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Passover desserts are notoriously bad. Really, really bad.
Dry, desiccated canned macaroons. Neon-colored gel fruit slices. Even chocolate can't help to make matzo appealing, as matzo -- a flat, cracker-like bread -- has been likened to tasting "like wall." Leavened products are forbidden during the eight-day holiday that begins at sundown on Monday, in keeping with Leviticus 23:6: "You shall eat unleavened cakes for seven days" in remembrance of the Israelites' haste in fleeing Egypt once freed from slavery, leaving so quickly that they did not have sufficient time to let bread dough rise before running into the desert. So all foods to be served during the holiday, including cakes and cookies, must be made without traditional flour and standard baking products.
Jews greatly anticipate Passover because, as Arlene Russell, a member of Congregation B'nai Israel, noted, it is a major holiday for which "the family is together at home for the Seder and we are all preparing, praying, eating, and [remembering] what freedom means to the Jewish people." There are many beautiful memories created each year at Seder, the meal and ritual commemorating the exodus. But the desserts are, unfortunately, forgettable.
So imagine that, as Jews are getting ready for Passover -- or Pesach, the Hebrew name meaning "to pass over" and also "to have compassion for" -- there might be better dessert options for Seder. Imagine enjoying -- yes, enjoying! -- delicious treats at the end of the long evening during which the Seder recognizes the atrocities of enslavement, offers gratitude for freedom and for blessings, acknowledges enormous suffering and loss, and also celebrates family and friends gathered around the table.
Paula Shoyer, author of The Holiday Kosher Baker and The Kosher Baker, visited Toledo recently for a book signing and hands-on baking demonstration hosted by Congregation Etz Chayim, Toledo's Orthodox synagogue. The presentation was attended by dozens of women who gathered for food, fun, andfresh ideas for their Seder meals. Ms. Shoyer, a graduate of the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris and owner and operator of Paula's Parisian Pastries Cooking School in Chevy Chase, Md., offered recipes for such delicacies as luscious fruit pie bars with a shortbread crust, moist carrot cake, a light lemon layer cake, and the delicate biscotti for which attendees mixed dough during the class to then take home for baking and eating.
Ms. Russell said that she "did get inspired by Paula's class and plans to bake her sponge cake recipe, her Passover chocolate chip bars, and perhaps her black and white cookies." Her daughter-in-law "will use the sponge cake to make a Passover berry trifle."
Ms.Shoyer, who is working on The New Passover Menu Cookbook, slated for 2015, said that at the beginning of the book "I talk about the holiday, the rituals, and customs from a practical as well as a spiritual point of view. It gave me the opportunity to really think about the meaning of the holiday," at which each Jew is to remember, according to Deuteronomy 15:15, "that you were slaves in the land of Egypt."
For her own Seder, Ms. Shoyer said, she will prepare "desserts from The Holiday Kosher Baker, ones I have not made in a while. ... First order of business is to bake some cookies and make my Passover granola. Nosh comes first."
Chocolate Chip Biscotti
"Most biscotti dough is a blank canvas onto which you can add whatever you like. You can use chopped pecans, cashews, or walnuts," writes Paula Shoyer. "You can also substitute raisins or chopped apricots." During the class, this reporter made the cookies with ground hazelnuts, chocolate chips, and white chocolate chips.
1/2 cup margarine, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1-1/3 cups matzo cake meal
1/3 cup potato starch
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the margarine and one cup of the sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the cake meal, potato starch, and ground hazelnuts and mix again. Add the chocolate chips and white chocolate chips and mix to distribute.
Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a 3" x 11" loaf. Place on the prepared cookie sheet, leaving a few inches between the loaves. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar on top of the loaves.
Bake for 35 minutes. Slide the parchment and loaves onto your counter or a cutting board and let cool five minutes. Place a new piece of parchment on the cookie sheet. Cut the loaves across into 3/4" slices and place back on the cookie sheet cut-side down. Bake for 5 minutes more, then flip and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes (for softer or firmer cookies). Remove from the oven and let cool.
Makes 2-3 dozen.