During the start of the pandemic last year, my family celebrated Passover via Zoom. It was unsafe for us to gather around the table for the traditional Seder meal that marks the Jewish holiday. Passover is a celebration of spring and freedom for Jews and people of all faiths. This year, despite vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases, we are still playing it safe and sadly we will again hold a virtual Seder.
Passover begins at sundown on Saturday, March 27 and goes through April 4. The Passover Seder is filled with religious and family rituals and symbolic foods, as well as readings from the Haggadah — the text that tells the Passover story and is a guide for the festivities, including songs, prayers and stories.
There are many symbolic foods associated with Passover and when it comes to dessert several points to keep in mind. Leavened foods — anything using yeast, wheat flour, barley, rye, oats or spelt — are traditionally not eaten on Passover.
The holiday commemorates the biblical story of Exodus when Moses rescued the Israelites from a life of slavery under Pharoh in Egypt. According to the story, when the Israelites left Egypt, they did so in such a hurry that the bread they had baked for the journey didn’t have time to rise. Unleavened bread, known as matzah, a cracker-like flatbread, is eaten instead. Matzah and matzah meal products are permitted because, although they are made with flour and water, the matzah is only allowed to sit for less than 18 minutes before cooking under the supervision of a rabbi.
So how do you make cakes and cookies and sweet treats without flour or yeasted foods? Think whipped egg whites, toasted coconut, flourless chocolate cakes and chocolate mousse, ground nuts and nut flours instead of wheat flour, and lots of fresh fruit.
What follows are three favorite Passover desserts as well as other ideas that can be served at any spring celebration.
Coconut Macaroons Dipped In Chocolate With Toasted Coconut
Macaroons are made with whipped egg whites, sugar and lots of grated coconut. These are super simple and can be made with many variations: topped with toasted coconut, dipped into melted chocolate, or with toasted chopped nuts or chocolate chips folded into the batter. The macaroons will keep in a cool, dry place for several days.
Makes 25 macaroons.
- Canola cooking spray
- 4 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste*
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- Pinch salt
*Vanilla extract is not used during Passover since it contains alcohol.
- About 1 cup dark, semi-sweet, or milk chocolate chips
- 1 cups toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachio, etc) toasted in a 325-degree oven for around 10 to 12 minutes, cooled and very finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place parchment paper on two cookie sheets, spray with oil spray and set aside.
- Place 1/2 cup of the coconut on a sheet of foil or another cookie sheet and bake on the middle shelf for about 10 minutes, or until it just begins to turn color. Remove and set aside. This is the time to toast nuts if using; see note above.
- Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and, using a small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds out from the pod. Place the sugar in a small bowl and add the vanilla seeds (or vanilla paste) using your hands to distribute it evenly throughout the sugar; set aside.
- Using a hand held mixer, mix the egg whites and salt in a large bowl and beat until frothy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, and beat until firm peaks form, about 5 minutes. Using a soft spatula, fold in the remaining 3 1/2 cups shredded coconut. And, if you like, fold in the chocolate chips and/or the toasted nuts at this stage.
- Place a tablespoon of the macaroon batter on the cookie sheet. Repeat spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart on both cookie sheets.
- Place on the middle and lower shelf of the preheated oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, switching the cookie trays mid-way through the baking. If you’re not dipping the cookies in chocolate, after 15 minutes, remove from the oven and sprinkle the toasted coconut on top, pressing gently to adhere it to the cookie. Bake until golden, crisp and almost dry to the touch. Remove and cool on the cookie tray for about 5 minutes. Carefully peel the macaroon off the parchment using your fingers or a small metal spatula and cool on a cooling rack.
- If you want to dip the macaroon in chocolate: place about 1 cup of chocolate chips in a small pot and place over very low heat. When almost melted remove from the heat and stir with a soft spatula until smooth. When the macaroons are cool, gentle dip the top into the melted chocolate. You can also sprinkle the top of the chocolate (while it’s still soft and wet) with the toasted coconut. Let cool and harden on a cooling rack.
Matzah Brittle With Pistachios, Dark Chocolate And Sea Salt
Sheets of matzah are coated with hot caramel and sprinkled with chopped salted pistachios (or walnuts or almonds) and then drizzled with melted dark chocolate. The other side of the matzah is left plain to provide a contrast of flavor, texture and crunch.
You can easily double the recipe; trust me, you will be happy to have more of this matzah on hand once you taste this.
- 2 sheets matzah, around 7 inches by 7 inches
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup*
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/3 cup finely chopped salted pistachios, almonds or walnuts
- 1/3 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips
- About 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, like kosher salt
*There are a variety of opinions about corn syrup being used during Passover. Corn syrup is not used during Passover by Ashkenazi Jews but Sephardic Jews do not share this custom.
- Place the matzah sheets side by side, touching on a piece of parchment or wax paper.
- Make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, corn syrup and water over medium heat. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and simmer until it reaches 290 degrees; you will need to lower the heat, particularly as it gets close to 290 degrees, and stir constantly to keep the mixture from burning.
- When the caramel reaches 290 degrees, quickly spread it evenly over both sheets of matzah with the back of a soft spatula making sure to cover the entire surface. Immediately sprinkle the nuts on top, pressing softly to make sure they adhere to the caramel. Let set until dry.
- Meanwhile place the chocolate in a small pot over very low heat, stirring until melted. As soon as the caramel has set, drizzle the chocolate on top (think of a Jackson Pollock-like swirl design) using a soft spatula or the tines of a fork. Sprinkle on the sea salt and let dry. Break apart in small pieces. Keep in a tightly covered tin or reusable plastic bag for up to 4 to 5 days.
Passover Meringue Cake With Whipped Cream And Strawberries
Since flour and yeast are off limits for Passover, this easy, impressive meringue cake is ideal as it’s made with whipped egg whites and sugar. The recipe calls for superfine sugar but if you don’t have it on hand, you can simply place regular granulated sugar into a blender or food processor and whirl for a few minutes to break down the crystals.
Place the meringue mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in an 8-inch circle and then use the back of a spatula or spoon to create an indent in the meringue. After it’s baked and cooled you fill the center with whipped cream and any fresh fruit you have on hand. Meringue cakes look stunning filled with seasonal berries — spring strawberries — but you can also use pineapple chunks, citrus slices, etc. You can also top the cake with toasted coconut flakes.
The meringue bakes for 1 1/2 hours but then sits in the turned-off oven for several hours or overnight so plan your time accordingly.
Serves 4 to 6.
For the meringue cake:
- 1 vanilla bean, optional*
- 1 1/4 cups superfine sugar or regular sugar; see note above
- 5 egg whites, cold, not room temperature
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
For the cream and berries filling:
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 the seeds from the above vanilla bean, optional*
- About 2 to 2 1/2 cups fresh strawberries or any fruit you have, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted, optional**
*Vanilla extract is not used during Passover since it contains alcohol.
**Place the coconut flakes on a baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted and just beginning to turn golden brown.
- To make the meringue cake: Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking or cookie sheet; you can add a dab of butter onto the bottom of the paper to hold it in place. Using a pencil and an overturned bowl or plate as a template, lightly draw an 8-inch circle in the middle of the parchment; set aside.
- Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a small, sharp knife scrape the seeds out. Place the superfine sugar in a bowl and add half the vanilla seeds and use your fingers to mix. Place the other half aside to flavor the whipped cream.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer using the whip attachment beat the egg whites and the salt on low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla sugar a few tablespoons at a time and beat until the meringue is glossy and holds soft peaks, a total of about 3 minutes. You can stop the mixer once or twice during this time to scrape down the sides (sugar that is not dissolved or combined can cause the meringue to weep later, so be sure it is all mixed in). Add the lemon juice and beat just until combined, about another minute.
- Using a spoon or soft spatula, carefully spread the meringue mixture into the marked circle. You don’t need to be overly precise. Use your rubber spatula or spoon to create a slight indent in the center (which will later be filled with whipped cream and fruit), pushing the meringue mixture out away from the center toward the sides.
- Place on the middle shelf and bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meringue feels crisp and dry on the outside. Turn off the oven (and oven light if on) and keep the meringue in the turned-off oven for about 3 hours to dry out further; it can stay in the oven overnight. (This is a very good idea on a rainy or humid day.)
- When totally cool, remove from the oven and carefully remove the cake from the parchment paper. Place on a cake stand or serving plate.
- Just before you are ready to serve the cake, using an electric mixer, whip the cream and vanilla seeds in a bowl until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and whip until stiff peaks just form — be careful not to over whip the cream.
- Fill in the middle of the meringue cake with the whipped cream and arrange the fruit and toasted coconut, if using, on top. Do not add the cream and fruit to the cake more than 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Cut with a large, sharp knife.
Other Passover Dessert Ideas:
- Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries: Melt your favorite chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Dip whole strawberries or dried fruit into the melted chocolate and place on a sheet of wax or parchment paper to dry. Keep in a cool spot until ready to serve.
- Chocolate Mousse