Growing up in my part of town, I was surrounded by The Jews. That’s what my mom referred to them as. The Jews. It’s not that my parents were Anti-Semitic. It was more that my mom, being immigrants and having English as a second language, didn’t quite get the difference between the article “a” and the article “the”…thus it was The Jews, The Catholics, The Blacks. Even The Orientals (that would be us). It probably would have been The Latinos too, if we knew any Latinos, but St. Louis didn’t really have a large Latino population, what with, it being smack dab in the middle of the country.
Strangely though, it was never The Whites. I guess, white people were the norm in the Midwest and everyone else had to be described.
I never thought much of being surrounded by the chosen people, other than we could never have tests or papers due on certain days as half the class got certain days off from school (Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur), that a lot of my friends got to celebrate a Christmas like holiday that was never spelled the same way twice when I read it (Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hannakah) for 8 days (in which some kids actually got 8 days of presents!) and every year around Easter they had to eat this flat cracker bread for 8 days in a row. I was actually quite fond of the flat cracker bread (it sort of tasted like unsalted saltines, something I loved to eat as a kid) but most kids moaned about having to eat it, and only it, for 8 days in a row.
I also never really thought too much about those eight days of Passover, until I hit high school and was invited to my very first Seder. My friend Karen – who currently has her own awesome clothing company (check it out at www.curiouscatclothing.com) invited me to the Seder. Karen was one of many “non-girlfriends” of mine. Meaning, from an outsider perspective, we probably looked like we were dating, but, of course, in reality we weren’t (for what seems like obvious reasons in retrospect but was clear as mud back then).
The actually Seder day, if I remember correctly, was actually quite traumatic for me, due to a near strangling incident in a parking lot of a 7-11, but that’s another story for another time. The Seder dinner however was remarkable, as I actually learned WHY The Jews actually ate the flat cracker bread (which I had since learned was called matzo) and the whole story behind how The Jews were the chosen one.
At the Seder I read from a classic Maxwell House blue and white book that told the story of how Moses led his people out of bondage. I learned why The Jews ate matzah for 8 days (to symbolize the rush out of Egypt, as they had to flee in hurry and didn’t have time to let their bread rise, keeping kosher for Passover reminds them of the hardship that their ancestors underwent), and what the symbolism was for everything on the plate in the middle of the table and why you keep an empty chair and glass of wine out for Elijah. I also learned to keep an eye out for the hidden matzah at the end of the dinner (I was never the one that found it, as everyone else at the dinner was much more attentive and knew all the places to look for it).
There is much to be said about the crossover of the ways of The Jews and The Orientals. Both are often who you would see eating out and going to the movies on Christmas. Our parents were always guilt tripping us into getting better grades. And the push for all of us to become lawyers or doctors – or marry lawyers or doctors bordered on the comical. When I first visited LA, I was surprised but not shocked to find restaurants advertising themselves as “Kosher Chinese.” They didn’t have those in St. Louis but it made such good sense! Why hadn’t I thought about it before?
And, at the Seder it only came naturally to me that I fell in love with the latkes and the matzah ball soup just as my Jewish friends proclaimed their love of hot and sour soup and General Tzo’s chicken (I only learned last year who General Tzo was. He apparently did not raise chickens, nor are there any chicken farms in the town he was raised in).
Fast forward to college where my freshman Jewish roommate, Andy (my mom thought he would be in the business school – which he was, his mom thought I could help him with his math and science – which I did) was keeping kosher for Passover. I remember his mock horror as I ate a ham on cheese on matzah sandwich (actually he was a good sport about it). And I remember fondly, going to a Seder in college that my friend Susie held, where I learned what Manischewitz wine was (apparently a Jewish concord grape wine, not unlike the wine coolers that the many guys in our dorm were drinking at the time).
Sadly, I left most of my Jewish friends back in St. Louis when I moved in San Francisco ten or eleven years ago. But when I found out my friend Susie (the one who introduced me to the wonders of Manischewitz wine) was thinking of moving to San Francisco from New York, I immediately asked her “OMG!!!! YAY!!! I’m so excited! If you move here, will you host a Seder?”
She obliged me by moving out here, and sending out an invite for a “Pseudo Seder” – something labeled as such (I assumed) because we weren’t going to go through the whole storytelling Haggadah (the story of the liberation of The Jews from Egypt). Which was fine by me, because that’s a lot of reading instead of the lots of eating which is really what I wanted to be doing. AJ, who had never actually been to a Seder, was excited as well. And for the first time, I was determined to make a dessert for the Seder.
Bonus, she had her father actually send out a copy of the old school blue and white Haggadah! Just for me! Everyone else got a photocopy edition – of just the pages that her dad liked, not the rest.
Anyhoo, here’s the thing. Different Jews keep Kosher for Passover (KFP) in different ways. Leavened baked goods is the major no-no. Leavening is what your baked goods do when they rise in the oven. That’s how you get the fabulous airholes in artisan bread, and how a good cake will rise and create an even light tender moist crumb (as opposed to those cakes that DON’T rise when you forget to add the baking powder and end up being dense like a brick). Leavening is really important thing to baking.
However in baking, there are actually THREE different ways to achieve leavening in your products: organic, chemical, and mechanical. Organic leavening is normally achieved by yeast, which produced carbon dioxide as they grow and eat the starch, there by rising the dough. Organic yeast was definitely NOT Kosher for Passover (KFP). Chemical leavening is normally achieved by baking soda or baking powder and an acid/base reaction (which produces carbon dioxide). It too was considered not KFP.
But MECHANICAL leavening, that (according my Jewish consultant Stephanie) was TOTALLY legit. That’s where you actually physically add air pockets to the batter. How do you do that? Ever whip eggs until they become a stiff? You’re mechanically leavening. The proteins of the eggs themselves are binding together and trapping air pockets inbetween. Ever read an instruction for a baked good, and they tell you to cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy? The creaming of the sugar and butter actually is also a mechanical leavening, physically incorporating little micropockets of air. Even the act of sifting the flour (a step that most people – me included sometimes skip out of laziness) helps incorporate air into the batter. All these are mechanical leavening, and apparently they were completely fair game.
Keeping KFP though, isn’t necessarily just not using baking powder or yeast. It’s also not using wheat, rye, oat, barley, and spelt (except for a matzah meal – wherein the ingredients apparently are wheat and water. I don’t understand it, but apparently it has something to do with not letting the wheat touch water for more than 18 minutes, but not all the mysteries of The Jews have been explained to me). Either way, there’s a lot of matzah meal cakes and cakes made of potato starch for eight days.
On TOP of that, some Jews (but not all Jews) are also limited to not using anything that is a corn, rice and legumes (beans like soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds, poppy seeds). This doesn’t sound too awful (there aren’t that many dessert recipes that include string beans) until you realize no soy and no corn syrup or corn starch. I usually avoid corn syrup, but soy is in pretty nearly everything (pull out a bar of chocolate and look at the ingredients. Soy lecithin will inevitably be listed). I wasn’t sure what sort of Jewess my friend Susie was, so I texted her (also, I wanted to use the word Jewess). Sure enough, no soy, no corn. Susie was super sweet about it though, and totally told me “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” but I refused to give in. I was going to bake KFP (well Reformed Kosher for Passover. If I were baking for someone who was Orthodox…well actually I probably wouldn’t be allowed to bake for them, as I don’t keep kosher in my household, but luckily that wasn’t a requirement, Susie is Reformed.)
All this and the fact that we were being served brisket for dinner, (which meant no dairy as well in the dessert – ie. no butter) made for pretty restrictive pallete of ingredients.
I was up for the challenge! I thought. But after making a batch of caramel with heavy cream (forgetting about the no milk and meat rule) I had to start from scratch again.
How to make caramel without heavy cream? No Soy milk. No rice milk (it had soy lecithin in it) no Almond milk (same darn soy lecithin). I considered making my own cashew milk, but it took 8 hours overnight to soak the cashews and I didn’t have time for that. Crap! What do vegans with soy allergies drink if they want a milk like beverage? AJ looked at me when I asked him and said, “You’d be crazy to be vegan if you had a soy allergy.” He had a point (though I guess people who kept vegan and had severe allergies would probably just make their own cashew, rice or almond milk. But that would just prove the point of being crazy…making their own cashew milk is a little extreme…)
Just when I was ready to give up the idea of a parve (meaning something that could be eaten with both meat or milk foods) Kosher for Passover caramel and just sticking to a simple strawberry sauce (my back up plan), I figured it out. Coconut milk! Thick coconut milk has the same consistency as heavy cream (actually the can that I bought is a little thicker once stirred up). I rock.
As for the desserts I had a difficult time finding a decent Passover cake recipe, until I came across a something called “I Can’t Believe It’s a Passover Cake, Cake” by Marcy Goldman. It basically looked like an adapted chiffon cake and I was a litle dubious of the recipe but since I had already bought matzah cake meal, I figure I might as well give it a try.
But just as a fail safe, I also adapted and made my crunchy flourless chocolate cake, made with allergen free chocolate chips (manufactured in a no soy, no corn, no nuts factory). It’s dead easy (nearly as easy as the mochi recipe in the previous post) and used to be part of my dessert repetoire until I sort of forgot about it. In fact, I gave the recipe to my friend Stephanie (my Jewish consultant) over the phone (I felt very 50′s housewife, but that may have had something to do with the pink house dress and the martinin I was sipping as I talked to her on my rotary phone). Hopefully it turned out okay for her.
So two KFP desserts for Susies’s Pseudo Seder. The crunch flourless cake with coconut caramel went over well, and the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Passover Cake, Cake” actually tastes like… a Passover Cake (“I’ve had a lot of Passover cakes. That taste like a Passover cake.” said Susie. “A good Passover cake. But a Passover cake none the less.”) But I think people appreciated the effort. I know I had fun making them.
Note: Whilst baking, I totally meant to listen to an artist that was Jewish (because I like to be thematic that way). Someone like Regina Spekt
or or Jill Sobule. But I ended up listening to Passion Pit’s Manners a hip little indie pop album that is in constant rotation on my iPod in my kitchen. Which reminds me I really need to update that iPod with new music….
Note 2. Check with your host if you are baking for their seder or for Kosher for Passover. Some Jews keep pretty strict kosher rules and if you are total goy (non jew) you might not be allowed to make them anything because your kitchen isn’t kosher to begin with. Most ingredients are certified Kosher for Passover (and are written as such) but if you are unsure or it doesn’t have any hechsher (the little symbols on the product that signify the food is Kosher – like a U with a circle around it) check the ingredients and allergen copy on the back of the package, and check with your host as well.
“I Actually Can Believe it’s a Passover Cake, BUT it’s a Good Passover Cake”
Adapted from Marcy Goldman
8 large eggs (warmed, see instructions)
1/3 cup matzah cake meal
1/3 potato starch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil plus 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil for greasing the pan (see note)
3/4 superfine granulated (see note)
1 vanilla bean – split in lengthwise in half
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
zest of two medium size lemons
KFP powdered sugar to sprinkle over cake (see note)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10” springform pan.
2. Mix the lemon juice and melted coconut oil together in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Sift together the cake meal, potato starch, and ¼ salt together in a bowl as well.
3. Put the 8 eggs into a large bowl with hot water from the tap for two minutes to warm them up. In the meanwhile, run a large metal mixing bowl under the hot water to heat it up as well (just run the water on the outside of the bowl, not the inside, that way you don’t need to dry it off).
4. After the eggs have warmed up (you want them warm but not starting to cook at all, so keep that in mind, the warming of the eggs helps with the mechanical leavening) crack them in the warm mixing bowl with the sugar and 1/4 tsp salt, and lemon zest. Take the vanilla bean that is split in half and scrape the seeds out from the inside into the bowl as well. Now turn on the mixer on low to blend the ingredients and then crank it up high to whip the air into the eggs. Beat the eggs for about 10-12 minutes. The batter will expand like mad crazy. This is a good thing.
5. Now fold the matzah meal mixture into the batter with a spatula. Then drizzle and fold the coconut oil mixture into it as well.
6. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 35 minutes or until the cake is set in the middle.
7. Allow to cool to room temperature before removing the sides of the pan. Dust with Kosher for Passover Powdered Sugar right before serving and spoon strawberry sauce on top as well.
Note 1. C&H Pure Cane granulated sugar is actually KFP all year round (look on the side of the bag there’ll be a symbol with the letter K in a circle and a P right next to it. The K in the Circle means it’s Kosher, and the P next to it means it’s Kosher for Passover). However their Powdered Sugar is not, as it has corn starch in it to keep it from clumping up. I had a hard time finding Kosher for Passover powdered sugar, but Whole Foods makes a powdered sugar that uses tapioca starch instead of corn starch. Tapioca is kosher for Passover friendly.
That said, if you don’t have access to Kosher for Passover powdered sugar, you can just pour some granulated sugar into a food processor or blender and grind it down to a powder. You might want to sprinkle a little tapioca or potato starch inside as well to keep it from clumping up, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you are using the powdered sugar right away, only if you plan on storing the sugar for awhile. Or just skip this step all together. The powdered sugar is really only to make it pretty and to cover up any imperfections on the top of the cake.
Note 2. Superfine sugar is exactly what it sounds like, granulated white sugar that is finer in texture. It’s sometimes called Castor Sugar or Ultrafine Baker’s sugar. If you can’t find it, just use regular granulated sugar, or grind the regular white sugar in a food processor or blender (just not as long as you would grind it to get the powdered sugar described above).
Note 3. I found the cake to smell a bit eggy, but didn’t taste overly super eggy which was impressive as it had eight eggs in it. Having never had a Passover Cake before, it wasn’t bad, probably akin to a spongy chiffon cake. It was very moist as well, which is why I recommend dusting the top of the cake with powdered sugar right before serving. The strawberry sauce was a nice foil to lemon eggy cake.
Note 4. The original recipe called for unsalted Passover margarine, but I couldn’t find such a creature anywhere I looked. The only vegan margarine I found had soy in it. I guess I could have used a vegan soy free shortening, which would have been cheaper than the coconut oil, but I figured the coconut added a nice little slightly oriental Asian touch. Ahem. If you can’t find unsalted passover margarine, but somehow can find coconut oil, be aware that there are two types of coconut oil, refined and unrefined. The unrefined has a very coconut aroma and taste while the unrefined is fairly neutral in flavor and taste. Pick whatever your preference is. I couldn’t find any coconut oil that was specifically certified KFP, but I recommend checking the label or the internet for allergy warnings by the manufacturer. The coconut oil I used, Earth Circle Organics is certified to be allergen free of milk, dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanut, crustaceans and fish. It was produced in a factory with other tree nuts, but not peanuts.
If you bake vegan, I highly recommend you find a brand of coconut oil that you like to bake with and order the stuff directly from the company in bulk. Coconut oil is a great vegan substitute for butter as it has a similar consistency and mouth feel of butter (and mostly allergen free if you buy the right brand) and is purported to have added health benefits. It is also suppose to last up to two years just sitting in your pantry. Of course, with all saturated fats, moderation is key.
Also, whatever type of Coconut Oil you buy, definitely buy virgin Coconut Oil, not the hydrogenated stuff. You wanna stay away from trans fats!
Note 5. Matzah Cake meal is basically matzah meal that has been ground finer (almost to all purpose flour fine). If you can’t find it, just take regular matzah meal and stick it in a blender or food processor and grind it up to a finer powder.
Insanely Easy Strawberry Sauce
8 oz of strawberries clean, hulled and sliced (or chopped depending on how chunk you like your sauce)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon blood orange juice (juice from 1 half small blood orange)
Zest of a small blood orange
1. Stir all the ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl.
2. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir
3. Allow to cool and refrigerate. Serve at cool or at room temperature. Sauce will thicken as it cools
Crunchy Coconut Chocolate Flourless Cake
adapted from Great American Food by Charlie Palmer with Judith Choate
1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, plus 1 tablespoon of coconut oil for greasing the pan
4 oz of bittersweet chocolate (something good to eat out of hand, nothing too bitter)
4 large eggs at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup and 1/3 cup of superfine sugar
KFP powdered sugar to sprinkle over cake
1. Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a 9″ spring form pan with the coconut oil
2. Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil in a microwave, by combining them both in a microwave safe bowl and microwaving for 30 second increments. Stir between increments until the chocolate has just melted.
3. Combine the egg yolk and the 1/2 cup superfine sugar in a metal bowl and put over a hot water bath until the egg yolk mixture is warm to the touch. Whip with a mixer fitted with a wire whisk until the volume of the egg yolk mixture has doubled in size.
4. Fold in the chocolate to the egg yolk mixture carefully.
5. Whip the egg whites with a mixer fitted with a wire whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar until the egg whites are stiff.
6. Fold the eggs whites into the chocolate mixture and pour the mixture into the prepared spring form pan.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the cake starts to crack.
8. Cool and dust with KFP powdered sugar. Cut into wedges and drizzle with Coconut Caramel sauce and serve.
Note 1. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees (much lower than your body temperature) so you don’t necessarily need to melt the oil to grease the pan. Just rub it around with your hand and your body temperature will melt it.
Note 2. See Note 2 above about superfine sugar.
Note 3. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of butter (1 stick) and that can be used if you aren’t trying to bake KFP or vegan. Just follow the same instructions, substituting the butter for the coconut oil
Note 4. If baking KFP, be sure to buy KFP chocolate or thoroughly check the ingredients list. Chocolate can have some sneaky ingredients in them. Cocoa butter, by the way, isn’t dairy butter so don’t be fooled by that, but sometimes butter or cream sneaks into the chocolate, as does soy lecithin. I used an allergen free chocolate chip by “Enjoy Life” that was dairy, soy, and gluten free, as well as manufactured in a factory free of peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts and sesame.
KFP Coconut Caramel Sauce
1 cup white granulate sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light agave nectar or honey
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1. Combine the sugar, agave nectar/honey, and water in a medium pan. Turn the heat to medium low and swirl the pan to dissolve the sugar
2. Turn the heat to medium and cook the sugar mixture until it’s a deep amber brown. I like to take the caramel to a dark mahogany color, but I tend to like the smokiness of the caramel when it’s darker like that. Be careful though because the caramel can go from brown to black (burnt) in an instant. Just keep an eye out and if you think it’s darkening too fast, pull it off the heat.
3. Remove from the heat when it achieves the color desired and whisk in the coconut milk (carefully, it will steam and boil up), coconut oil and sea salt until everything is dissolved. Cool and drizzle over chocolate cake, ice cream or anything else you want.