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October 22nd, 2017

The Kosher Gourmet

The light desserts of Passover (5 SUMPTUOUS, EASY RECIPES!)

Faye Levy

By Faye Levy

Published April 3, 2015

Of all the items on the Passover menu, it is desserts that stand out the most as being different from what we eat the rest of the year. This is part of their charm. Passover cakes are light and often served with fresh fruit, which is appropriate for the holiday known as the Festival of Spring. Instead of the common, everyday cookies, there are almond or coconut macaroons and crunchy meringues, which are delicious when home-baked.

To some people with little kitchen experience, Passover desserts have an image of being difficult to make. In fact, the mixing and baking techniques are the same as for other cakes and cookies. There are only a few adaptations of ingredients that create the special character of Passover desserts.

Cakes for Passover are light because they generally have a high proportion of eggs to make them rise. Because the Torah forbids using leavening during the holiday, most bakers do not prepare pound cakes and butter cakes. Some markets do carry kosher for Passover baking powder, but many traditional cooks prefer not to use it. They feel that even if these formulas are technically kosher, using any leavening is not in the spirit of the holiday.

Matzo meal, or matzos ground to a powder, is the most important Passover ingredient, outside of matzo itself, of course. Although matzo meal is best known as the basis for matzo balls, it also plays an important role in baking as a replacement for flour. On Passover, using raw flour is not allowed because it can leaven naturally when it is mixed with liquid. (Think of what happens when you make sourdough batter, which captures yeast from the air.) Matzo cake meal is a more finely ground version of matzo meal. Both matzo meal and cake meal work well in light cakes, pancakes and some cookies. However, unlike raw flour, they have no gluten and therefore cannot support cakes that have significant amounts of liquid or fat; the cakes would simply collapse.

Sponge cakes are the most common Passover cakes, as the protein in the eggs helps to give the cakes structure. European style nut cakes, which are actually a rich variation of sponge cakes, are also popular and are great partners for sweet springtime strawberries. Generally, these cakes are made with matzo meal or with another flour substitute -- potato starch, which is also used to thicken Passover puddings and fillings.

Over the centuries, Jewish cooks working within these special rules have come up with a endless variety of creative Passover desserts. Jayne Cohen, author of "Jewish Holiday Cooking," makes macaroons from toasted pistachios and flavors them with candied ginger, as well as an Italian-inspired carrot-pecan torta flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. In her book of her family's recipes, "Cooking Jewish," Judy Bart Kancigor features a banana sponge cake moistened with mashed bananas and flavored with citrus juice and zest and chopped nuts.

In my family, chocolate desserts are the Passover favorites. Kosher for Passover chocolate behaves in the kitchen just like regular chocolate. The difference is that kosher for Passover chocolate does not include lecithin, a soybean product found in many kinds of chocolate, because many Jews avoid all beans and other legumes during the holiday. Although chocolate itself comes from cacao beans, fortunately it isn't considered a legume. Brownies for Passover are just as easy to prepare as usual brownies during the rest of the year, and when made with matzo meal instead of flour they have a pleasing, somewhat lighter texture. In nondairy desserts, necessary for kosher meals featuring meat, I find chocolate's richness compensates for the absence of butter and cream.

Baked meringues are a natural pick for Passover, as they require no flour or starch at all. Light and sweet, they are a tempting treat with tea or coffee after a copious Seder meal, and are especially delicious when accented with nuts and chocolate chips, or, for dairy meals, when served with berries and whipped cream.

These dark, chocolaty brownies are moist and tasty, so that even a small one satisfies as a sweet treat after dinner. As desserts go, they are fairly healthy. They gain their richness from oil, combined either with a little butter (for dairy meals) or margarine (for meat meals). For the oil, you can use light olive oil, which has a neutral flavor.

PASSOVER CHOCOLATE CINNAMON BROWNIES WITH ALMONDS

Makes 20 to 24 brownies


  • 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter or margarine, cut in pieces

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup white sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 5 tablespoons light olive oil or vegetable oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup matzo meal

  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

  • 2/3 chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a square 9-inch cake pan. Melt chocolate in a medium bowl over hot water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool 5 minutes.

Soften butter/margarine. In mixer, beat butter with brown and white sugar and eggs until very light and fluffy. Add oil, cinnamon, salt, matzo meal, cocoa and melted chocolate. Beat slowly to combine. Stir in almonds.

Spoon batter into pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until the color has changed evenly on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted 2 inches from center comes out dry. Do not overbake. Cool in pan. Cut in squares. Serve at room temperature.

WALNUT COCOA LAYER CAKE

With its orange frosting and garnish of toasted nuts, this cake makes a festive finale to the Seder. If you're serving it after a meatless meal, you might like to make the frosting with butter instead of margarine. For a festive presentation, serve the cake slices with fresh strawberries and a sauce made of sweetened berry puree.

Makes 12 servings.


  • 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

  • 3 1/2 cups walnuts

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 5 tablespoons matzo cake meal or sifted matzo meal

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

  • 6 large eggs, separated, room temperature

  • Passover Orange Frosting and Filling (see next recipe)

  • 3 tablespoons toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Using margarine, grease two 9-inch round cake pans, about 1 1/2 inches deep. Line base of each with parchment paper or foil and grease parchment or foil. Use a little matzo cake meal to flour sides of pans and lined bases, tapping to remove excess.

In a food processor grind 1 3/4 cups walnuts with 1/4 cup sugar to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining pecans and another 1/4 cup sugar. Sift cake meal with cocoa. Add to nut mixture and stir until blended.

Beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl about 5 minutes or until mixture is pale yellow and very thick.

Beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and whip at high speed about 1/2 minute until whites are very stiff and shiny but not dry. Sprinkle 1/3 of nut mixture over yolks and fold gently until nearly blended. Spoon 1/3 of whites on top and fold gently. Repeat until all of nut mixture and whites are added. Fold just until blended.

Pour into prepared pans and spread quickly. Bake about 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Set a rack on each pan, turn over and leave upside down for 10 minutes, with pan still on each cake. Turn back over. Run a metal spatula around sides of each cake. Turn out onto racks, carefully peel off paper and let cool completely.

Spread about 1/3 of frosting on one cake layer. Set second layer on top. Carefully trim top layer if necessary, using a serrated knife. Spread frosting in thin layer on cake sides, last on top. Smooth frosting with a long metal spatula. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

PASSOVER ORANGE FROSTING AND FILLING

Frostings for Passover are made with granulated or superfine sugar rather than confectioners' sugar, which usually contains cornstarch and thus is not allowed during the holiday. The rabbis have extended the rule against using flour to all grains and thus corn and products derived from it are forbidden.

Makes enough to fill and frost a 9-inch two-layer cake.


  • 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted margarine or butter

  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

  • 4 tablespoons fresh strained orange juice

Soften margarine. Beat margarine and sugar until smooth. Add grated orange zest. Gradually beat in juice. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Spread on cake immediately.

ORANGE-SCENTED ALMOND-HAZELNUT MACAROONS

Home-baked macaroons made with freshly ground nuts are far more enticing and delicious than packaged ones. To keep them moist, use this trick I learned at La Varenne cooking school in Paris: bake them on a paper-lined baking sheet and pour a little water under the paper before removing the cookies from the sheet.

These macaroons, flavored with orange zest and vanilla sugar, are great as an accompaniment for fresh fruit salad or with coffee or tea. If you prefer, you can make them with all almonds or all hazelnuts

Makes about 30 macaroons.


  • 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

  • 1 1/4 cups blanched almonds, either whole or slivered

  • 1 cup hazelnuts

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 3 large egg whites

  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet, shaking the sheet once or twice, about 8 minutes or until their skins begin to split. Transfer to a strainer. While nuts are hot, remove most of skins by rubbing nuts energetically with a towel against strainer. Cool nuts completely.

Move rack to upper third of oven; leave oven temperature at 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or waxed paper; grease paper lightly with margarine.

Grind almonds and hazelnuts with 4 tablespoons sugar in food processor until mixture forms fine, even crumbs. Add egg whites and vanilla sugar and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add remaining sugar in 2 additions and process about 10 seconds after each or until smooth. Add grated orange zest and process briefly.

With moistened hands, roll about 1 tablespoon mixture between your palms to a smooth ball. Put on prepared baking sheet. Continue shaping macaroons, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Press each macaroon to flatten it slightly so it is about 1/2 inch high. Brush entire surface of each macaroon with water. If both baking sheets don't fit on rack, bake them one at a time. Bake macaroons until very lightly but evenly browned, 18 to 20 minutes; centers should still be soft. Remove from oven. Lift one end of paper and pour about 2 tablespoons water under it, onto baking sheet; water will boil on contact with hot baking sheet. Lift other end of paper and pour about 2 tablespoons water under it. When water stops boiling, remove macaroons carefully from paper. Transfer to a rack to cool. Keep them in airtight containers.

PECAN AND CHOCOLATE CHIP MERINGUES

Kosher for Passover chocolate chips are available at many supermarkets. If you can't find them, you can cut bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in very small cubes to make these crunchy cookies. For meatless meals, these meringues are delicious served with a bowl of whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

Makes about 36 meringues.


  • 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

  • Matzo cake meal (for flouring pan)

  • 6 large egg whites

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 275 F. Lightly grease corners of 2 baking sheets with margarine and line them with foil. Grease and lightly flour foil with matzo cake meal, tapping baking sheet to remove excess.

Whip egg whites with salt in a large bowl until stiff. Gradually beat in 3/4 cup sugar at high speed and whip until whites are very shiny.

Gently fold in remaining 3/4 cup sugar in 2 batches, as quickly as possible. Quickly fold in pecans and chocolate chips. Spoon mixture in irregular mounds onto prepared baking sheets, using 1 mounded tablespoon for each and spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250 F. Bake 30 minutes or until meringues are firm to touch, dry at bases and can be easily removed from foil. They will be light beige.

Transfer meringues to a rack and cool. Put them in airtight container as soon as they are cool.

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Faye Levy is a cooking teacher and culinary columnist who has lived on three continents and has written 23 cookbooks in three languages.

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