My grandmother’s kitchen was never outfitted with a food processor. When Jessie needed to chop walnuts or pecans, she had two options. One was to use a hand-held chopper in a faded wooden bowl. The other was to attach a weighty hand-cranked grinder to the side of the Formica countertop. I’m thinking about the weight of that vintage kitchen appliance as I retrieve the food processor from too high atop the metro shelving in the bakery.
Setting the machine on a more navigable work surface, I’m about to feed eighty ounces of pecans into the plastic bowl fitted with the blade attachment. Unless I want to end up with a bowl of pecan butter, I will need to perform this exercise more than once. The finely-but-not-too-finely ground pecans will be suspended in a Passover torte that is heavily spiked with Medaglia d’Oro espresso. Seventy egg yolks will be beaten within an inch of their lemon colored lives while I gradually add the sugar. Seventy egg whites will surrender to a giant whisk until they are fluffy but not dry. It’s a delicate dance, folding the components together just enough to combine them without losing their lift. Once the cakes are prayerfully rising in the oven, I’ll separate another seventy eggs, pulse another eighty ounces of pecans and coining a lyric from Steely Dan, Do It Again.
Passover desserts were never considered the best dressed on the dessert sideboard. In hushed tones, I imagine they were referred to as a little bit dowdy but with winning personalities. There was something comfortably predictable about those nut-laden tortes and sponge cakes. Unlike a peanut butter filled Funny Bone or a cream filled Yodel, unleavened desserts offered no surprises. Until the 1980s when a little black dress of a cake with a raspberry sauce chaperone was invited to a Seder. Dusted with cocoa or flawless in ganache, the flourless chocolate cake was low slung on the dessert pedestal but certain to turn heads. The once appreciated Passover offerings were left feeling frumpy alongside the box of Barton’s chocolates.
Today, one needn’t look beyond Google for Passover dessert inspiration. While nut flours have risen through the unleavened ranks, matzoh meal and matzoh cake meal remain common denominators in most recipes. Despite my best research and hands on efforts, Passover tart shells and pie crusts always seem to fall flat in both taste and texture.
It is possible to tuck fresh fruit into a pie plate lined with a crumb suitable for Passover. A liberal hand with citrus zest and a generous addition of ground nuts helps distract from the matzoh-y taste that is always lurking in the background. It also makes a fine breakfast for a week long on matzoh brei and cinnamon sugar.
The onslaught of holiday orders at the bakery this week reinforces the notion that too many folks prefer to let someone else prepare their desserts. It also occurs to me that there may exist widespread fear of cross contamination between gluten free flour and pristine black yoga pants.
Having fallen woefully behind on my own holiday dessert preparations, I have opted to streamline the operation. Combining cocoa, butter, (I’m not one for margarine) walnuts and the slightest bit of matzoh cake meal, I brazenly poured the mixture into a tart pan with a removable bottom. It baked for a mere twelve minutes without leaking all over the oven and after cooling its heels on the counter, stepped easily out of the pan. The food processor slept in the kitchen cabinet throughout the entire production.
The end result was a fudgy chocolate base that was more than agreeable to a glaze of ganache and a gilding of fresh berries. Without a single ounce of drama, a few old recipes were reinvented into a new one. Everybody got along famously in one bowl and no one had to be separated; not even the eggs.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm