Sweet Seder

Solve the Passover dessert problem with ease.

Macadamia Nut Tarts (photo credit: courtesy)
Macadamia Nut Tarts
(photo credit: courtesy)
‘Ask most Jews if there is anything that they dislike about Passover,” wrote Penny W. Eisenberg, author of Passover Desserts, “and they invariably say, ‘dessert.’ On all other nights we eat dessert that is tasty.”
Yet there’s no reason that Passover cakes should not be as good as those made throughout the year. In fact, wrote Lilly Joss Reich, author of The Viennese Pastry Cookbook, “Tortes without flour are something super-special. They are exceptionally delicious.” Her book has an entire chapter devoted to tortes without flour.
Her two-layer hazelnut torte, in which finely ground hazelnuts act as the “flour,” is flavored with rum, lemon juice, allspice and cloves, filled with apricot jam and frosted with hazelnut whipped cream. There are plenty of Austrian tortes made without cream, as well.
Her almond torte, flavored with lemon zest, is light and moist and needs no filling; it is topped with a simple chocolate icing and sprinkled with chopped toasted almonds. Only four ingredients are needed to make her egg-white date torte: ground almonds, thin strips of dates, sugar and whipped egg whites.
Eisenberg bakes a toasted almond sponge cake (the recipe is below) to serve on its own or to use in peach Melba torte, made with a raspberry filling and peaches brushed with apricot fruit glaze. From the same basic cake, she makes pear almond tortes with meringue butter cream and caramel poached pears. Her parve chocolate peanut butter cake has a chocolate peanut cake base, peanut butter and roasted peanut filling, chocolate frosting and a garnish of roasted peanuts.
Like most Passover cakes, Reich’s and Eisenberg’s tortes have no baking powder and depend on the air beaten into egg whites to rise. If you’re new to cake baking, Eisenberg has several tips for beating egg whites successfully: When separating the eggs, put each egg white into a small bowl before adding it to the rest of the whites, “otherwise you may ruin the entire batch if you happen to have a bad egg, or if some yolk gets into the whites... If you get a little yolk into the container you are using for separating... discard that egg white and rinse the container before continuing to separate.
“For whipping egg whites to maximum volume, they should be at room temperature” and should be whipped in a clean, grease-free bowl.
“To test for soft peaks, lift up the beaters slowly. If a little peak forms and the tip slumps back over, the eggs are at soft peaks. Stiff peaks stand straight up.”
“Many recipes call for whites that are beaten ‘stiff but not dry.’ Dry eggs do not combine well with other ingredients, so that when you try to fold them in, the eggs... look like little bits of Styrofoam in your batter.”
To prevent dry egg whites, the pastry chef with whom I studied in Paris recommended saving some of the sugar in your cake recipe to beat into the egg whites once they are at soft peaks. Beat in the sugar at high speed and continue beating briefly until the whites are stiff.
Then fold the batter ingredients together immediately and bake the cake without delay.
Prepare the following cakes, and your family and guests will look forward to your Passover desserts.
PECAN COCOA CAKE WITH ORANGE FROSTING Makes 12 servings Make the frosting for this cake with butter or margarine, according to your preference.
Fresh strawberries with a sauce of strawberry puree make a lovely garnish for each plate. You can keep the frosted cake for 2 days in the refrigerator.
✔ 31⁄2 cups pecans ✔ 11⁄2 cups sugar ✔ 5 Tbsp. matza cake meal or sifted matza meal ✔ 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa ✔ 6 large eggs, separated, room temperature ✔ Orange Frosting (see note below) ✔ 3 Tbsp. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (for garnish) Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF).
Grease two 23-cm. (9-inch) round cake pans, about 4 cm. (11⁄2 inches) deep. Line base of each with parchment paper or foil and grease parchment or foil. Use a little matza cake meal to flour sides of pans and lined bases, tapping to remove excess.
In a food processor grind 13⁄4 cups pecans 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 for about 30 seconds or 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.
Prepare frosting. 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, the last on top. Smooth frosting with a long metal spatula. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.
Orange Frosting: Soften 225 gr. (8 ounces or 1 cup) unsalted butter or margarine.
Beat it with 11⁄2 cups powdered sugar (made without corn starch) until smooth. Gradually beat in 3 Tbsp.
orange juice. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Stir in grated orange rind. Taste, and beat in up to 1⁄2 cup more powdered sugar if you would like the frosting sweeter. Beat in another 1 to 2 Tbsp. juice if needed, so that frosting is spreadable but still thick.
ALMOND SPONGE CAKE Makes two 23-cm (9-inch) cake layers, about 12 servings This recipe is from Passover Desserts.
Author Penny W. Eisenberg wrote: “This very moist cake can be eaten plain, with fruit, fruit sauce, glazed or with any light textured filling or frosting. Whipped cream and berries are an excellent accompaniment.”
If you need to make vanilla sugar (see the note following the recipe), prepare it at least two days before making the cake. You can refrigerate the cake for one day or freeze it for three months; thaw it for one hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
✔ 21⁄2 cups sliced almonds ✔ 3 Tbsp. matza cake meal ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon ✔ 8 large eggs, room temperature, separated ✔ 11⁄4 cups vanilla sugar (see note below) Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF).
Grease two 23-cm. (9-inch) round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Toast almonds in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until aromatic. Put them in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool them.
Place half the nuts and 1 Tbsp. matza cake meal in the food processor; process until finely ground. Remove from the processor, add the remaining almonds, remaining cake meal and the cinnamon, and process until finely ground. Combine with the first batch.
In a large mixer bowl, beat egg yolks with an electric mixer at medium speed just to blend them. Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar and continue beating until the eggs are thick, pale yellow and the mixture will hold a ribbon.
Fold in the nuts in three additions.
In a large, clean and grease-free bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
Gradually add 1⁄4 cup sugar and continue beating until whites are stiff but not dry.
Stir 1⁄3 of the whites into the yolks to lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks show.
Divide batter between pans.
Place on the middle shelf in the oven and bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry.
Cool the cakes in the pans set on wire racks. When cool, run a knife around the edges and then invert onto cake boards or plates and re-invert onto another set of cake boards so that the cakes are right side up. Press down lightly onto the raised edges. They will spread out toward the sides. Lift off the loosened crust, which will level the cakes.
When the cakes are first made they are very moist and fragile. If you are going to place one on top of the other in a layer cake, freeze the top layer for 1 hour so that it is easier to work with.
If the cakes are wrapped in foil and left at room temperature overnight, they will firm up and can be handled without freezing.
Note: Vanilla Sugar: Cut a vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and place both the seeds and the beans in 11⁄4 cups of sugar. Let the sugar absorb the flavor for a couple of days.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
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