Unleavened cakes and cookies a tradition worth savoring PASSOVER TREATS Just desserts on a joyous holiday

March 20, 1994|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Special to The Sun

In many Jewish homes, it is customary to conduct a pre-Passover cleaning. This includes a search of every nook and cranny for foods that are not kosher for Passover.

In preparation for the eight-day holiday, my family would replace all the dishes, cooking utensils and cutlery used the rest of the year with those reserved for Passover. This exchange was accompanied by an intensive cleaning of all surfaces in the kitchen that would be touched by the Passover dishes. All this had to be done before any of the cooking could begin.

Because a great part of the joy of the holiday is associated with the Seder, a ceremonial feast celebrated the first one or two nights of the holiday, there is always a great deal of cooking to do. And it all has to be done according to traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

According to Scripture, the Hebrews made such a hurried escape from Egypt there wasn't enough time to leaven their bread and bake it in the usual manner. The unleavened, flat bread they were able to take with them was the first matzo. Now, in remembrance of that hasty exodus, foods made with ordinary flour or leavening agents such as baking powder or yeast are prohibited during the Passover period.

These restrictions make the preparation of pastries and desserts a little more complicated -- you might say daunting -- than usual. Cakes, cookies and dumplings must be prepared from potato starch or matzo meal made from ground matzo. A more finely ground variation used in baking is matzo cake meal. In many recipes, such as sponge cakes, the following flour conversion measurement is helpful:

1 cup regular flour = 1/4 cup matzo cake meal or 3/4 cup potato starch.

1/2 cup regular flour = 2 tablespoons matzo cake meal or 6 tablespoons potato starch.

To add variety to the traditional sponge cake, I've created a version richly flavored with bananas. Some are pureed in the batter, while the remainder are sliced and folded into it. The top is sprinkled with a matzo-meal streusel, which can be tossed with melted butter, margarine or vegetable oil.

Because meringues are made without flour, they have long been a favorite Passover dessert. My newest meringue cookie is unlike any other. Potato starch, cocoa and unsweetened chocolate beaten into the meringue make an intensely chocolate, crisp, but not brittle, cookie. I prefer to pipe the batter through a pastry bag because it's quicker than dropping it by mounds, but don't expect them to hold their shape. They flatten, leaving a perfect space to pipe on a chocolate Jewish star.

The cocoa-cinnamon carrot torte is the piece de resistance. My parents would have had a hard time believing that such an impressive dessert could be kosher for Passover. Nuts and coconut replace the flour to give the cake lightness and character. If you prefer, you can replace the coconut with 1 1/2 cups additional nuts.

Despite the restraints imposed by religious law, Passover desserts can hold their own against all other holiday fare. Don't be surprised if you get requests for repeats of these recipes from now until Sukkot, in the fall.

Chocolate meringue crisps

Makes about 36

1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon potato starch

3 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup chocolate chips, for decorating

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or heavy-duty foil.

In a food processor with the metal blade or in a blender, process chocolate until very finely chopped. Add cocoa and process until finely ground. Add potato starch and process until incorporated.

In a mixing bowl, stir coffee into egg whites and let stand for 5 minutes. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and add granulated sugar slowly, 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 to 6 minutes. Fold chocolate mixture into whites. It will be very stiff, but will deflate as you fold.

Spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 -inch star tip. Working quickly so the batter doesn't deflate, pipe into 1-inch kisses, about 1 1/2 -inches apart. Or, drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until tops are firm and set. They will spread and flatten as they bake. Let cool on baking sheet. When cool, carefully remove from paper.

To decorate, melt chocolate chips in microwave or over hot water. Transfer to a small heavy plastic bag. Cut a small tip off the corner of the bag and through it pipe Jewish stars or other designs on the top of each cookie.

Banana cake with cinnamon streusel

Makes 16 servings


1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup matzo meal

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons melted butter, non-dairy margarine or vegetable oil


6 large eggs, separated

1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup matzo meal

1/2 cup potato starch

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