OUTSTANDING desserts, gorgeous desserts -- unfortunately these are rarely finales for Passover seders (ceremonial meals). But with a little ingenuity and the clever use of high-quality ingredients, it is possible to come up with sweets for this holiday that are atractive and scrumptious enough to be enjoyed any season of the year -- even if you aren't Jewish.
Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. During the hasty departure, there was not time to wait for bread to rise; therefore, unleavened loaves were packed for the journey.
For the eight days of their holiday, Jews remember this by not eating any foods made with grain, except for specially prepared unleavened bread known as matzoh. Jews who follow an Eastern European tradition also eliminate peanuts and other legumes. Those of Middle Eastern ancestry, on the other hand, permit rice, corn and legumes during Passover since these are not specifically forbidden in the Bible.
For Passover desserts, the only leavening agents allowed are eggs. Jewish cooks in this country generally use ground matzoh (called "matzoh cake meal") and potato starch to give baked goods substance. Although this combination does produce desserts that look good, they often taste disappointingly dry and mealy.
However, it is possible to come up with beautiful Passover desserts that taste as delicious as they look, and still follow the holiday's dietary restrictions.
The secret is in adapting traditional international recipes that don't call for any leaven (other than eggs) or flour. And, since milk and meat are never eaten together at any kosher meal, the best recipes also don't require any better, milk or cream, as it would be necessary to compromise with inferior non-dairy substitutes.
Some of the best desserts that fulfill all of these requirements are classic tortes -- that is, cakes made without any flour. But a caramel custard made with fruit juice instead of milk, or Moroccan marzipan sweetmeats are also worthy of ending a great meal. MOROCCAN MARZIPAN SWEETMEATS (Makes about 45)
These elegant almond delicacies have been traditionally served at wedding parties as well as Passover seders. A normal party might consume over 300 pieces. This is especially impressive when one considers that until recently it was necessary to grind the almonds by hand with a mortar and pestle. With a modern food processor, however, marzipan is quite simple to prepare. 2 cups blanched almonds (about 3/4 pound) 1 cup sugar 1 to 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/4 pound firm, unblemished pitted dates 1/4 pound medium pitted prunes 1/4 pound medium walnut halves Food coloring (optional)
In food processor, grind almonds until fine. Add sugar, 1 egg yolk and lemon juice and continue processing briefly until well combined. Test mixture by squeezing in the palm of your hand. It should press together into a cohesive mass, although the edges may be a bit crumbly. If mixture does not seem cohesive, add some additional egg yolk and process again to combine.
Turn out mixture onto a large wooden board or other clean, flat surface and knead for several minutes until marzipan is smooth and malleable.
If coloring is desired, separate marzipan into 3 equal parts. Knead several drops of food coloring into two of the parts, leaving the third in its natural yellow color.
For date sweetmeats, open and flatten a date to form the bottom of each confection. Next, pinch of a piece of marzipan about the size of a small walnut. Use fingers to form into a rectangle and press into place on top of date. Decorate top by pressing with the tines of a fork. Smooth out any ragged date edges by pressing up around marzipan. For variety, use different color, smaller square-shaped piecesof marzipan side-by-side on top of date instead of on large rectangle.
For prune sweetmeats, substitute prunes for dates and proceed as above.
For walnut sweetmeats, form marzipan rectangles and decorate the tops with walnut halves. Or make two different color marzipan squares. Press together and sandwich then between two walnut halves.
Store in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. These sweetmeats look attractive arranged on a doily-covered tray. HAZELNUT-CHOCOLATE TORTE (10 to 12 servings) Oil and sugar for baking pan 5 large eggs, separated Pinch salt 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1/2 cup sugar 1 whole egg 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, yellow part only 3 ounces finely grated, pareve, semisweet (bittersweet) chocolate 8 ounces finely ground hazelnuts (filberts) or unblanched almonds (about 1 3/4 cup)* 1/4 cup cream sherry or sweet wine (optional) Chocolate Glaze: 1/3 cup water 1/3 cup sugar 4 ounces coarsely chopped, pareve, semisweet (bittersweet) chocolate Grated or whole hazelnuts, bor garnish (optional)
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Oil a 9-inch tube pan with a removable bottom (or similar springform pan). Then lightly coat pan with sugar.
Place 5 egg whites in a large mixing bowl with the salt and lemon juice. Beat until frothy; then very gradually add about half of the sugar, and beat until stiff.
Use same beaters (add another bowl) to beat yolks and whole egg with remaining sugar and lemon peel until very light and fluffy. Gently, but thoroughly, fold yolks into whites. Then folk in grated chocolate and ground nuts. Turn out batter into prepared pan.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan (do not invert); then remove sides of pan and cool completely on base. (Cake will settle slightly.) While cake is cooling, prick top with a fork and sprinkle with half of the sherry or wine. Invert cooled cake onto serving platter, and sprinkle top with remaining sherry.
When cake is cool, make chocolate glaze. Put water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat to boiling. Simmer 3 minutes; then remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Stir inchopped chocolate; then return pan to low heat. Continue stirring, while heating, until glaze is very smooth (about 3 to 4 minutes). Immediately pour over torte, allowing some to drip down sides. If desired, sprinkle top with some extra grated nuts, or decorate with whole nuts. dLet cake rest until glaze is set. Store a room temperature. This torte tastes even better the day after it is made.
*(Note: Chocolate and nuts should be powdery, not sticky. Nuts ground in a food processor or blender should be chilled first so that they do not become oily during grinding.) HUNGARIAN POPPY SEED TORTE WITH FOAMY WINE SAUCE (10 to 12 servings)
A blender (but not a food processor) does a nice job of grinding the poppy seeds for this torte. (Do not substitute unground seeds or poppy seed "filling," as these do not have the right volume or texture.)
The wine sauce can be made ahead and served cold, or made just beforehand and served warm. It is placed alongside or on top of each slice of cake at serving time. 1 1/2 cups whole poppy seeds (about 8 ounces) 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided 8 large eggs, separated and at room temperature 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel, yellow part only 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in wine or water Flamy Wine Sauce: 6 egg yolks 6 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 1/2 cups sweet Passover wine
For torte, grind poppy seeds in blender, adding 1/2 cup sugar to make grinding easier when seeds begin to stick. Stop blender occasionally and shake jar to redistribute seeds so they will all get ground. (Note: If you wish, you can use a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds.)
Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with lemon juice until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the remaining sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
Use the same beaters (and another bowl) to beat yolks and the last 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in lemon peel, cinnamon and cloves. Gently, but thoroughly, fold yolks into whites.
Drain raisins well; then dry with paper towels. Gently fold raisins and ground poppy seed-sugar mixture into eggs until all are well combined.
Turn batter out into a greased 9- or 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until top is springy and a cake tester comes out clean. Invert pan to cool cake. When cake is completely cool, remove from pan. Slice and serve with foamy wine sauce.
For sauce, place the egg yolks in the top of a double boiler (or a heatproof bowl that will fit over a saucepan). Beat (with a wire whisk or portable electric mixer) until light and thick. Beat in sugar and cinnamon; then gradually beat in wine.
Place pan or bowl over simmering water and continue to beat constantly until the sauce foams and thickens considerably (about 5 to 10 minutes). It will be very fluffy. Serve immediately, or chill and serve cold. Do not make more than a day ahead, or it may deflate slightly.
Torte keeps very well, and tastes even better if served the day after making. ORANGE CARAMEL CUSTARD (6 to 8 servings) 1/2 cup sugar 3 tablespoons water Custard: 5 large eggs 1/3 cup sugar 2 cups warm orange juice About 2 tablespoons grated orange peel, for garnish
Have a 4-cup metal mold handy. (A ring mold works well, but any plain mold will do.) Place the 1/2 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and dissolve sugar by slowly swirling pan by its handle. When liquid is clear, continue boiling lightly, swirling occasionally, until sugar turns a light caramel-brown color. (Do not overcook, or it may have a burnt taste.)
Immediately pour into metal mold. Caramelized sugar is very hot, so be sure to hold mold with a pot holder. Carefully tilt mold in all directions to coat bottom and sides, until caramel ceases to run (in about 30 seconds). Set aside.
To make custard, beat eggs until slightly foamy; them beat in 1/3 cup sugar. Beat for a minute or two to make sure it is well blended. Slowly beat in the warm orange juice. Pour custard mixture through a sieve (strainer) into the caramel-coated mold. Set mold into a large pan containing boiling water, and bake in the lower third of a preheated 350-degree oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a knife plunged into the center comes out clean.
Remove mold from water and allow it to cool at room temperature about 30 minutes. Then refrigerate several hours (or overnight) until completely chilled. Run a knife along the top edge of the custard; then unmold onto a serving platter. Pour any extra syrup around the custard. Sprinkle grated orange peel on top. CHOCOLATE MOUSSE TORTE (6 to 8 servings) 3 squares (ounces) pareve, semisweet chocolate 1 square (ounce) pareve, unsweetened chocolate 4 large eggs, separated 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1 cup (about 4 ounces) ground almonds Topping: 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or pareve candy bar broken into pieces 2 tablespoons hot coffee 2 eggs, separated 1 tablespoon sweet wine or fruit-flavored brandy 1 tablespoon sugar Ground almonds, for decoration
To make the torte, melt the 4 ounces of chocolate over hot water, stirring occasionally, and cool slightly. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and creamy; then slowly beat in the chocolate and almond extract. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff; then carefully fold into the chocolate mixture. Sprinkle the ground nuts on top; then fold in completely.
Cover the bottom of an 8-inch round pan with a piece of waxed paper cut to fit. Then pour in the torte mixture. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool several minutes in the pan. Then turn out onto a rack, peel off the paper, and cool completely. (You may need to run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake.)
To make the topping, melt the chocolate over hot water. Combine melted chocolate and hot coffee in blender. Whirl 30 seconds on high. Add egg yolks and sweet wine. Whirl 15 seconds or until combined. Beat egg whites with electric mixer until stiff (beating in sugar as whites become foamy). Fold chocolate mixture into egg whites. Spoon topping over torte, allowing some to drip down sides. Sprinkle some addition almonds on top for a decorative touch. Store in refrigerator.