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.

Not just for Passover: An apple-flavored almond cake. (Kim O'Donnel)

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
8 eggs
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.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 27, 2007; 10:50 AM ET Desserts , Gluten Free , Jewish Holidays
Previous: The Case of the Kitchen Barrel Nuts | Next: Glam Lamb


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This is my favorite dessert for any occasion. I have posted the Williams-Sonoma recipe as written but I tend to take a more traditional meringue approach. I make them small (one or two bites worth) and, after baking, I leave them in the oven overnight (oven off, of course). Williams Sonoma website has a picture.

Marbled Chocolate Meringues

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 1/2
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar

Preheat an oven to 275°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, bring 1 to 2 inches water to a simmer. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over the simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Place over simmering water and whisk until the mixture is hot, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bowl to a mixer and beat on high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture is lukewarm, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and drizzle the melted chocolate over the egg whites, folding in with a rubber spatula until just marbled.

Using a soup spoon, drop the batter in large mounds spaced 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until crunchy outside and still chewy inside, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool completely before removing the cookies from the parchment. Store in an airtight container. Makes 20.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma TASTE Magazine, "Totally Chocolate," by Robyn Valarik (Holiday 2001).

Posted by: Lisa | March 27, 2007 12:32 PM

One of my best Passover dessert recipes involves using the Barefoot Contessa's cheesecake recipe, but instead of the crust she uses, I use a macaroon crust which I found on the package of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. It calls for mixing 2 cups of soft coconut macaroon cookie crumbs with 4 Tb. of butter and pressing this onto the bottom of a springform pan. I only use 2 Tb of butter, as the crumbs are very moist already and hold together with no problem. I then make the Contessa's filling and bake as she directs.
You could use this crust with your own favorite cheesecake recipe.

Posted by: Joyce | March 27, 2007 12:43 PM

How is it that using a dairy based fat "screws things up in a Kosher equation" but eggs are okay?

Posted by: question | March 27, 2007 12:47 PM

To answer the dairy question above, eggs are considered "parve" or neutral. Like fish, they are confusingly not considered dairy or meat so they can be used at a meat meal, which the seder almost always is.

Posted by: kosher in dc | March 27, 2007 1:09 PM

Thanks for getting to this before I did, kosher in dc. Much appreciated.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 27, 2007 1:16 PM

It's not a cake but I make Caramel Matzah Crunch to go with dessert. The recipe is all over the web and it's always a big hit.

Posted by: Cheryl | March 27, 2007 1:21 PM

Caramel Matzoh Crunch - its a mess to make but worth evey minute of clean-up. Amazing stuff.

Posted by: Lisa | March 27, 2007 1:30 PM

Thanks for the recipe. I will give it a try. Last year it was a fruit sorbet with cream of coconut.
I've always been tempted to do a vegetarian seder just so I could serve creme brulee... Maybe someday.

Posted by: boston | March 27, 2007 1:39 PM

For the chicken-curry-making chatter from Tuesday: even just a 1/2 cup of pureed long-cooked black beans, or chickpeas could give you a substitute for the thickening effect of yogurt or cream. Just a thought.

Posted by: lvie | March 27, 2007 1:43 PM

This looks similar to Nigella's recipe for clementine cake, which I've successfully made for the past couple of winters. I even thought then that I could probably do that again for Passover, but this looks even more seasonal.

Posted by: Feast | March 27, 2007 1:45 PM

Just wanted to note that almond meal is also available at Trader Joe's and from my experience, it's significantly less expensive there than anywhere else. I've been using it for years as a substitute for 1/3 of the flour in quick breads and muffins -- results in a moister, denser crumb.

Posted by: Almond meal | March 27, 2007 1:48 PM

Kim makes it sound like she single-handedly invented a nut-flour-based cake. This is a time-honored approach to Passover desserts. I have made a chocolate-hazelnut torte (with hazelnut and walnut meal) for several years now, from "Master Chefs Cook Kosher" by Judy Zeidler. Also, her comment about "dairy-based fat (which screws things up in a Kosher equation)" is not completely correct. Certainly dairy is not allowed on a traditional Seder table if meat is served and the shank bone on the Seder plate, but there are many of us who do a vegetarian or fish Seder, replacing the shank bone with a roasted mushroom. Dairy would certainly be acceptable in a meal like that. B'tayavon and chag sameach!

Posted by: Bucinka | March 27, 2007 2:16 PM

Is there any reason that flan would not be suitable as a Passover dessert? Or custard, for that matter?

Posted by: ashburn, va | March 27, 2007 2:22 PM

These are some great ideas! Bucinka, actually Kim credits Nigella Lawson for the recipe. My eponymous cake, from Julia Child, has some flour in it so it's not for Passover, but it's mostly ground almonds. I didn't know about the almond meal at TJ's, that's helpful.

Re. farfel - Kim, I think what you mean is matzo cake meal (finer than matzo meal). Farfel is just broken-up pieces of matzo. It's not a cake, but here's a recipe for Passover Granola from the Post, a couple of years ago, which involves farfel:

Passover Granola

Makes about 10 cups

3 cups matzoh farfel*

2/3 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup sweetened or unsweetened coconut

2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) pareve (can be eaten with milk or dairy meals) margarine or unsalted butter

1/3 cup honey

1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) chopped, dried mixed fruit of your choice, including raisins

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the farfel, almonds, coconut, pecans, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a microwave or pan over low heat, heat the margarine or butter and honey until the margarine or butter melts. Stir this mixture into the farfel mixture, coating all the pieces. Spread the mixture evenly into a jelly-roll pan or 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through to ensure even browning. It should be lightly golden.

Remove from the oven, transfer to a large sheet of wax paper and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Add the dried fruit and toss to combine. Set aside to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*NOTE: Containers of matzoh farfel, the equivalent of packaged dried-bread stuffing, are in the kosher food section at most grocery stores.

Recipe tested by Randy Richter; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com.Per 1/2-cup serving: 190 calories, 4 gm protein, 23 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 31 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Posted by: Reine de Saba | March 27, 2007 2:42 PM

For the person from today's chat who asked for a coconut cake recipe, here is a recipe from my grandmother. It is so delicious, but definitely not for anyone on a diet.

2 cup sugar
1 cup oil
5 eggs
2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 cup coconut
1 tsp coconut flavoring
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1 tsp coconut flavoring

Mix together ingredients for cake and bake in greased and floured bundt pan for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Poke holes in cake with a fork. Bring ingredients for glaze to boil in saucepan. Slowly pour over hot cake in pan. Cool completely before removing cake from pan.


Posted by: jen | March 27, 2007 2:44 PM

"According to Torah and subsequently Rabbinic interpretation and application, the only foods that can be prohibited as "hametz" are those made from the "five species", specifically wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. Hence, if a substance can cause something to rise or expand and is not hametz or derived from hametz, then it is kosher. In Israel you'll find both of these products regularly sold before and during Pesah." - Rabbi Lerner

Posted by: Ann | March 27, 2007 3:06 PM

The above comment refers to baking soda and baking powder - if you look on the "kosher for passover" ingredient lists of many products, you will see either one or both listed.

Posted by: Ann | March 27, 2007 3:08 PM

Here's a recipe that I've used for years and always gets raves (at least from the folks that don't mine raw eggs):

1 pkg. (8 squares) Baker's Semi Sweet Chocolate
1/4 C water
8 eggs, separated (use fresh, clean eggs with no cracks in shells)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C sugar

1. Heat chocolate with water in saucepan over very low heat (or double boiler), stirring until smooth. Stir in egg yolks, add vanilla.
2. Beat egg whites in large mixing bowl until foamy throughout. Gradually beat in sugar until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Stir a small amount into chocolate mixture to lighten; fold chocolate mixture into remaining whites. Pour 4 cups into a greased and sugared 9 inch pie pan. Chill remaining mixture.
3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until just set. Cool slightly, then chill for 1 hour. Center will fall, forming a shell. Spoon chilled chocolate mixture into chilled shell. Chill minimum of 3 hours (overnight is fine). Garnish with whipped topping and chocolate curls, if desired.

It's easy to make and it's a Baker's chocolate recipe from one of their ads in a women's magazine back in 1986. I remember reading it and all of a sudden it hit me that it would be perfect for Pesach!


Posted by: Rockville | March 27, 2007 3:10 PM


Marge Piercy's grandma is her "bubbah". Marge is her bubbah's "bubelah", (sweet, little grandaughter).

Posted by: Ron | March 27, 2007 3:29 PM

Hey Ron, I'm quoting Piercy (and just checked again), but thanks for the clarification.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 27, 2007 3:35 PM

kim, all of this passover talk has me wondering--can you perhaps do a blog roundup of good recipe sources for the passover-challenged?

Posted by: devra | March 27, 2007 3:45 PM

This does sound good; but I don't understand the comment that potato flour/cake meal sponge cakes are hard to make or hard! Total nonsense. The classic Passover sponge cake always works: eggs, ground walnuts, a little cocoa, wine, orange juice, potato starch and cake meal. If you can make a sponge cake, you can make this and it's not heavy, etc.

Posted by: Cake Maker | March 27, 2007 3:51 PM

Ashburn, VA--Flan or custard would be dairy, and therefore not acceptable at any meat-based seder.

Ivie--Black beans and chickpeas are considered kitniyot, and are also not allowed for Ashkenazi Jews during Pesach.

Posted by: Philadelphia | March 27, 2007 3:57 PM

I noticed that here and in today's chat, the wonderful chocolate mousse torte (pie) appeared. Does anyone know how this could be made safe? How can yolks and whites be sort of pasteurized? I can't get pasteurized eggs where I live. I can get great fresh farm eggs, but for family affairs, I still worry since there are always some very young and some very old.

Also, let's give credit where it's due: Maida Heatter invented this. It was the 1972 Dessert of the Year in the NY Times. It appears in her classic "Book of Great Desserts."

Posted by: Cake Maker | March 27, 2007 4:13 PM

Re: "kim, all of this passover talk has me wondering--can you perhaps do a blog roundup of good recipe sources for the passover-challenged?"

I just downloaded a 43 page (word) collection of Passover recipes from the internet by typing in Passover in the search field of Yahoo and Google: there are many, many sites out there and suggest people try their own collection, as you may wish to pick and choose, as I did.

Posted by: Sylvia | March 27, 2007 4:30 PM

I only have a 9" springform pan. Can I use it?

Posted by: Charlotte | March 27, 2007 4:30 PM

"Kim makes it sound like she single-handedly invented a nut-flour-based cake."

Hardly. She simply discusses how great this approach is in response to the Piercy book, and clearly states that this is a Nigella Lawson recipe. Get over yourself, Bucinka.

Posted by: KerryD | March 27, 2007 4:48 PM

I second the baking soda/powder comment. For most people it's acceptable.

This is a great recipe that I made last year from epicurious. It's essentially a chocolate cake but it's non-dairy, and has the texture of light chocolate cheesecake (it's not like a flourless chocolate cake). It was amazing. The secret ingredient is pureed sweet potatoes which you can't taste at all (some of the reviewers said they could, but I tried it anyway and could not). Really a great recipe.


Posted by: Tamar | March 28, 2007 4:35 AM

I noted above that fermented foods are not allowed for passover. So... is wine allowed? Logic says no (fermented with yeast after all, otherwise it would just be grape juice, and you explicitly called out beer as being a no-no (for the barley? fermentation? both?)), but comments above indicate that it can be used in recipes. Plus, some things like vanilla extract have alcohol in them... what am I missing?

Also, does this include pickled foods?

Posted by: Curious | March 28, 2007 10:09 AM

The prohibition on fermentation only applies to fermentation of five grains-- wheat, barley, spelt, oats, rye. Beer is prohibited because it's made from barley. Some alcohols are not allowed because they are fermented from a prohibited grain, some are allowed (ex. potato vodka is okay). Picked foods, not being fermented from one of the five grains, would generally be okay.

Posted by: Philadelphia | March 28, 2007 10:15 AM

The food section in today's NY Times has a Sephardic recipe for a flan (custard) that uses orange juice instead of milk, which would make it ok for a meat meal.

Posted by: Cake Maker | March 28, 2007 11:38 AM

Maybe I'm from the old school, but when did we go from mixing cake batter with a good ole hand mixer to mixing it in a food processor? Do we save a few precious seconds by doing that?

Posted by: Granny | March 28, 2007 8:41 PM

Granny: mixing a cake batter like this in a food processor keeps the texture light, since you have to work very fast before the almonds sink down to the bottom of the other ingredients.

Posted by: Selkie | March 29, 2007 4:43 PM

This looks great! You can find a great round-up of gluten-free and non-grebrokts Passover recipes, including more desserts, at:

Gluten-Free By The Bay

Posted by: IB | April 2, 2007 6:35 PM

I am thrilled to learn of so many recipes and sources for
both celiac sufferers, and for serving such tasty and
really not difficullt Passover recipes.
Thank you Kim O'Donnel.

posted April 6, 2007

Posted by: Lorraine Rubin | April 6, 2007 1:08 PM

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