Like many bakers, I have recipes in my repertoire that I reserve for certain holidays. As my children gobble up rugelach during Hanukkah, they wonder why I never make these delicious cookies in January or May. After enjoying buttery slices of Irish soda bread on St. Patrick's Day, my husband tells me I really should put his favorite quick bread into the regular rotation.
I can't say I ever got the same enthusiastic response to the marble sponge cake I used to make for Passover. While my relatives looked forward to enjoying family favorites like chopped liver and gefilte fish in early April, they spoke about my bland and dry-as-dust cake, when they mentioned it at all, with resignation and even dread.
Once I realized that the supermarket marshmallow twists and jelly rings were more popular than my cake, I decided to change course.
Instead of baking unexciting, if traditional, Passover cakes, I started to look for flourless desserts that were so good they were enjoyed year-round by diners of every faith. This year, I've found inspiration from around the world.
My Passover Pavlova, based on a dessert invented by a New Zealand chef in honor of the great ballet dancer, is a crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside meringue disk filled with lemon sorbet and topped with macerated strawberries. Coconut rice pudding has refreshing Asian flavors and no dairy, so it can be served at any Sephardic table. Greek-style sesame and honey candy is simple to make and satisfyingly chewy.
Because I value tradition, I haven't given up on spongecake. This year, I'm looking to the Caribbean for clever ideas. To punch up my cake's flavor, I'm adding espresso powder and chocolate chips to the batter. To give it some moisture and richness, I'll serve it with bananas in rum sauce.
I predict that I will be making it again, well before our next seder, perhaps for a birthday party or barbecue.
PAVLOVAS WITH SORBET AND STRAWBERRIES
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon potato starch
2 pints strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 pint lemon sorbet
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine egg whites and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-high and whip until white and increased in volume, another minute. With mixer running, add 1 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue to whip until whites are shiny and form stiff peaks, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Gently fold vinegar and potato starch into whites.
3. Scoop whites into 6 mounds (about 1/2 cup each), several inches apart, on baking sheet. Use a spoon to spread whites into 4-inch circles and to create an indentation in center of each circle. Bake until firm and dry, 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven, open oven door slightly, and let sit in cooling oven until completely dry, about 2 hours.
4. Combine strawberries and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Place two small scoops of lemon sorbet in center of each meringue shell, top with strawberries and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
PEACH-BLUEBERRY COBBLER WITH ALMOND MERINGUE TOPPING
For a kosher-for-Passover cobbler, crumble some almond meringue over a fruit filling thickened with potato starch. In early spring, I use frozen fruit, but this dessert is so good I'll make it with fresh fruit in August.
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon kosher-for-Passover vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peaches
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons potato starch
1. Make topping: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium until frothy, about 30 seconds. Turn speed to high and pour sugar into bowl in a slow, steady stream. Continue to beat until egg whites are stiff and shiny. Fold in almonds, vanilla and salt, being careful not to deflate meringue.
2. Spread meringue into a 7-inch square on prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and beginning to color, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheet.
3. Make filling: Turn oven up to 375 degrees. Combine peaches, blueberries, sugar and potato starch in a large bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Scrape into an 8-inch-square baking pan, cover pan with foil and bake until fruit is hot and bubbling and has released its juices, 30 to 35 minutes.
4. Remove pan from oven, remove foil and gently stir fruit. Crumble meringue topping over fruit, return to oven and bake until topping is browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
COCONUT-GINGER RICE PUDDING
If you follow the Sephardic tradition (Ashkenazi Jews don't eat rice during Passover), you can enjoy this dairy-free and delicious rice pudding at your seder.
1/2 cup arborio rice
2 (13.66-ounce) cans lite coconut milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch dice, plus extra for garnish
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachio nuts
1. Combine rice, coconut milk, 1/2 cup sugar, ginger and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
2. While rice is cooking, combine mango, lime juice and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Set aside.
3. Scrape pudding into a large bowl, cover and set aside to cool to room temperature. Spoon into dessert goblets, top with some mango, sprinkle with pistachios and serve. Makes 6 servings.
SESAME AND HONEY CANDY
This mixture is very sticky, so don't forget to grease the foil before you pour it into your pan. Organic, unhulled sesame seeds from the natural foods store will give you the best flavor.
1 cup honey
1 1/4 cups sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Coat bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray. Fill a larger pan with ice water.
2. Place honey, sesame seeds and salt in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until honey is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook.
3. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Set pan on top of ice water and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
4. Lift foil from pan and peel foil from candy. Place candy on a cutting board and cut into 11/2-inch diamonds with a sharp chef's knife. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1/2 pound candy.
MOCHA-CHIP SPONGE CAKE WITH BANANA-RUM SAUCE
Mini chocolate chips are essential; larger chips are so heavy that they will sink to the bottom of the pan.
1/3 cup matzo cake meal or 1/3 cup matzo meal finely ground in a food processor
1/2 cup potato starch
9 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Banana-Rum Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
3 small bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons water
1. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together matzo cake meal, potato starch and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.
2. Combine yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat on high until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in chips, espresso powder and vanilla.
3. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and pinch of salt with an electric mixer until foamy. With mixer on high, add remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
4. Fold matzo cake meal mixture into yolk mixture, then gently fold in whites in three separate additions. Scrape into an ungreased, 2-piece angel food cake pan.
5. Bake 15 minutes, turn heat down to 325, and continue to bake until center is springy, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven. If pan has feet, invert onto a heatproof surface and allow it to cool completely. (If pan doesn't have feet, place on a wire rack to allow air to circulate under the cake while it cools.)
6. Make banana sauce: Melt butter or margarine over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add bananas and cook, shaking occasionally, until they begin to soften, 1 minute. Stir in sugar and rum and continue to cook, shaking pan, until sugar is just melted, another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in water and salt, and cook until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
7. To serve: Run paring knife around edges of cake. Run paring knife under cake. Slide it off removable bottom and onto serving platter. Slice and serve with banana-rum sauce. Makes 8 to 10 servings.