My grandmother, Mama Hinda, was a burier. No, not an undertaker. Okay, spell it berye, Yiddish for major-domo cleaner extraordinaire. As in, white glove test above the door frame. As in, you could eat off the floor. As in, using the basement oven to keep the upstairs kitchen clean.
And if Mama was thorough during the year, before Passover she was fanatic. Passover preparation is spring cleaning on steroids–a joyous frenzy to ready the house for the holiday and remove all chometz… every last crumb.
Weeks before, she would scrub, scour, scald, polish and shine. As the holiday approached, her Passover dishes–one set for milchig (dairy) and one set for fleishig (meat)–would be brought from the basement and washed. My Aunt Sally remembered, when she was a child in the 1920s, Mama soaking glasses for three days and burying silverware outside with hot coals for use during the holiday. No closet, no shelf, no corner evaded her purification ritual.
On the night before Passover, Papa Harry and the children would search the already scoured home for any remaining crumbs of chometz, which would be swept up with a feather and burned.
Downstairs in the cold cellar, the earthen crock of rossl (fermented beets) Mama had started weeks before, stood ready to infuse her borscht, and eggs by the crate awaited her practiced hand to whisk them into ethereal citrus sponge cakes and irresistible chocolate nut tortes.
Once the house was proclaimed chometz-free, the newly lined shelves would be filled with a dizzying array of Passover groceries, including matzo meal for hundreds of knaidlach (matzo balls) soon to be floating in gallons of soup, farfel (crumbled matzo) for her savory and sweet kugels, and boxes and boxes of matzo.
By the time I came along, Mama and Papa were living upstairs from us in the two-family house Papa had built in Belle Harbor, New York. By then my dad was a regular on WEVD Radio’s “Caravan of Stars” sponsored by none other than Manischewitz (lucky us!). The company delivered their full line of Passover products by the truckload, but remember, in those days, unlike today, their selection was limited. Observant cooks, restricted from using flour or leaven, had to get creative, and in no part of the meal was this more evident than in the preparation of dessert.
In some communities, particularly Chassidic ones, the restrictions are even greater. They refrain from eating gebrokts on the first seven days of Passover. Gebrokts (Yiddish for “broken”) refers to matzo that has come in contact with water. No matzo meal, cake flour or the like may be consumed for fear that some flour may not have been kneaded properly during the matzo baking process, rendering it chometz. For this group the desserts shown here serve nicely. Gluten-free guests may rejoice as well! These two recipes will surely become staples even after the holiday.
These Fruit-Filled Pavlovas from “Something Sweet” (Mesorah Publications) by food blogger Miriam Pascal scream spring. What a delightfully light ending to an otherwise– let’s face it–heavy meal. Followers of Pascal’s popular blog, overtimecook.com, and her monthly column in Ami Magazine’s Whisk rely on her easy-to-follow, delicious, time-saving recipes, and her debut cookbook is filled with her best, including Neapolitan Trifles, Chocolate Chunk Honey Cookies, Pecan Pie Cigars and Caramel Apple Bundt Cake. Helpful aids like plan-ahead instructions and dairy and nondairy options, as well as holiday and party guides and mouth-watering full-color photos make “Something Sweet” a sweet asset in any kitchen. Seasoned bakers will appreciate her unique spins on familiar dishes, while beginners will find themselves saying, “I can do that!” on every page.
“A Taste of Pesach” (Mesorah Publications) published by Yeshiva Me’on HaTorah in Roosevelt, New Jersey, showcases favorite Passover recipes from dozens of contributors. As you would expect with such a diverse group, traditional recipes are blended with modern updates, everything from Gefilte Fish to Sushi-Style Tuna, Chicken-Wrapped Asparagus Spears, “Flatbread” Salad (using almond flour for crunch), Salmon Ceviche, Flanken Potato Kugel, and Chocolate Hazelnut Roulade. Originally a popular series of recipe pamphlets begun as a fundraiser, the best in the series have been combined with brand new recipes into a visually stunning, easy-to-follow guide to Passover cooking.
Mini Fruit-Filled Pavlovas
For neatest, most consistent results, trace circles on the underside of the parchment paper to use as your guide when forming the pavlovas. You can make pavlova shells up to a week ahead of time and store them in an airtight container at room temperature. Fill them just before serving.
Yield: 12 to 15 servings
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream or nondairy whipped topping
8 ounces cream cheese or soy cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Approximately 3 cups seasonal fruit, cut into small pieces
1 Preheat oven to 250° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
2 In bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, on high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form (whites should be thick but not stiff or holding their shape). Add half the sugar; beat until stiff peaks form (whites hold their shape when touched). Add remaining sugar; beat until sugar is incorporated and whites are shiny and stiff, about a minute or two.
3 Sift cornstarch over whites; add vanilla and lemon juice. With rubber spatula gently fold in the additions.
4 Spoon whites onto prepared baking sheet to form mountains, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter; press down centers to form wells deep enough to hold filling.
5 Bake 30 minutes; turn oven off, leaving pavlovas inside to cool for an hour before removing them from oven.
6 Filling: In bowl of electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, on high speed, beat cream until stiff. Reduce speed to medium; add cream cheese, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar. Beat until smooth. Spoon filling into well of each pavlova; top with fruit.
Source: “Something Sweet” by Miriam Pascal
Stuffed Baked Apples
with Pecan Sauce
Feel free to substitute any nuts you prefer. For dairy meals use regular whipping cream and butter in place of margarine.
Yield: 6 servings
6 large Cortland or Rome Beauty apples
1/2 cup ground walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup of oil
2 tablespoons non-dairy margarine
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped filberts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (8 ounce) carton non-dairy whipped topping, not whipped
1/2 stick non-dairy margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 Preheat oven to 350° F.
2 Using a melon baller, core apples most of the way through, leaving base intact.
3 Place ground walnuts or almonds into a shallow dish. Using a pastry brush, brush apples with oil; roll oiled apples in nuts. Place apples into 9 x 13” baking pan.
4 Combine filling ingredients and fill apple cavities.
5 Bake 40-50 minutes, until apples are easily pierced with a fork.
6 Meanwhile, prepare pecan sauce: Beat topping until slightly thickened (not until stiff). Over low heat, melt margarine. Add brown sugar and pecans, stirring until combined. Remove from heat. Immediately combine with topping, stirring until smooth.
7 Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla nondairy ice cream or a dollop of additional topping, drizzled with warm pecan sauce.
Source: “A Taste of Pesach” by Yeshiva Me’on HaTorah
Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.