The Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated each year in the spring to commemorate the ancient Israelites' exodus from Egypt, where they had been enslaved by the Pharaohs. According to the story of Exodus, the Israelites left Egypt in such a rush that they were unable to wait for their bread to rise. In remembrance, Jews abstain from eating leavened bread during the week-long Passover holiday, and instead eat matzo, an unleavened, cracker-like bread.
In modern observance of the holiday, it's not just bread that is prohibited, but also leavening agents — such as baking powder, baking soda and yeast — and grains, including wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. When it comes to making Passover desserts, these restrictions can get a little tricky. Luckily, there are all sorts of delicious substitutes, so your Passover meal can end on a sweet note.
Here are a few classic desserts, Passover-style:
Brownies: Who can resist a plate of chocolate brownies? At Passover, brownies can be made using ground almonds and walnuts in place of flour, as in Nigella Lawson's Flourless Chocolate Brownies recipe. These brownies are so dense and fudgy, you would never know they were wheat-free. Serve them with Nigella's hot chocolate sauce for a seriously indulgent dessert.
Meringue: Made from whipped egg whites and sugar, meringue is a dessert found on many a Passover table. Serve Nick Malgieri's Pavlova — a large meringue disk topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit — for a showstopping end to the Passover meal. For a twist on classic meringue cookies, replace the traditional white sugar with brown sugar for caramel-flavored meringues, as Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner do in their Brown Sugar Meringues. Or add cocoa and pecans for chocolatey meringue cookies, as in Barbara Selley's Cocoa Kisses.
Cake: Without wheat or leavening agents, creating a Passover-friendly cake can seem like a real challenge — but not with these recipes. Faye Levy's Passover Sponge Cake with Apples is a perfectly light sponge cake made with matzo cake meal (finely ground matzo), and has a layer of cinnamon-spiced apples in the middle. Selma Frishling's Passover Nut Cake recipe by Molly O'Neill uses egg whites to achieve an incredible fluffiness, and with the addition of ground walnuts has a rich, nutty flavor. And if you're looking to really spoil your guests, serve up Gina DePalma's Yogurt Cheesecake with Pine Nut Brittle, a crustless cheesecake topped with sweet, crunchy pine nut brittle that will leave everyone feeling full and impressed.
Coconut Macaroons: Of all the Passover desserts, coconut macaroons are perhaps the best known. Sweet and sticky, they often come in a can and are flavored chocolate or vanilla. Many Jewish children (and adults!) relish these treats at Passover. But if you're ready to graduate from the canned variety and are looking for a macaroon that is crisp on the outside and moist on the inside and actually tastes like coconut, then look no further than Elinor Klivans' Jumbo Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons. The bottoms of these cookies are dipped in glossy chocolate for a decidedly sophisticated appearance.
Mousse: An individual-sized ramekin of mousse is a truly elegant end to a meal. Peggy Knickerbocker's Lemon Mousse with Fresh Blueberries is a refined way to celebrate springtime, with its light lemon flavor and sweet blueberries. If you're more of a chocolate person, Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger's Frozen Chocolate Mousse is so richly chocolately that it almost tastes like a gelato.
Originally published May 8, 2011
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