Passover Sweet Surprises


In yesterday's A La Carte section, a measurement in the recipe for pecan chocolate chip brownies was incomplete. It should have read 1 1/8 cups of vanilla sugar.

The Sun regrets the error.

Funny thing about Passover. We spend hours at the Seder table explaining why, among other things, this holiday is different because we don't eat bread.

Then we spend the rest of the week in the kitchen, making recipes taste like bread -- hasn't everyone tried matzo-meal "bagels"? We buy matzo-based breakfast cereal that looks like Cheerios. These days, you can even buy Passover noodles and Passover "pizza" mix.


Why should dessert be any different?

Why settle for the ubiquitous canned macaroons when you can feast on pecan chocolate chip brownies, lavish cakes and ganaches galore, all kosher for Passover?

Jewish cookbooks -- from the sisterhood to the bookstore varieties -- have a wealth of Passover recipes, including desserts. One crowd pleaser found in "From Generation to Generation," the cookbook of the sisterhood of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is chocolate toffee matzot, a sort of Passover brittle made with chocolate, brown sugar, butter and pecans. The plate is always empty.

For those of the life-is-short, eat-dessert-first persuasion, culinary horizons are opened by "Passover Desserts" (Macmillan, $20) by Penny Eisenberg, a dessert caterer, volunteer, wife and mother of two from Charlotte, N.C.

The book contains 50 recipes, from the traditional, such as macaroons, to desserts you wouldn't automatically think of for Passover, including those pecan chocolate chip brownies, made with matzo cake meal, and apple tangerine crisp, made with a topping that substitutes potato starch and matzo cake meal for flour.

"Ask most Jews if there is anything that they dislike about Passover, and they invariably say 'dessert,' " she writes in the opening chapter. "On all other nights we eat dessert that is tasty. Why on this night do we eat desserts that look and taste like cardboard?"

But there is life after spongecake.

Passover, which begins at sundown April 21, is the most intense food holiday of the Jewish calendar.

"There are so many ritual foods," Eisenberg says. "The fact that ++ you can't use this and you can't use that automatically makes the food so important. Plus, it lasts for a week."

Variations in observance

Passover is celebrated for either seven or eight days, depending on which branch of Judaism a Jew may identify with. It commemorates the exodus from Egypt and redemption from slavery.

The holiday begins with the Seder, a ritual meal in which participants join in prayer, the retelling of the Passover story, songs and games.

Jews are forbidden to eat leavened products or products that may be used as leavening agents, to remember the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt -- so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Jews who keep kosher year-round continue this practice, and may buy only products labeled kosher for Passover. Others may interpret the guidelines more liberally.

Forbidden foods during Passover include flour (except matzo) and any foods containing flour and leavening agents, including yeast and baking powder. Jews of Ashkenazic descent avoid grains, cornstarch, corn syrup, legumes and regular extracts made with grain alcohol.

Eisenberg's recipes range from simple to complex. Most can be prepared ahead; all can be frozen. "I wanted it to be useful for as many people as possible," she says.

But after weeks of cleaning the house in preparation for the holiday and days spent preparing the several-course Seder, who's got time to think about a complicated, elegant dessert?

"There are a lot of people who never make the entire meal themselves, who just make one part of it," Eisenberg say. "If I'm bringing a dessert, I can spend a lot of time making it, or if I'm making the whole meal, I can make something a little less complicated."

Pecan chocolate chip brownies (pareve)

Makes 9 brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted pareve Passover margarine, plus 1 teaspoon for greasing pan

1 3/4 cups pareve Passover semisweet chocolate chips (10 1/2 ounces; divided use)

1 1/8 vanilla sugar, or use regular sugar and 1 teaspoon kosher vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons water (use only 1/2 teaspoon if using vanilla extract)

3 large eggs at room temperature

3/4 cup matzo cake meal, plus extra for sprinkling pan

3/4 cup pecan pieces

Heat oven to 350. Grease an 8-inch-square pan with margarine and sprinkle with matzo cake meal.

Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat, add 1 cup chocolate chips and stir until they are melted. Whisk in the sugar and the water or vanilla extract. Test the temperature of the chocolate. It should be tepid. If it is not, let it rest until it is.

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