At long last April has arrived with two holidays careening around the bakery corner. They will collide on the cookie counter, bunnies snuggling perilously close to macaroons. It is a delicate dance between the leavened and the unleavened, especially when working in a spatially challenged kitchen. I will address both holidays individually and jointly, consecutively and at random. (Multiple holidays in the span of two weeks can do that to a person.)
Forgive me for not delving into the religious significance of Passover and Easter. I am familiar with the characters and the plotline of both holidays. Extra credit for paying attention to exhaustive slides of the Last Supper in Art History classes. Bonus points too, for having watched “The Ten Commandments” on more than one occasion and working for the fellow who played Pharaoh Ramesses.
What seems obvious to me is that somewhere along the bunny trail on the way to a Seder, Elijah must have broken matzoh with Peter Cottontail. From a culinary point of view, Passover and Easter share many similarities. In the dessert category there’s a flurry of coconutiness going on, and marshmallow shenanigans too. Both holidays feature jellied sweets; Barton’s and Boston jelly fruit slices sparkling with sugar are as popular at the Seder dessert table as jelly beans are in Easter baskets. (My teeth hurt just thinking about them.) Between macaroons, layer cakes, pies, tortes and chocolate eggs, coconut is practically its own food group. Even marshmallows jump on the coconut bandwagon, dressing themselves in toasted coconut while the Peeps folks are over the moon with gaggles of neon marshmallows. I will also point out that each holiday features a hunting-we-will-go activity; one for eggs, the other for the Afikomen. The Easter egg hunt always seemed non competitive to me culminating with the consumption of Easter candy. The hunt for the Afikomen featured a bit of sibling rivalry and a blissful break from sitting too long at the table. (I always thought the fifth of the "Four Questions" should have been, "When do we eat?") Concealed in a white damask napkin and generally hidden in the living room, upon discovery the square of matzoh was redeemed by my father for cold, hard cash. There were no winners, no losers, and barring tradition, there was no way that we were going to be content with the Afikomen as a final course.
Never a family to let a little unleavening stand in the way of dessert, our Passover meal drew to a close with an assortment of sweets orchestrated by Jessie and my grandmother. I must add that more often than not, Passover coincided with my father’s birthday. Currently there are 5 birthdays in our family tumbling pell-mell through the flourless holiday. The cake that takes Seder center stage is (drumroll) the Kiss Torte.
Long before Pavlovas were splashed across the cover of every food magazine heralding the arrival of spring, there was the Kiss Torte. Tucked inside a recipe box the color of spearmint, right behind “Busy Day Cake”, “Carrie’s Chocolate Cake “ and “Rosetta’s Cheesecake” is “Passover Kiss Torte.” After a bit of sleuthing, it turns out the Kiss Torte was so named because the original recipe was composed of three layers of meringue crowned with kisses. I’m not sure when the recipe was streamlined but I always saw it baked in the same ginormous springform pan. Knowing the characters, it is entirely possible that Jessie took her no-nonsense approach to the original recipe and said to my grandmother, “Why are you fussing with all that?” The fussing would have referred to tracing circles onto brown paper grocery bags, (no doubt from the A&P) spreading thin layers of meringue within the circles and then piping or spooning the remaining meringue into kisses. Jessie had an entire dinner to prepare and she was not interested in piping anything. The springform pan was weighty, fashioned out of tinned steel and measuring 10” across by 3 and ¼” tall. Filled with mounds of vanilla-spiked meringue (and not a speck of flour or leavening) made it the perfect Passover dessert. The torte baked up crispy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. Just before serving, Jessie would split the torte in half, whip up more than a little heavy cream, halve and sweeten fresh strawberries and then layer them between the meringue. Swirls of cream covered the sides and top of the torte, further gilded with a few of the prettiest berries. If it was to be adorned as a birthday cake, a single, dramatic taper selected from the top drawer of the dining room server signified the festivities.
Lest you think that I have overlooked the Passover Pie, I was amused to find written on the back of the Kiss Torte recipe, instructions for preparing half the amount of meringue, spreading it inside a pie plate and baking it until crisp. The “pie shell” was to cool and then serve as a vessel for lemon curd or berries and cream. The pristine condition of this side of the index card says to me that Jessie had no interest in fussing with meringue in a pie plate.
Passover commences this Monday evening and the bakery will do its part to sweeten the Seders of our little village. (Yes, there are actual signs right outside the bakery welcoming you to our “Village.”) One of the biggest sellers will be the quintessential little black dress of Passover desserts, the Flourless Chocolate Cake (which is more of a torte than a cake). There will also be dozens and dozens of macaroons happily reinvented, combining both sweet angel and crisp desiccated flakes resulting in the perfect coconut hipster.
The Kiss Torte will only walk the red carpet at our Passover Seder. She will be wearing egg whites and heavy cream direct from Snoep Winkel Farm and strawberries by Driscoll. And since this year’s Kiss Torte is indeed a birthday cake, there will be a candle. Further sweetening this multi-generational celebration is the fact that we have traveled from near and quite far to be together. Borrowing from the dramatist, librettist and poet W.S. Gilbert, “It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.” Happy Holiday.
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