A Passover Cake That Works
The Jewish holiday of Pesach (aka Passover) begins at sundown this coming Monday, April 2.
The home cooks I've talked to over the years brag about their passed-down recipes for brisket, tzimmes or their own version of charoset, but it is rare to hear a veteran Seder chef boast about dessert.
The key to pulling off a successful Seder is the omission of chametz -- any food that's leavened and/or allowed to ferment or rise. That means the obvious like no yeast, baking soda or powder, but also stuff made of wheat, spelt, oats, rye and barley, such as pasta, cereal and beer (unless, of course, it's matzoh), and lots of other foodstuffs we take for granted in our daily lives.
Translated in the dessert world, that means lots of eggs to overcompensate for the lack of leavening and the use of alternative flours, like potato flour and farfel (ground matzoh meal). Desserts made from either one of these flours tend to yield brick-and-mortar results. You could break a tooth.
In her recent title, "Pesach for the Rest of Us," novelist/poet Marge Piercy talks about her many failed attempts at potato-flour sponge cakes and the resulting sense of trepidation that she experiences every year at this time. (This is a great book, by the way, filled with poignant personal essays about her annual Seder, and a slew of hand-me-down recipes from her bubelah).
Marge, if you're listening, I've got a goodie that will shake the potato-flour blues away. Last year, I hit the unleavened jackpot with a cake from the pages of Nigella Lawson's "Feast." The magic ingredient: almond meal, aka ground almonds.
Of course, there are several eggs holding this baby together, but instead of dairy-based fat (which screws things up in a Kosher equation), the batter gets a hearty helping of applesauce, a trick many savvy bakers know as a reliable fat-free substitute.
The whole thing can be whizzed up in a food processor, but if you don't have one, a standing electric mixer will do the job just fine. The recipe calls for a springform pan, and I haven't deviated from this suggestion, as the end result is dense and soft -- and prone to cracking. And that reminds me - let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before you release the outer ring. I've torn up the edges in the past and have learned my lesson in patience.
What I love most about this cake is that it's intriguing enough to make at any time of the year, particularly when apples are in season. Better still, this is gluten-free paradise for the 1 in 133 Americans living with celiac disease, a debilitating intolerance to gluten.
Please share your tried-and-true Passover desserts in the comments area below, and stop by if you can, today at noon ET, for an hour of cooking chitter-chatter.
Damp Apple and Almond Cake
From Feast by Nigella Lawson
3 tart apples, such as Braeburn, Granny Smith or Jonathan
2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
2 teaspoons sugar
Canola oil or spray to grease pan
3 1/4 cups ground almonds (may be sold as almond meal, which I've found at Whole Foods and My Organic Market)
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar (also known as caster sugar)
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
Peel, core and roughly chop apples. Place in a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium heat. You may need a wee bit of water to keep things moist. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until you can mash apple into a rough puree with a wooden spoon or fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 10-inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor, add eggs, ground almonds, superfine sugar, cooled apple mixture and remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, and whiz until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, sprinkle with almonds and bake for about 45 minutes. Check after 35 minutes and test doneness with a toothpick inserted in center (should be nearly clean).
Cool for 10 minutes then remove sides of pan. Serve slightly warm. Keeps for about 1 week.
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