It is the part of the Passover meal generally approached with the greatest trepidation: Dessert.
Hampered by the Jewish holiday's food bans -- against leavening, for instance -- Passover desserts have an uphill battle.
"On all other nights we eat dessert that is tasty. Why on this night do we eat desserts that look and taste like cardboard?" writes author Penny W. Eisenberg in the introduction to her new desserts cookbook, with a play on the Four Questions asked at the Passover seder.
There's no need, she writes in "Passover Desserts" (Macmillan, $24.95), billed as the first cookbook devoted strictly to Passover desserts. She's got some 75 dessert recipe to prove it.
The recipes are not a throwback to the era when making a Passover cake required beating 18 egg whites and then walking around on tiptoes so the cake wouldn't collapse during its hour or so in the oven.
There are cheesecakes, mousses, cookies, pastries, fruits. Many are quite elegant. Families can dump the custom of serving unappetizing desserts and start tasty new holiday traditions, Ms. Eisenberg suggests.
Because they come at the end of the seder meal, or another Passover dinner, desserts with a history are especially sweet, says renowned cookbook author Joan Nathan. Her chremslach, or fruit fritters, are an example.
"My father was from a Reform Jewish family from Germany. My mother was from a more traditional Jewish family," Ms. Nathan said. "He said, 'I will make a seder if you will make chremslach.' "
Every year, there was a seder. And every year, there were chremslach.
Ms. Nathan modernized the family recipe. She triples it so that she can have leftovers for breakfast. Making such a huge batch of chremslach gives her time to lose herself in memories.
"It's the last thing I do, but I always do it. Now that my father is dead, it gives me time to think about my father," she said.
Passover is a perfect festival to think about dessert. It holds a special sweetness because it commemorates the Israelites' freedom from slavery in Egypt.
After suffering 10 plagues, Egypt's Pharoah wanted the Jews to leave quickly. The fleeing Israelites bundled up their dough before it had time to rise, giving birth to matzo, the flat unleavened bread of affliction.
During the eight days of Passover, Jews are commanded to eat matzo. The dietary rules are detailed.
But, basically, forbidden are even traces of breads and foods with leavening. Many foods used during the rest of the year must be prepared differently for the holiday and are packaged as "kosher for Passover." Unsure? Consult your rabbi.
The telltale aroma of Passover in my mother's house is apple pudding with cinnamon, a longstanding "comfort food" of the holiday. Chef Victor Azoulay's matzo layer cake makes a wonderful dessert tradition: Elegance without baking.
Joan Nathan says she has never made a seder without serving chremslach. This is an updated version of the recipe for Passover fritters passed down in her family. from "Jewish Cooking in America" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, $30).
Makes about 2 dozen
3 matzos, soaked and squeezed very dry
2 tablespoons currants
2 tablespoons chopped almonds
2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup matzo meal
1/3 cup sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
vegetable oil for frying
Mix together the matzos, currants, almonds, apricots, egg yolks, matzo meal, sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the matzo mixture, adding matzo meal to make the mixture hold together.
Using an electric skillet or deep fryer, heat about 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Drop the mixture by tablespoons and brown a few minutes on each side until they are crisp. Cook only about three at a time. Drain well on paper.
Serve at room temperature or crisped up in the oven. (You can make these in the morning, drain on paper, leave out all day, and crisp in the oven just before serving.)
These fritters are especially delicious with stewed prunes with orange juice as an accompaniment, if desired. Or serve with wine sauce (recipe follows).
This recipe is from the private family collection of the Sichels of New York, a family long in the wine business in Europe.
Passover wine sauce
Makes about 6 servings
2 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups cup water
2 teaspoons potato starch
Mix the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, wine and 1 cup of the water in a medium saucepan and cook over a low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken.
Mix the potato starch with the remaining half cup water until smooth. Add the wine mixture, beating well to avoid lumps. Boil only until thick, remove from the heat, and cool.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the wine mixture.
This recipe comes from my mother's family. My mother always
serves it with a glass of hot tea with lemon.
Passover apple pudding
4 large eggs, separated
4 large apples (Rome, preferably), grated