Tova DuPlessis is living proof that not every Jewish mother wants her child to be a doctor.
DuPlessis was a junior in her college’s pre-med program in 2007 when she realized that she no longer wanted a career in medicine. “For the first time, I allowed myself to think about what I really loved doing,” she recalls. The answer came to her quicker than she expected, but long after her mother had figured it out: cooking. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go savory or sweet, but my mom always told me I should do something in the arts. She thought that I was a creative person and I should do something creative. She was right in the end.”
Mom also had firsthand knowledge of DuPlessis’ talent. The two had been baking together in their Orthodox household in Johannesburg, South Africa, since the 28-year-old pastry chef of Center City’s Rittenhouse Hotel was able to reach the kitchen counters.
“I grew up around food,” DuPlessis says. “We were cooking all the time: dinner every night, Shabbat dinners and holidays.”
Like so many Jewish foodservice professionals, she says that Passover was her favorite holiday growing up. “My parents are very strict. Everything was homemade — they didn’t buy any processed foods. For that reason, it was my favorite holiday — the food was so simple and so fresh.”
And different from what most Americans think of as traditional Passover foods. Her most vivid descriptions of what went on the table are reserved for fresh stewed guava, end-of-the-season peaches and mashed avocados on matzah. “We ate avocados every day of Passover — my family is obsessed with it,” she says with a smile.
Following her college graduation — with a degree in biology — DuPlessis had ample opportunity to indulge her love of avocados when she moved to a mere pit’s throw from the avocado-growing capital of the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in California, where she earned an associate degree in baking and pastry arts.
It was during her stint in California that the road to Philadelphia became clear. A chance meeting with Zahav chef/co-owner Michael Solomonov resulted in a job at Zahav. (Before taking the top pastry spot at the Rittenhouse, she also worked at Avance and Citron and Rose.)
DuPlessis jumped at the chance to craft a Pesach dessert menu for Passover Palate, explaining that she loves being able to stretch herself creatively with desserts that not only follow holiday halacha, but that would be at home on the menu at the hotel (keep an eye out for the flourless chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and brandied prunes on the LaCroix dessert menu).
DuPlessis acknowledges that her recipes may seem intimidating at first glance, but she emphasizes that you should try this at home. “My advice is that you shouldn’t give up. I know from personal experience that sometimes you have to make something five times over to get it right. We do it here all the time: It’s overcooked, it’s undercooked, it has a funny texture — you can just start again! It will be a lot better the second time around.”
Pomegranate-Rose French Macarons
Makes 50-60 macarons (recipe cannot be successfully decreased)
5 oz. almond flour
5 oz. confectioner’s sugar
4-5 drops red food coloring (Lieber’s brand is Pesadichah)
2 egg whites
11⁄4 cups sugar
2 oz. water
2 egg whites
1. Preheat oven to 280˚F
2. Sift almond flour and confectioner’s sugar. Mix with first quantity of egg whites and food coloring to form a paste. Place plastic over the top of the paste to prevent it from drying out.
3. Place second quantity of egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer.
4. Mix sugar and water and place in pot. Cook on medium heat until the syrup reaches 235˚ F on a candy thermometer, at which point you can begin beating the egg whites on high speed. When the syrup reaches 242˚ F, remove from heat and pour into mixing bowl in a thin stream, lowering mixer speed to medium. Return to high speed and whip until a thick meringue forms and bowl still feels warm.
5. Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond paste until fully combined. Fold in the rest of the meringue and continue to mix until the mixture loosens up enough so that it falls slowly after removing the spatula.
6. Fill piping bag fitted with a round tip and pipe rounds on a lined sheet pan. This takes some practice.
7. Allow pan to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes for a skin to form. Bake macarons for 10-12 minutes, until they are crisp on the outside. Wait to cool before removing from pan liner.
Pomegranate-Rose Ganache Filling
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
10 oz. chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
1⁄2 tsp. rose water
1⁄2 cup pomegranate juice
1. Heat heavy cream in a pot over medium-low heat until it reaches a bare simmer.
2. Pour cream over chopped chocolate in a bowl. Allow to sit for 1 minute
3. Mix until combined and all chocolate has melted.
4. Add rose water and juice and mix until combined. Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, until thickened.
5. Place in piping bag and cut a small hole in the tip.
6. Match up macaron shells by size, pipe filling on one half and sandwich the sides together.
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse and Brandied Prunes
Makes 6-8 servings
Flourless chocolate cake
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
5 oz. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
5 eggs, room temperature
11⁄4 cups granulated sugar
1⁄4 tsp. fine kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 325˚F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.
2. Put the chocolate and butter in a medium-size bowl. Melt, stirring, over a pot of simmering water.
3. Beat the eggs, sugar and salt with an electric mixer until light and thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Fold the melted chocolate into the whipped eggs until evenly combined.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out wet but not gooey, about 1 hour. Remove cake from the oven and allow to cool.
1⁄2 cup hot water
1⁄2 cup kosher for Passover plum brandy (slivovitz)
1. Pour hot water and brandy over prunes and allow to soak for 10 minutes.
2. Drain prunes. Cut prunes in half and sprinkle over flourless chocolate cake, reserving some for garnish.
1 cup heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsps. sugar
51⁄2 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips or pistoles
1. Whip 1 cup heavy cream in bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Reserve in refrigerator.
2. Place egg yolks in medium-sized bowl.
3. Heat milk and remaining cream in a small pot over medium heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
4. When mixture reaches a simmer, pour into bowl with egg yolks. Whisk immediately and return mixture to pot. Cook on low heat, stirring with a rubber spatula, until mixture thickens.
5. Strain the mixture through a sieve over the chocolate pistoles.
6. Stir until all chocolate has melted. Immediately fold in whipped cream. Pour over prunes on the flourless chocolate cake.
7. Place entire cake in the freezer for several hours to overnight. Once the exterior of the mousse is frozen, the entire cake can be unmolded. Lift the cake with a long spatula or egg lifter from the bottom of the cake pan and transfer to platter.
8. Allow to defrost before serving and garnish with remaining prunes.
Coconut Sorbet With Apricot-Mint Granita
Makes 15-18 servings
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
1 15-oz. can Coco Lopez or cream of coconut
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1. Place coconut milk, cream of coconut and lime juice in a small pot over medium heat.
2. Heat until slightly warmed, whisking until mixture is homogenous.
3. Remove from heat and allow to cool in refrigerator.
4. Spin in ice cream machine, according to the directions of the machine model.
5. Reserve in freezer.
6. Place serving bowls in freezer.
6 Tbsps. water
3 Tbsps. sugar
2 cups apricot puree
1 sprig fresh mint
1. Heat water and sugar in a small pot over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Add apricot puree and whisk.
3. Pour into a shallow container and place in the freezer.
4. Over the next 3-4 hours, run a fork through the mixture every 30 minutes or so to break it up into small ice crystals, until all the liquid is frozen and flaky.
5. Finely slice mint and fold into the granita with a spoon.
6. Scoop a spoonful of granita onto each frozen bowl and top with a scoop of coconut sorbet.
Orange Blossom-Cardamom Panna Cotta With Blood Oranges and Pistachios
Makes 8 servings
11⁄2 tsps. Powdered kosher-for-Passover gelatin (Kolatin brand is Pesadichah)
1⁄2 cup whole milk, cold
11⁄2 cups heavy cream
11⁄2 tsps. sugar
21⁄2 Tbsps. honey
1 tsp. cardamom pods, crushed
1⁄2 tsp. orange blossom water
2 blood oranges, segmented
1⁄4 cup pistachios, shelled, roasted and lightly salted
1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold milk and put aside.
2. Heat heavy cream in a pot over medium-low heat with sugar, honey, cardamom pods and seeds and orange blossom water. Heat, whisking, until mixture feels hot to the touch. Remove from heat.
3. Cover pot with a lid and allow to steep for ten minutes.
4. Add milk-gelatin mixture and whisk well. Divide between serving bowls and place in refrigerator to set, approximately 3-4 hours.
5. Top with blood orange segments and toasted pistachios.
This article originally appeared in Passover Palate, a Jewish Exponent supplement. Photos by JA Kemp.