HomeApril 2014Just Desserts

Just Desserts

Oh, to devise spectacular sweets without flour or leavening! No problem!
Any lingering thoughts on the restrictions of Passover are quickly dispelled by dessert.
Ask most Jewish children, “What’s your favorite holiday?” and you’d think “Chanukah” would be the quick response. For me all the blue and gold beribboned boxes in the world can’t hold a shammos to Passover. To my mind, you just can’t beat the cuisine. Personally, I never did understand how eating those special holiday delicacies helps us remember the suffering of our ancestors.
Challenge breeds creativity, and at no time of year is the challenge greater than at Passover, when for eight days (seven in Israel), Jews, forbidden to eat bread or other leaven, eat matzo to commemorate our ancestors’ hasty departure from Egypt. And if Passover is a challenge, then creating Passover desserts is the decathlon.
Oh, to devise spectacular sweets without flour or leavening! No problem! (Well, I can think of one problem – if you’re allergic to eggs. And if you’re allergic to eggs and nuts…you’re in for a long week!)
The display following the Passover Seder is as elaborate as any you see all year – at least in my family. Cousins will try to outdo each other with their sponge cakes, tortes, pies and bars, bringing a sweet ending to our sweet celebration.
While every year more and more kosher-for-Passover products are introduced, adding flavor and variety to desserts, several ingredients are problematic for the observant:
Vanilla:  Pure vanilla extract, made from grain alcohol, is not considered kosher for Passover. Here you have several choices:

•     Kosher-for-Passover vanilla, which is not an extract, but rather artificial vanilla flavoring.
•    Vanilla sugar, a common ingredient in Europe but not as well known here, which comes in little packets and is sugar that has been superinfused with the vanilla bean. Substitute 1 packet for each 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract; the small amount of sugar in it will not change your recipe. You can find it in kosher markets, and I’ve even seen it in the Jewish food section in some supermarkets.
•    Vanilla sugar you make yourself: About 2 weeks before Passover, split 1 vanilla bean in half lengthwise and crosswise and bury the pieces in 2 cups sugar. Seal tightly and store it in a cool, dark place. Shake it occasionally. Replace the sugar as you use it. It will keep until next Pesach.
•     A kosher-for Passover liqueur, such as Amaretto.

Confectioners’ sugar: While kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar is available, it is expensive and easy enough to create yourself: To make your own, combine ½ cup minus 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar and 1½ teaspoons potato starch in a blender or mini food processor. Pulse until a fine powder is formed.
Many recipes can be converted for Passover use if you know the rules.
According to Paula Shoyer, author of The Holiday Kosher Baker (Sterling, $35), substitute ¾ cup potato starch plus ¼ cup matzo cake meal for 1 cup flour. Her Passover chapter contains other useful substitutions for pesky ingredients like corn syrup and cornstarch. And finally the last word on baking powder. “Baking powder for Passover surprises people who believe that anything that causes leavening is prohibited. In fact, only yeast-based leaveners, which depend on fermentation, are prohibited,” she writes.
But what you really want are the recipes, and here Shoyer shines: Chocolate Chip Sponge Bundt, Flourless Chocolate Amaretti Cake, Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Mousse Macarons, Lemon Tart with Basil Nut Crust, 41 recipes in all, including Passover snacks like Rosemary Nut Brittle, Mexican Chocolate Cookies, Fruit Pie Bars and Carrot Cake, many accompanied by luscious full-color photos…and that’s just the Passover chapter. “The time of Passover baking slavery is past. Your baking exodus has arrived,” announces Shoyer.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies
These are soft, chewy chocolate cookies dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Makes 2½ to 3 dozen.

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup potato starch, sifted (see note)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 In medium bowl, mix together oil, sugar, cocoa, eggs and vanilla. Add potato starch, salt and cinnamon, and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2 Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Put confectioners’ sugar into shallow bowl. Scoop up walnut-size piece of dough and roll into a ball. Roll each ball in confectioners’ sugar and place on cookie sheet 1½ inches apart.
3 If you have rolled 3 dozen or more cookies, bake 12 to 14 minutes (14 to 15 minutes for 2½ to 3 dozen cookies) until cookies are still partially soft. (Press down gently on top of cookie; if your finger goes down a little into cookie, it is done and will be chewy. If you can press all the way down to the cookie sheet, the cookies need another two minutes or more to bake.) Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days, or freeze up to 3 months.

Note: Passover potato starch often comes clumped up in the package. Whisk to break up clumps, or sift before measuring.

Fruit Pie Bars
Shoyer uses 1/3 cup sugar, because she prefers tart fruit desserts. Use ½ cup if you like them sweeter. Serves 15.

1½ cups potato starch
1 cup matzo cake meal
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, cut into tablespoons, plus one tablespoon for greasing pan
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons ice water

6 cups (24 ounces) total mixed fruit such as berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries) and chopped plums (cut into ½-inch pieces)
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3-1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon to sprinkle on top

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9 x 13-inch pan and press in sheet of parchment paper large enough to cover bottom and sides of pan. Grease top of parchment and sides. Set aside.
2 Crust: Mix potato starch, cake meal and confectioner’s sugar in food processor fitted with metal blade, 10 seconds. Add margarine pieces and mix another 10 seconds until mixture looks like sand. Add egg yolk, vanilla, and water, and mix just until dough comes together.
3 Turn dough crumbles onto large piece of plastic wrap; divide dough into two pieces, using 2/3 and 1/3 of dough. Wrap smaller piece in plastic, flatten it, and freeze. Break larger piece of dough into pieces and scatter over prepared pan. With your hands, press dough evenly into bottom of pan. Bake crust 20 minutes or until edges just start to brown. Let cool 15 minutes.
4 Place fruit in large bowl. In smaller bowl, use your fingers to combine potato starch and sugar; then sprinkle mixture over fruit. Toss fruit until potato starch dissolves. Spread fruit evenly on top of crust. Grate frozen dough with large holes of box grater on top of fruit to cover as much fruit as possible. Sprinkle top with cinnamon. Bake 50 minutes or until outside edges start to color; top of crumbles will remain white. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares or scooped out with spoon. Refrigerate up to 3 days. Bars may be rewarmed.

Source: The Holiday Kosher Baker
by Paula Shoyer

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