Morning! For those of you who celebrated Passover last night — or who are celebrating it again tonight (and even for you NON Jews who want a special treat!), my lovely friend Heidi-ho (nickname) made an AMAZING treat for all us Josie Girls (Jews, Christians, and all religions alike)! Since I am solo in Florida with the kids, and therefore being a bad Jew and eating bread, more bread, and MORE bread, AND not having a seder or two or ten to attend….. I am thrilled Heidi-ho is riding to the rescue with a great post on the tradition of Passover .and the food that comes with it! (And come back for another guest blog on Friday on Easter traditions from Georgia Frasch). Without further ado, my lovely friend and guest blogger Heidi will take it from here:
Does your kitchen smell like brisket today? Ah, mine does! The sweet celebration of Passover is upon us and, while we may lose out on bread and some other fun carbs for eight days, we do okay with some Passover specialties. Favorites like matzo ball soup (this is the version simmering on my stove this year!), matzo brie (trust me), matzo bark (the kosher-for-passover version of this) and I haven’t even started on the real desserts yet. Stay with me – it’s coming.
See, the thing is food. And celebrations. And celebrating with food. For while Passover is the story of an extraordinary struggle, we tell it through a story that takes place over a meal. Yesterday marked the first night of Passover this year and Jewish families across the globe congregated with their loved ones to tell the Passover story at a Seder. Which means Jewish gals like me spent the weekend cooking!! As an added bonus, on Saturday I celebrated the wedding shower of a very dear friend who happens to be gluten free. What’s that you say – passover baking and gluten free baking share a flourless soul? Oh, do go on.
So, in anticipation of the start of Passover and in an effort to bring something I knew I could vouch for to the gluten-free shower, I rolled up my sleeves and turned to the french pastry connoisseur Francois Payard (oh, did I mention that my gluten-free girlfriend is marrying a Frenchman? In Bordeaux? This MAY!? And the grandparents have offered to babysit while my husband and I disappear into French wine country for 12 days?!? So, yeah, I owed her a good dessert.) I started making Monsieur Payard’s flourless chocolate cookies upon the first Passover that I suffered the indignity of fending for myself rather than being home to enjoy my mom’s effortless feast. If I recall, flourless chocolate cookies were the only item I actually served at my Seder that year; I’ve since managed to expand my repertoire, but these cookies have become my Passover staple.
And here’s why: six ingredients (total!), easy breezy instructions, no butter or oil (let’s just agree to disagree on whether or not they are actually “healthy” mmmkay?) and everybody loves them. For the shower, I decided to do something a little different and make these “cookies” in the form of a cake — the cooking time was about double (or more) but it was a hit. So here’s how you do it:
* 2 3/4 cups walnut halves
* 3 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
* 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
* 4 large eggs whites, at room temperature
* 1/2 teaspoon of salt
* 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
[Note: the ingredients pictured above are not necessarily certified “Kosher for Passover”. I made this batch for the party on Saturday so I wasn’t too careful about that aspect.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread the walnut halves on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about nine minutes, until they are golden and fragrant.
3. Let the walnuts cool slightly and then transfer the halves to a cutting board and coarsely chop them. (I don’t see why you couldn’t just buy coarsely chopped walnuts to begin with and then just toast them. Chopping them up isn’t too hard but just one more easy step if you can skip the chopping!).
4. Lower the oven temperature to 320 and position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
5. In a large bowl, whisk (or use an electric mixer on low speed), the confectioner’s sugar with the cocoa powder and salt, followed by the chopped walnuts.
6. While whisking (of after changing the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat until just combined (overbeating will cause it to stiffen).
7. Spoon the batter in twelve evenly spaced mounds onto each of two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper. (Note: don’t make my beginners mistake and skip the parchment paper! These cookies have a delicious fudge-like consistency but they can be very sticky and parchment paper, or perhaps a silpat mat, will be your best friend!). In the case of a cake, I poured the batter into a twelve inch cake pan lined with parchment paper.
8. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. (Note: since I made a cake version, I kept checking it every ten minutes. As long as it kept “jiggling” when I lifted the pan, I kept it in there. When it was firm and the top was glossy, I took it out. The outside was crispy and cracked all around and the inside was chewy and fudgy and all-around delicious. I topped it with a little powdered sugar for effect when I got to the party)
9. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto two wire racks. Let cookies cool completely before you dig in! IF you have leftovers (uh…what?!), the cookies or cake can be stored n an airtight container for 3 days.
For good measure, I went back on Sunday and made another batch in cookie form. I ran out of walnuts and my husband had the terrific and very tasty idea of substituting peanuts instead. A-maz-ing. All they need now is a dash of flaky salt and it’s chocolate-peanut heaven!
Et voila, as Payard himself might say!
Happy Passover to all! I hope yours is sweet and healthy! Thanks Josie Girl for the opportunity to guest blog.
And there you have it, girlfriends, the wonderful words from the Jewish Chef herself. I SOOOO appreciate Heidi-ho (yep, sorry, I always call her that and have never called her anything but that. Short story — my dad once had no idea who “Heidi” was because he, too, calls her “Heidi-ho”). Thanks a million! Happy Passover! and up next on Friday…..Easter Traditions.