My late mother baked only at Passover. She mostly used kosher-for-Passover box mixes, and I remember the brownies fondly. I waited all year for the wonderful aroma of cakes rising in the oven.
On this eight-day Jewish holiday, which begins sundown April 10 this year, those who observe its dietary restrictions do not eat any foods made from wheat except for matzo, and that prohibition includes oat, rye, barley and spelt. For generations, Passover desserts got a bad rap because bakers had only matzo flour and potato starch at their disposal, which imparted what came to be known as the “Passover taste.” Not a good thing.
Well, an entire industry is now devoted to Passover desserts. The Manischewitz macaroons I grew up with are available in carrot cake and rocky road flavors. Yet I find the store-bought holiday selection generally lacking – and, let’s face it, I’m a baker.
Thanks to a growing array of suitable ingredient alternatives, I can tell you that it’s possible to bake Passover desserts that are just as good as the ones I make the rest of the year. My children have weighed in on this.
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Pastry cream, black-and-white cookies and a less sinful chocolate ganache can be made dairy-free, with almond milk. Tapioca flour can be used to make Brazilian cheese bread, and almond flour has allowed me to improve the taste of cookies and cakes once weighed down by dry matzo cake meal.
The spectrum of suitable recipes has broadened as well, thanks to a focus on gluten-free items and trending flavors. Naomi Nachman offers chili chocolate chip cookies and pomegranate pistachio semifreddo in her new “Perfect for Pesach” cookbook (Mesorah), while Michele Streit Heilbrun’s “Matzo” (Potter) features apple crumb pie and Roman pizzarelle cookies.
“Almond flour has replaced matzo cake meal as our go-to flour substitute,” Nachman told me, “because it tastes so much better.” When I come across recipes during the year that call for less than 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour, I consider whether I can substitute almond flour and convert the baked goods for Passover.
When I started experimenting with pie crusts for this holiday in 2011, people said, “Who needs pie for Passover?” My response: Every day is a good day for pie.
This year I offer tarts and a pie that you will probably want to bake year-round. The crust for my Passover blueberry pie is made with almond flour and potato starch, and therefore gluten-free.
The chocolate tart has a simple ganache that’s as good as the decadent French tarts I learned to bake in pastry school many years ago. Moreover, it can be made nut-free when you use coconut or regular milk rather than almond milk and find nut-free chocolate; parents of children with nut allergies have a hard time finding nut-free Passover dessert recipes. This dessert can be made ahead and frozen.
Finally, my Linzer tart made like a slab pie – mostly because sometimes you need a tart that feeds a crowd. It has three kinds of nuts in the crust – kind of expensive – and is filled with your favorite jam. To keep the cost of the Linzer tart down, buy whole nuts and grind them yourself in the food processor instead of buying nut meals or flours.
With these recipes in hand, there’s no reason to settle for old-school Passover treats.
During the holiday, my kitchen counter is jammed with platters of cookies, layer cakes, pastries, candies and tarts. Nonetheless, the minute the holiday is over, my kids want their beloved chocolate babka. Give me a chance, Shoyer kids – maybe I’ll figure that one out for next year.
Passover blueberry pie
The fat you use – unsalted butter, coconut oil or margarine – needs to be frozen for 30 minutes before you add it to the food processor. You’ll need a 9-inch pie pan. Use a flower-shaped or scalloped cookie cutter (1 1/2 inches) for the top crust.
Make ahead: The dough for the crust needs to rest in the freezer for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight. The rolled-out bottom pie shell can be frozen up to a few days in advance. The pie can be held at room temperature for a day or two.
Recipe from cookbook author and baking instructor Paula Shoyer.
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups ground almonds (may substitute almond meal or almond flour)
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup potato starch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, or coconut oil or margarine, frozen for 30 minutes and then cut into pieces
1 tablespoon cold water
1 large egg, separated into yolk and white
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
For the filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries, stemmed and rinsed
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
3 tablespoons potato starch
For the crust: Combine the ground almonds, confectioners’ sugar and potato starch in a food processor; pulse for 10 seconds to blend. Add the frozen butter, coconut oil or margarine pieces; process until mixture resembles coarse sand.
Add the water, egg yolk and vanilla extract; process just until a dough comes together, being careful not to over-mix. Gather into a ball and flatten, then break off a little more than one-third of the dough. Wrap both pieces of dough separately in plastic wrap and flatten into disks. Chill in the freezer for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
Remove the larger piece of dough from the freezer and let it defrost until you can press it gently. Place on a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle the top of the dough with some more confectioners’ sugar and cover with a piece of parchment. Roll the dough into a 10-inch round. Peel back the top parchment and sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on the dough as you roll. Once or twice, flip over the package of parchment and dough, peel off the bottom and sprinkle some more confectioners’ sugar on top. Re-cover with parchment and flip back over.
Remove the top parchment. Place your hand under the bottom parchment, lift the dough and invert it into the pie pan. Use your hands to gently press and fit the dough to the pan. Remove the remaining parchment (which is now on top). Use a knife to trim the dough, then patch up any bare or thin spots, and use a fork to prick the dough in several places. Reserve any dough scraps for additional cutouts that will form the top crust. Cover the pie shell with plastic wrap and freeze until you’re done with the filling, or up to several days.
Roll the reserved scraps between two pieces of parchment to a thickness of about 1/3 inch thick, then remove the top parchment and cut out the shapes. Unwrap the remaining piece of dough (from the freezer) and repeat the same step to make more dough cutouts; you’ll need a total of about 20. Place them on a lined baking sheet and freeze until firm.
For the filling: Make sure there are no stems on the blueberries. Place 3 cups of them in a stain-proof mixing bowl. Use a potato masher or large fork to break them down a bit. (Be careful not to make them too soupy.) Add the sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, salt and potato starch, stirring to incorporate. Gently mix in the remaining cup of berries.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the bottom pie crust shell from the freezer and place on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Spread the filling evenly in the pie crust shell. Remove the dough cutouts from the freezer; use a thin metal spatula to transfer them one by one on top of the filling, in a decorative pattern that does not completely cover the filling.
Use a pastry brush to brush the remaining egg white over the dough cutouts atop the pie, then sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of granulated sugar all over. Bake (bottom rack) for 55 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top crust cutouts are golden and the filling is bubbling. (If the edges of the cutouts or edge of the pie seem to be getting too brown before the pie is done, crimp aluminum foil loosely over them.
Cool for at least 1 hour before serving or storing.
Per serving (using butter): 330 calories, 5 g protein, 46 g carb., 15 g fat, 5 g sat. fat, 40 mg chol., 50 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 29 g sugar
Passover Linzer tart
Serves 20 to 24
Make ahead: The bottom dough needs to be refrigerated in its lined baking sheet for 45 minutes. The linzer tart can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, and it can be carefully wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month.
From cookbook author and baking instructor Paula Shoyer.
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, margarine or coconut oil
3 cups ground almonds (may use almond meal or almond flour; see headnote)
1 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 1/2 cups ground hazelnuts (skin-in or skinned)
1 cup potato starch or tapioca starch
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons for sprinkling
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
1 cup raspberry jam
1 cup apricot or other favorite jam
1 large egg white, beaten, for brushing
Use cooking oil spray to grease a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet (including its sides) with some oil and press in a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom and up the sides. Grease the top of the parchment as well.
Place the butter, margarine or coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat for several minutes on high speed until soft and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice. Add the ground almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, potato starch or tapioca starch and the 1/2 cup of granulated sugar; beat on low speed to form a dough.
Transfer a little more than half the dough to the lined baking sheet. Use your hands to press the dough into the bottom to cover and up the sides. I find it easiest to press the dough into the sides and corners first with my fingers and then I use the palm of my hand to press dough to cover the pan bottom. If needed, take a little extra dough from what you separated out to cover the bottom. Place into the freezer.
To the smaller piece of dough in the bowl, add the 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and mix in; the easiest way is to use your hands or the mixer. Shape into a ball and flatten. Do not worry if the dough is crumbly. Cover in plastic and place in the freezer for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the pan from the freezer. Bake (middle rack) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust just starts to color. Let cool until the top crust dough in the freezer is ready to be rolled out.
Take a piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with some confectioners’ sugar. Place the chilled dough on top, sprinkle with more of the sugar and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll on top of the parchment to roll the dough to a thickness of 1/3 inch in the shape of a rectangle as best as you can. Every few turns with the rolling pin, lift up the top parchment and sprinkle a little more confectioners’ sugar on top of the dough so that it does not stick. Use a knife or pastry wheel to cut the dough into 12 to 14 one-inch strips. Slide the parchment and cut strips onto a separate baking sheet; freeze them for 10 minutes so that they firm up.
Position the baking sheet on the countertop so that a long side is parallel with the edge of the counter. Use a small spoon to scoop up some raspberry jam and starting at the left, spoon 4 clumps of jam from the top to the bottom at 2-inch intervals, then use the back of the spoon to spread the jam evenly down that row to make about a 1 1/2-inch vertical row of jam. Use another spoon to scoop up 4 clumps of apricot jam and drop at intervals to the right of the first row of jam and use the back of the spoon to spread the jam evenly down that row. Repeat with the raspberry jam and then alternate rows so that you have stripes of jam alternating in colors. Use up all the jam.
Remove dough strips from the freezer and use a long metal spatula or big knife to lift up and place the strips diagonally across the top of the jam-filled crust first on one angle and then the other to create a lattice look. Place all the strips in one direction an inch or two apart and then place the others in the other direction. Do not try to bend the strips back to make a perfect over and under lattice. Trim the dough at the ends and press into the sides of the crust in the pan. Brush the strips with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with the remaining granulated sugar.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until jam is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
Per serving (based on 24, using butter): 320 calories, 4 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 6 g sat. fat, 20 mg chol., 10 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 24 g sugar
Passover chocolate tart with chocolate chip crust
Serves 12 to 16
This recipe is not gluten-free, but is for all the Passover bakers out there who are feeding people with nut allergies. Pure vanilla extract has alcohol and is not permitted on Passover. You can find an imitation vanilla, which is pretty good.
Make ahead: The shell for the crust needs to be frozen for 10 minutes before baking.
From cookbook author and baking instructor Paula Shoyer.
For the crust:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, margarine or coconut oil, at room temperature for 15 minutes, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing pan
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)
2/3 cup potato or tapioca starch
1/3 cup matzoh cake meal
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped into smaller than 1/4-inch pieces
For the filling:
1 1/4 cup milk, coconut or almond milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
13 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces or smaller
2 large egg yolks
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sugar and butter, margarine or coconut oil into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the potato or tapioca starch, matzoh cake meal, salt and chopped chocolate and mix until the dough forms small pebbles.
Take a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and grease the bottom and sides of the pan. Take handfuls of dough, flatten in your hand and press into the pan to cover the bottom and sides. Use the side of your pointer finger to press the dough into the corners. Place crust into the freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake (middle rack) for 25 minutes or until set. This can be done in advance.
For the filling: Pour the milk, coconut or almond milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to bubble at the edges, remove from the heat; add the vanilla extract and chopped chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Add 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture and whisk in. Place this mixture back into the saucepan and whisk well, using a silicone spatula to mix the chocolate in the corners.
Scoop into the tart shell, smooth and bake (middle rack) for 25 minutes. Let cool and then chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight. Can be garnished with fresh fruit.