Passover is our favorite family holiday — last year we hosted nearly 40 people at our house. It’s also one of the most complicated.
The seder begins at sundown, but the formal dinner won’t begin until we finish reading the haggadah, which is usually late in the evening. Fortunately, small bites are served as part of the seder that help keep the guests from suffering too many hunger pangs. They include the ritual foods of charoset, the Hillel sandwich, matzo, greens and salted egg.
Although there is always someone who complains about how hungry they are, and can hardly wait until dinner is served, I think they secretly nibble on the matzo that is on the table. And even if they don’t, I rest easy knowing that they will soon overeat at a dinner of gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, lamb shanks and roast turkey with vegetable stuffing.
Then, of course, come the desserts. Because Passover desserts eliminate all leavened foods for the eight-day holiday, baking them has always been a challenge. I have been teaching cooking classes for many years, and the art of making Passover desserts has always been one of my favorite things to teach.
One important rule that’s useful for the holiday when baking cakes: egg whites should be beaten with a whisk until light peaks form, then folded gently into the batter and gently spooned into the cake pan. Treating egg whites this way is also important when making meringue cookies.
Our dessert table will have a few surprise desserts for our family this year. I know the children are going to love the charoset mini cupcakes and the platter of frozen chocolate-covered banana bites. For now, though, let’s keep that a secret between us!
PASSOVER LEMON CUPCAKES WITH CHAROSET TOPPING
- Central European Charoset (recipe follows)
- 5 eggs, separated
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup safflower oil
- Juice of 2 lemons (about 5 to 6 tablespoons)
- 1 1/4 cups matzo cake meal
- Grated zest of 2 lemons
Make Central European Charoset; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix egg yolks and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy.
In a medium-size bowl, combine oil and lemon juice.
Add matzo cake meal to yolk and sugar mixture, alternately with oil mixture.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, using the wire whisk attachment, beat egg whites until light and fluffy soft peaks form.
Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture until well blended. Fold in remaining beaten egg whites and grated lemon zest. Fill cupcake liners about halfway with batter. Sprinkle a spoonful of Central European Charoset on top of the batter on each cupcake.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Makes about 16 cupcakes or 32 mini cupcakes.
CENTRAL EUROPEAN CHAROSET
- 2 medium (red delicious) apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup sweet Passover wine
In a bowl, combine the apples, walnuts, honey, and cinnamon and mix well. Add wine and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Makes about 2 cups.
PASSOVER BANANA NUT SPONGE CAKE
- 7 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup matzo cake meal
- 1/4 cup potato starch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup mashed bananas
- 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until light in color and texture.
In a medium-size bowl, combine matzo cake meal, potato starch and salt. Add this a little at a time to the egg yolk mixture, alternately with the bananas, beating until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites and nuts into egg yolk mixture.
Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out dry and the cake is springy to the touch. Invert the pan immediately onto a wire rack and cool. With a sharp knife loosen the cake from the sides and center of the pan and unmold onto a cake plate.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
PASSOVER CHOCOLATE GLAZE
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons marmalade
- 1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee
Melt the chocolate with the marmalade and coffee on top of a double boiler over simmering water or in the microwave, and blend until melted.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup nuts, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 250 F.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, using the wire whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add salt and sugar. Fold in chopped nuts and mix with spatula.
Drop by the teaspoonful — about 1 inch high — onto a greased baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with a Silpat mat, spacing 1 inch apart. Or use a disposable pastry piping bag with a plain or star 1/2-inch tip to create dots of batter.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until meringues remove easily with a spatula. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
FROZEN CHOCOLATE BANANA BITES
- 4 bananas, peeled
- 1 (16-ounce) bar semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
Cut bananas into 1-inch slices and push a wooden toothpick halfway into each. Place on a large piece of wax paper and wrap. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or until ready to coat with chocolate.
Place chocolate pieces in a 4-cup Pyrex (glass) measuring cup or bowl and place in the microwave, and cook until lumpy. (This also can be done in a double boiler over simmering water.) Remove from microwave and mix well with a spoon until the lumps are melted.
Remove the frozen bananas from the freezer and unwrap. Holding each banana by the toothpick, dip into the melted chocolate. Let chocolate drain a little and place on a large dish lined with wax paper. Repeat with remaining bananas and return to the freezer.
Makes about 24 banana bites.