Passover - Creative Cooking
Judy Bart Kancigor
Most dishes we think of as “Jewish food” are delicious borrowings from whatever country our ancestors happened to find themselves in, but one of the very few foods that Jews actually did invent is matzoh, the unleavened cakes the Hebrew slaves ate in their haste to depart Egypt. Today strict rabbinical rules govern every aspect of its production.
“Our process with our Passover matzoh,” explained David Rossi, vice-president of marketing for RAB Food Group, owners of the Manischewitz brand, “from the time water touches the flour and gets mixed, then sheeted, made thinner and thinner, to the end of baking in the oven – can be no longer than 18 minutes. If there is a mechanical failure or some issue or error where the matzoh did not get through that run in 18 minutes, then the whole run must be thrown away.”
Before the company can begin production for Passover, the entire facility must be thoroughly cleaned and inspected – a procedure that makes my grandmother’s yearly white glove test routine seem like a light dusting.
“The process takes four to seven weeks,” Rossi noted. “All the belts, all the lines, all the motors, all the ovens are cleaned and koshered to meet strict rabbinical standards for Passover.”
Turning out hundreds of Passover items, in addition to 10 varieties of matzoh is no overnighter. “We begin making Passover products in September until early March for the following year,” Rossi noted. “Because the plant is koshered at tremendous expense, we produce Passover products until we’ve run all the requirements for the year. Then in March we start making non-Passover products.”
During the Seder we call matzoh the “bread of affliction,” but that misses the real point of the holiday. Most of all Passover is the story of freedom. In retelling the Passover story, each of us relives the exodus as if we ourselves were there. To focus on what we do without for those eight days is to see the glass half empty.
Yes, we eat matzoh, the poor bread that sustained our ancestors in the desert, but because we were liberated, we are free to use our ingenuity, skill, traditions and collective memory to create a glorious celebration around it.
Challenge breeds creativity, and imaginative Jewish cooks through the ages, like a million Iron Chefs all working with the same surprise ingredient, have molded, crumbled, whipped, layered, fried, baked, infused and combined matzoh and its ground cousins with an astonishing variety of other ingredients to produce a tempting feast. The fact that we base a banquet on the “bread of affliction” illustrates that we have the freedom to do so.
During the Seder, we eat matzoh with haroset, the fruit and nut mixture resembling the mortar the ancient Hebrews used as slaves in Egypt. Ground matzoh, known as matzoh meal, combines with eggs and oil to produce the feathery soup dumplings every Jewish mama’s cooking is known for: matzoh balls.
Any lingering thoughts on the restrictions of Passover are quickly dispelled by dessert. Matzoh ground even finer into matzoh cake meal underpins the stunning display to bring a sweet end to our sweet celebration of freedom.
When I’m looking for Passover dessert recipes, I always return to Penny Eisenberg’s classic cookbook "Passover Desserts" (Wiley). Now the book has been updated and revised in CD form, available on amazon as well as through Eisenberg’s website.
With 50 new drawings and photos attached to the recipes, you’ll salivate over Fudgy Nut-Butter Torte; Linzer Tarts; Hazelnut, Pear and Raspberry Torte; Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies; White Chocolate Mousse Cake and Browned Butter Strawberry Tart.
Some Orthodox communities observe the custom of not eating matzoh or matzoh meal that has been moistened with water or other liquid (known as gebrokts), to avoid the possibility of leavening. A new cookbook from Tamar Ansh, “Pesach – Anything’s Possible!” (Targum Press) offers over 350 non-gebrochts, gluten-free and wheat-free recipes with mouth-watering photos and dozens of tips and helpful hints for the holiday.
Caramelized Onion Chicken, Sweet Potato Apple Tzimmes Kugel, Pepper Short Ribs, Cinnamon Pumpkin Soup, Minted Carrot and Fennel Salad, White Coconut Chiffon Cake – too bad Passover lasts only eight days! Chag sameach!
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at http://www.cookingjewish.com.
TRADITIONAL MATZOH BALLS
Adapted from “The Manischewitz Passover Cookbook” by Deborah Ross (Walker & Company)
Yield: 8 large or 16 small matzoh balls
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat, vegetable oil, or shortening
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup matzoh meal
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chicken stock or water
1. Mix fat and eggs together in a small bowl. Add matzoh meal and salt and blend well. Add stock or water and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 20 minutes.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Form the mixture into balls with wet hands and carefully drop into boiling water. Cover pot and cook at a steady, not hard boil until soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
3. Have soup at room temperature or warmer and transfer matzoh balls to soup pot. When ready to serve, allow soup to simmer for about five minutes.
BROWNED BUTTER STRAWBERRY TART
From “Passover Desserts” by Penny W. Eisenberg
Serves 6 to 8
For the sweet pastry crust:
2 cups matzoh cake meal
2/3 cup sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
2 large egg yolks
2 to 4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon Passover vanilla extract, optional
For the filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons matzoh cake meal
2 tablespoons potato starch
For the topping:
3 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup currant or strawberry jelly
1 tablespoon blackberry Passover wine
1. Preheat oven to 450oF. with a shelf in the middle of the oven. Grease the bottom and the fluted sides of a 9-inch metal tart pan with removable bottom.
2. Place the matzoh cake meal and the sugar in a food processor bowl and process until mixture is well blended.
3. Place the butter atop the flour/sugar mix and pulse processor until the butter is cut into pea-size pieces. (This can also be done with a pastry blender.)
4. Combine the egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, and extract, if using. With the machine running, pour the eggs through the feed tube and process 10 seconds (can also do with a fork). The dough will not form a ball, but should start to clump together. Feel the dough. It should be neither sticky nor crumbly. If necessary, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time, pulsing 10 seconds and feeling the dough until it is right.
5. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
6. Cut open a jumbo zip-top bag so that it is hinged on one long side. Sprinkle cake meal in the inside of the plastic and add the dough. Roll the dough into a 12-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick, flipping the plastic over and “flouring” the dough as necessary. This dough is too tender to be folded for transfer to the tart pan. Place your palm under the plastic and then upturn the plastic onto the tart pan. Cracks and breaks can be fixed by simply pinching the dough back together. Press the dough into all of the nooks and crannies of the pie tart. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the tart to remove excess dough. Chill the tart shell until ready to continue with the filling (or freeze the shell in a plastic bag for up to 3 months).
For the filling:
1. Place the butter in a small saucepan. Heat on high heat, while stirring, until the butter turns golden brown. Set aside to cool.
2. Whisk the eggs, gradually adding the sugar. Stir in the matzo cake meal, potato starch and the cooled browned butter.
3. Pour the filling into the crust, place on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until firm about 40-50 minutes. This can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead of time. Do not remove the rim, and store at room temperature.
4. Up to 3 hours ahead, arrange the berries on the filling. Heat the jelly with the wine, until it is melted, and brush this over the berries. The pan rim should be removed just before serving the tart. When cutting through the tart edge, place a finger on the back edge of the crust, as counter-pressure. Otherwise the knife may crack off the edge.
HAZELNUT SANDWICH COOKIES
From “Passover Desserts” by Penny W. Eisenberg
Makes 3-1/2 Dozen 2" Cookies
These cookies are supposed to be thin and crunchy, not puffed and soft. The amount of oil in the nuts, and the kind of margarine (or butter) used will affect the texture of the cookie. Therefore, I have added some oil to the original recipe to make the results more consistent. You will make a tester cookie, and then adjust the oil accordingly. In this way you will be able to control the thickness of the cookie.
2 cups skinned hazelnuts or pecans
2 sticks unsalted pareve Passover margarine, at room temperature
2 teaspoons oil, or more as necessary
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
6 tablespoons matzoh cake meal
6 tablespoons potato starch
6 ounces pareve Passover semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
4 tablespoons pareve Passover margarine, at room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place oven racks on middle and low shelves of the oven. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Place the nuts and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Place the margarine and 2 teaspoons of oil in a large mixer bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until light and creamy (if using butter, do not add the oil). Add the nut-sugar mixture and beat until well mixed and light. Add the egg whites and beat for about 3 minutes more until very fluffy.
4. Sift the matzoh cake meal and the potato starch together. Stir it into the above mixture until just mixed.
5. Make a tester cookie, by spooning a rounded measuring-teaspoonful of dough onto the parchment lined cookie sheet. Place on the middle shelf in the oven and bake 10 - 20 minutes until the wafer edges are well browned. Remove from the oven and let the cookie cool on the hot cookie sheet. It should make a fairly flat wafer. If the cookie is not thin enough, fold another teaspoon of oil into the batter. Spoon the batter onto the parchment lined baking sheets, making the mounds as round as possible so that they will be able to mate together nicely. If using two racks, switch the cookie sheets every 5 minutes so that all the cookies bake evenly (the time will depend on the type of oven, type of cookie sheet, and how many sheets and ovens you are using). Bake the cookies, as above. Remove the parchment paper to a cooling rack and let the cookies cool completely on the parchment paper. The cookies should be crisp when cool. If they aren't, return them to the oven for 5 minutes. Let cool, and repeat until the cookies are crisp when cool.
6. For the filling: Bring 2" of water to boil in the bottom of a double boiler. Remove from the heat. Chop the chocolate and margarine into 1" hunks. Place in the top of the double boiler, or into a metal bowl that will fit the bottom boiler, and place over the hot, but not simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. This can also be done in a microwave oven. Let cool to room temperature.
7. Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of chocolate and top with the flat side of another cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies. For a more decorative finish, drizzle the tops of the cookies with some of the remaining melted chocolate.
The cookies may be stored in an airtight container for 1 day, or frozen for 3 months.
WHITE COCONUT CHIFFON CAKE
From “Pesach – Anything’s Possible!” by Tamar Ansh
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup potato starch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Set them aside
In a separate bowl, beat the yolks with the oil until the mixture is thick. Then add the sugar, potato starch, lemon juice, and coconut. Fold this into the egg whites. Pour the batter into a tube pan.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake is lightly browned on top and springy to the touch. Check it to ensure it does not burn.