In the traditional Passover seder meal, a symbolic piece of matzo called the afikoman is passed around the table to serve as the final course. So, the word, afikoman - literally, "that which comes after" - is often translated as "dessert."
Chocolate soufflé, it's not. Yet, it compares favorably to the dry, pasty cakes, crumbly cookies and store-bought macaroons that often pass for dessert during this difficult-to-bake-for holiday, when the flour, yeast and corn starch we normally rely on for baking and sweets-making are forbidden.
"There are horrible Passover desserts out there. But there's really no excuse for that anymore," says Paula Shoyer, author of The Holiday Kosher Baker and The New Passover Menu (Sterling). "Over the last five years, more and more ingredients have become available. Now, there's no end to the possibilities."
Shoyer, who studied at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris, thinks along the lines of macarons, rather than macaroons.
After all, it turns out that lots of classical French techniques, from whipping up airy meringues to grinding nuts into flour for cookies and tarts, are useful Passover-baking tools. (Shoyer will be at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood on Thursday at 7 p.m. for a baking demonstration and wine tasting; tickets, $25, are available at tbhbe.org/passoverbaking or at the door, or call 610-649-5300 for details).
When it comes to Passover baking, she advises, it's all about choosing the right recipe.
The easiest choice is a dessert that's already Passover friendly. For example, a rich chocolate cake that happens to be flourless or a plate of Florentine cookies, made with sliced almonds, egg whites, dried cranberries and chocolate. A citrus tart recipe with the regular crust swapped out for one made from almond flour can be almost as good as the original.
Or, look for recipes that get their airiness from beaten egg whites (and be sure to have an electric mixer on hand for the occasion). Also, think flans and mousses, sorbets and semifreddos, or fruit that's poached or baked.
Other recipes can be transformed into Passover-friendly creations, by substituting potato starch, tapioca starch, matzo cake meal and honey for such ingredients as all-purpose flour, corn starch and corn syrup.
As for the remaining recipes (and, your go-to pound cake or cookie recipe is probably in this category), don't even bother trying.
Shoyer says it's the botched attempts to convert those types of recipes that have given Passover desserts a bad rap.
"I've been telling people stop trying to convert desserts that have a large amount of flour," she says. She advises seeking out recipes with a third of a cup of flour or less.
The good news is that many more Kosher-for-Passover ingredients have become widely available in recent years. Those include approved baking powder and baking soda, almond milk, high-quality chocolate and confectioner's sugar. There are also approved versions of vanilla extract. (Although here's an alternative: put a split vanilla bean in your sugar container for an hour or so before baking.)
And, there's plenty of inspiration, in the slew of new paleo, raw food or gluten-free cookbooks on the market.
For one, Deliciously Ella (Scribner), a new book of gluten-free, plant-based recipes, includes a variation on key-lime pie made with avocado and coconut milk, with a crust of nuts and medjool dates, that's grain- and dairy-free.
Gluten-free and Kosher-for-Passover are not interchangeable, because buckwheat, millet, sorghum, and other wheat alternatives are frowned on for the holiday, and because some chefs may be omitting dairy from meat-based meals. But, you can seek out recipes made with quinoa or chia seeds, which are, at least for now, considered fair game by most Kosher authorities.
"The rise of the gluten-free movement has contributed in wonderful ways to the Passover baking world," Shoyer says. "It's a different approach to baking."
And, you just might find a recipe worth making even after Passover ends.
Substitutions for Passover
1 cup flour = 3/4 cup potato starch and 1/4 cup matzo cake meal.
1 tablespoon flour = 1/2 tablespoon potato starch.
1 tablespoon cornstarch = 1 tablespoon potato starch.
1/2 cup corn syrup = 1/2 cup honey, or 2/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water, boiled 2 to 3 minutes until thick, and allowed to cool.
Key Lime Pie
Makes 10-12 servings
For the base:
2 3/4 cups almonds (about 14 ounces)
About 30 Medjool dates (about 1 pound, 5 ounces), pitted
2 tablespoons coconut oil
For the filling:
5 very ripe avocados
Juice of 3 limes
1 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons coconut milk
1 more lime, to grate
For the base:
1. Start by making the base. Place the almonds into a food processor and blend for a minute or so until they break down into pieces (not as smooth as a flour, though).
2. Add the dates to the food processor with the coconut oil and blend again, until the dates have all been crushed and the mix is sticky.
3. Use a spatula to press the almond and date mix firmly into a 8 to 10 inch round cake pan - the base should be about an inch thick and very compact. Put the base aside while you make the filling.
For the filling:
4. Scoop the flesh out of the avocados, discarding the stones, and place all the flesh into your food processor. Add the lime juice, maple syrup and coconut milk and blend until the mix is totally smooth and creamy.
5. Pour the mix onto the base and place the cake tin in the freezer to set for about an hour and a half – you want it to be firm but not frozen.
6. Once you're ready to serve, grate the zest of the remaining lime over the top of the pie.
Note: Make sure that the flesh of your avocados is really green. If they have brown spots in them, then your pie will look less vibrant green and more swamp color.
Per Serving (based on 12): 593 calories; 10 grams protein; 70 grams carbohydrates; 49 grams sugar; 37 grams fat; no cholesterol; 12 milligrams sodium; 14 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 20 square bars or 32 triangles
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 large egg whites
Zest of one large orange (or 2 teaspoons juice)
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/3 cups sliced almonds (blanched or with skin)
1 cup chocolate chips
Vegetable oil for greasing pan
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch pan with vegetable oil. Press in a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom and go an inch up the sides of the pan, making sure you press it into the corners. Grease the top of the parchment.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar, egg whites and orange zest. Use a silicone spatula to gently mix in nuts and chopped cranberries, being careful not to crush the nuts. Scoop into the pan and use the spatula or your hands to spread evenly in the bottom of the pan. The easiest way to do this is to push the batter into the edges and corners first and then fill in the middle. You will have a thin nut layer.
3. Bake 25 minutes, or until nuts are golden. Let cool one hour. Pull up the parchment to lift the bar out of the pan. Place another piece of parchment on top and then turn the bar over onto the new parchment. Peel off the bottom parchment. Melt the chocolate chips either over a double boiler or in the microwave oven in for 45 seconds, stir, melt another 30 seconds, stir and then for 15 seconds more, if needed, until melted. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate completely covering the bar. If desired, you can use a serrated knife to make lines in the chocolate to decorate it. Slide the parchment and bars onto a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. Cut into squares, triangles or rectangular bars.
4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days or freeze for up to three months.
Per Serving (based on 32): 72 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams sugar; 4 grams fat; 1 milligram cholesterol; 7 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.