate pastries.
Then again, "can you have too much chocolate?" prompted one of her friends.
The following recipes come from The Kosher Baker. All are pareve and kosher for Passover.
If you've ever been to Italy and sipped a cappuccino, you may have been lucky enough to enjoy these almond-flavored cookies, which are a favorite of Shoyer's.
- 1 bag (8 oz.) slivered almonds (about 13/4 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. potato starch (flour can be substituted after Passover)
2 large egg whites
1 Tbsp. amaretto (almond-flavored liqueur)
Preheat oven to 325°.
Line a large jelly-roll pan with parchment paper.
Spread the almonds on the parchment paper and toast for 20 minutes, stirring the nuts after 10 minutes. When the almonds are golden and fragrant, remove the pan from the oven and slide the parchment off the pan. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Place the toasted almonds into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until nuts are ground to a powder.
Place the ground nuts in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, potato starch, egg whites and amaretto; mix until combined. Line 2 jelly-roll pans or cookie sheets with parchment.
Wet your hands and take walnut-sized clumps of dough and roll them into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Be sure not to overcrowd the cookies; they spread while baking. You can bake in two batches.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes: 25 minutes for chewier cookies or 30 minutes for crunchier cookies. Slide the parchment off the cookie sheet onto a cooling rack and let the cookies cool.
Place baked and cooled cookies into an airtight container or freezer bags, and store at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Shoyer likes to serve this in individual ramekins. You can also use wine or martini glasses.
- 16 oz. fresh strawberries
1 tsp. rum or cognac
2 tsps. kosher-for-Passover confectioners' sugar (or confectioners' sugar after Passover ends)
juice of 1 lemon
6 Tbsps. sugar
2 Tbsps. unflavored kosher gelatin powder
1 cup pareve whipping cream
Remove the stems from the strawberries.
Select 6 strawberries, slice thinly, and place in a small bowl with the rum and confectioners' sugar. Mix to combine and then place in the refrigerator.
Cut the remaining strawberries in half and place in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Purée the strawberries completely, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl or blender so that all the strawberry pieces are puréed.
Place the strawberry purée in a small saucepan. Add the lemon juice and sugar and stir. Cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Add the gelatin and whisk. Remove from the heat.
Strain into a medium bowl, pressing hard to get as much strawberry purée through as possible, and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, stirring twice during that time.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed, whip the whipping cream until stiff. Remove the strawberry purée from the refrigerator and fold in the whipped cream in four parts.
Scoop the mousse evenly into the ramekins and smooth the tops with the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator for at 3 hours or overnight. You can store covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To serve, place a few of the rum-soaked strawberry slices on top.
Chocolate Chiffon Cake
This cake is a classic Passover dessert in terms of the technique, which entails separating eggs. But the flavor is without peer.
- 1 cup matzah cake meal
1/2 cup potato starch
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
11/2 cups sugar, divided in half
1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. rum extract
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
4 oz. pareve bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large bowl, sift together the cake meal, potato starch, baking powder, salt and 3/4 cups of the sugar. Add the oil, egg yolks, water and rum extract; beat until smooth.
In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to beat the egg whites with the lemon juice until stiff. Turn the speed to low and gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar. Turn up the speed to high and then beat until the whites are very stiff and shiny, about 1 minute more.
Use a silicone spatula to fold the egg-yolk mixture into the whites, then fold in the chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch Bundt or tube pan. Bake for 1 hour. Let cool in the pan. When cool, use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake and turn onto a serving plate.
Store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze wrapped in plastic for 3 months.
Key Lime Pie
Although this classic American dessert is usually made with condensed milk, Shoyer went through several stages of experimentation to achieve creamy results using only pareve ingredients. This recipe calls for regular limes.
- Crust Ingredients:
4 Tbsps. pareve margarine
2 cup ground walnuts (walnuts can be purchased ground or can be prepared from 4 cups of walnut halves ground in a food processor, but not as fine as flour)
3 Tbsps. light-brown sugar
5 large eggs, plus 3 yolks
11/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup pareve margarine
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 large egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350°.
To Make the Crust: Place the margarine in a medium microwave-safe bowl and heat for 45 seconds or until melted.
Add the walnuts and brown sugar; mix until combined.
Place this mixture into the pie pan and press to cover the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides. Put in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Leave the oven on.
To Make Lime Filling: Place the eggs, yolks and sugar in a heat-proof bowl and set over a medium saucepan with simmering water (or use a double boiler). Zest 3 of the limes and add to the bowl. Stir to combine.
Juice the 3 zested limes, plus the remaining 4 to obtain about 1/2 cup of juice. Then stir juice into the egg and sugar mixture.
Cook uncovered over simmering water for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a thick mixture forms. Be patient and do not stir too much. If the water in the saucepan or double boiler boils too fast, turn down the heat.
Remove the bowl from the heat. Whisk in the margarine in small pieces until the lime cream is smooth.
Pour lime cream into prepared crust and smooth. Put pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until outside edges of the lime cream are set (inside can remain wobbly). Let cool, then place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
To Make Meringue Topping: In a small heavy saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. You can dip a pastry brush in water and wipe down sides of the pot, if any sugar crystals appear on the sides.
While the sugar is cooking, in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff. When the sugar is ready, turn the mixer speed to low, then slowly pour the cooked sugar into the bowl, down the side of the bowl, not directly onto the wire whisk. When all of the sugar has been poured in, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 1 minute, until the meringue is thick and shiny.
Use a silicone spatula to spread the meringue all over the top of the pie. You can use a blowtorch to lightly brown the top or place the pie in a 450-degree oven for a few minutes, watching the entire time until the top browns.
Chill pie in the refrigerator. It can be stored for up to 4 days.