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 matzoh, and that prohibition includes oat, rye, barley and spelt. For generations, Passover desserts got a bad rap because bakers had only matzoh 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.
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 matzoh 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, 2017), while Michele Streit Heilbrun’s “Matzo” (Potter, 2017) features apple crumb pie and Roman pizzarelle cookies.
“Almond flour has replaced matzoh 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 one-third 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 is 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, young Shoyers — maybe I’ll figure that one out for next year.
Shoyer’s most recent cookbook is “The New Passover Menu” (Sterling Epicure, 2015).