Passover Desserts

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The lack of leavening agents in Passover makes desserts the biggest culinary challenge of the Jewish holiday. We looked for recipes that went beyond spongecakes and honey cakes and tested several. These are our favorites.

Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake

8 servings

This is one of those recipes that is worth making year-round using regular ladyfingers, any chocolate and heavy cream. It contains a double dose of liqueur, with some brushed on the spongecake or ladyfingers that form the edge of the dessert and the rest beaten into the mousse filling. The recipe was developed by Tina Wasserman, a Dallas cooking teacher and food writer and food columnist for Reform Judaism magazine.

4 ounces Passover spongecake or Passover ladyfingers

1/2 cup plus 1 1/3 to 2 1/3 tablespoons kosher for Passover liqueur (hazelnut, amaretto or orange)

12 ounces kosher for Passover dark chocolate, such as Camille Bloch or Alprose Swiss

1 teaspoon instant espresso or

2 teaspoons instant coffee

1/4 cup hot water

2 egg yolks

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup kosher for Passover frozen whipped pareve topping, defrosted

Lightly coat the sides and bottom of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray oil. Line the pan with wide strips of parchment or waxed paper long enough to overhang by 2 inches on each side.

If using spongecake, cut into 1/4 -inch-thick pieces. Line the bottom of the pan and all four sides with the cake or with vertical ladyfingers, leaving no space between the pieces. Brush with 1/4 cup of the liqueur (ladyfingers, which are somewhat crisp, may need 1 more tablespoon of liqueur to be saturated). Set aside.

In the top of a double boiler over medium heat or in a heavy pan over low heat, heat the chocolate until it is nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the espresso or instant coffee and the hot water and stir to mix. Add the melted chocolate and the remaining 1/3 cup of liqueur. Beat with a whisk until smooth and then add the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl and using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until firm, but not dry, peaks are formed. Using a whisk, add some of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten the chocolate. Fold in the remaining whites until well blended (don't overblend; the whites will be thoroughly incorporated when the whipped pareve topping is added).

In a medium bowl and using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the pareve topping on high speed until thoroughly whipped but not too firm. Using a whisk, gently add the topping to the chocolate mixture until no streaks of white are visible. Pour into prepared pan (the mousse might exceed the height of the loaf pan) and freeze, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until firm. Cover with aluminum foil and freeze for several hours or overnight. Using the overhanging parchment or waxed paper, gently pull the cake out of the pan. Slice and serve frozen or slightly thawed.

*NOTE: Scientists estimate that 1 in 10,000 fresh eggs may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Because of that possibility, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that uncooked or undercooked eggs not be consumed by the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

Per serving: 473 calories, 8 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 170 mg cholesterol, 16 g saturated fat, 108 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions

Cinnamon Balls

Makes 8 to 10 cookies

This dessert is ideal for anyone who suffers from a wheat intolerance. The cookies are dusted with sweet rice flour instead of confectioners' sugar -- a slight twist that doesn't add to the cookies' sugar content.

Ideally, these should be firm on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle. Overcooked, they can turn into tooth breakers. Adapted from Michael van Straten's "The Healthy Jewish Cookbook" (North Atlantic Books/Frog Ltd., 2005).

1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon

5 ounces blanched almond slivers or slices (about 1 2/3 cups)

7 ounces light brown sugar

3 egg whites

About 1/4 cup sweet rice flour,* for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Place the rice flour in a shallow bowl and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the cinnamon, almonds and brown sugar and process just until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold in the cinnamon-almond mixture until the egg white streaks disappear. The dough should be somewhat stiff.

Using your hands, form the dough into balls about the size of a plum. Bake until the cookies are just set, 20 to 30 minutes. (If the almonds are too finely ground, the cookies may flatten a bit during baking. This is okay.) While they are hot from the oven, roll the cookies in the rice flour and set aside to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

*NOTE: Sweet rice flour can be found on the international aisle of larger grocery stores and at Asian specialty markets.

Per cookie: 165 calories, 4 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 28 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions

Caramel-Coated Orange Flan

6 servings

Gloria Kaufer Greene of Columbia, former food editor of Baltimore Jewish Times, developed this version of a flan for Passover by substituting orange juice for the traditional milk or cream. Because the juice is acidic, the custard won't be perfectly smooth, but it has a fresh, tart flavor. Adapted from Greene's "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, 1999).

3/4 cup plus 1 1/3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons water

5 eggs

2 cups orange juice, heated to lukewarm

2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (optional)

Have ready an ungreased 1-quart ovenproof casserole dish and a pan that is several inches wider than the casserole.

To make the caramel coating, in a small, heavy pan over medium-high heat, add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the water. Bring to a light boil, swirling the pan gently by its handle to help dissolve the sugar. When the syrup is clear, boil it rapidly, swirling the saucepan occasionally, until the syrup turns a light, golden-brown (watch the syrup carefully and do not let it get dark brown, or it may have a burned taste).

Immediately pour the hot syrup into the casserole. Carefully tilt the casserole, letting the syrup coat the bottom. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

In a medium bowl, add the eggs and beat until blended. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and beat for a minute or two until the mixture is well combined but not frothy. Slowly add the warm orange juice, beating constantly. Pour the orange custard mixture into the caramel-coated casserole. Place the casserole in the larger pan and transfer to the oven. Add enough boiling water to the larger pan to come about halfway up the outside of the casserole. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a small knife inserted near the center of the custard comes out clean.

Remove the casserole from the water bath and transfer it to a rack to cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 3 hours or up to 2 days. The flan should not be unmolded until shortly before serving.

To serve, carefully run a knife around the top edge of the custard to loosen it from the casserole. Invert onto a flat serving platter that has a raised rim to hold the caramel syrup. Sprinkle with grated orange zest, if desired.

Per serving: 201 calories, 6 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 176 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 59 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Leigh Lambert; e-mail questions

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