It's with some trepidation that I approach April each year.
Not because of the prospect of showers (which do indeed bring May flowers); or tax season; or Major League Baseball's opening day, which means I have at least 6 months of Red Sox-induced angst in front of me.
No, it's because April brings Passover. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is my opportunity to be thoroughly humbled by my total lack of knowledge regarding Passover baking rules. Never mind kosher; Passover alone is enough to send me cowering into a corner.
I'm not Jewish, so I didn't grow up trying to puzzle all of this out. All I had to remember was “no meat on Friday,” and even that simple rule went by the boards decades ago.
Luckily, three of my Web teammates, as well as one of my fellow test bakers, are Jewish or cook Jewish. So I have plenty of people to ask when I try to understand why, say, confectioners' sugar isn't appropriate for Passover.
My latest conundrum is matzoh meal.
“Andrea, I thought you couldn't use flour on Passover. So I'm reading the list of ingredients on this box of matzoh meal, and it says ‘wheat flour.’ What's up with that?”
Andrea – all-knowing maven in matters both molecular, and Passover – says, “It's because the wheat flour was baked within 18 minutes of being combined with water, which means it didn't have a chance to ferment.”
Oh. Lightbulb moment!
“So, couldn't I just make whatever I'm making with flour, and put it in the oven fast? Like, how about shortbread? No water, no leavening...”
I should have known: not that simple.
“No,” says Andrea. “You don't have the person in authority standing next to you saying, ‘OK, yes, you put it in the oven within 18 minutes.’ ”
Fine. Be that way.
Despairing of ever having the time to thoroughly absorb the nuances of Passover baking, I decided this year to hand most of the responsibility off to two of my aforementioned teammates: Halley, our Web marketing director, and Janet, our Web designer.
My contribution to the Passover baking body of recipes this year is our King Arthur Flour Bakery's recipe for chewy Almond Cloud Cookies. Meanwhile, Halley will be posting her Passover Popovers later this week. And today's Passover prelude comes from Janet, my long-time officemate and friend.
When I put out the mournful plea for Passover recipes (“Please don't make me humiliate myself again this year”), Janet stepped up with an old favorite: Flourless Chocolate Nut Cake. Chocolate, eggs, nuts, granulated sugar – no flour. No leavening. No tricky confectioners' sugar.
The recipe does call for vanilla, but you could certainly leave it out if it's problematic. And the glaze includes both butter and cream – which makes it dairy, which means if you're eating kosher, uh.... Andrea, help!
To all of my Jewish friends out there preparing to celebrate Passover; from this Irish-Catholic looking forward to Easter: Good Pesach! And happy (flourless, leaven-free) baking.
Janet says to be sure to use a really good quality chocolate. Our Guittard baking chocolate comes in small, easily meltable disks, about 1g each.
First, bring 10 large eggs (yes, 10) to room temperature. If you're in a hurry, submerge them in a bowl of very warm water for about 10 minutes.
Lightly grease a 10” tube pan or angel food pan. For best results, cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan, and grease the paper. An easy way to do this is to cut a hole in the center of a 9” parchment round.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine 3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate and 1/2 cup ( 3 ounces) chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.
Heat till soft...
...and stir till smooth.
When the 10 eggs are no longer cold, separate the yolks from the whites, putting them in separate large mixing bowls.
Hint: Drop the whites into a separate smaller bowl, before sliding them into the larger bowl. That way, if a stray bit of yolk or piece of shell sneaks in (as it did above), you don't “contaminate” the entire bowl of whites.
So, here's your bowl of 10 egg yolks.
Beat till till the yolks are smooth and lemon-yellow.
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2/3 cup granulated sugar.
Beat till thickened and lightened in color.
Add the melted chocolate...
...and stir to combine.
Next, you need 2 cups (8 ounces) of finely ground pecans; OR 2 cups (5 ounces) of pecan meal.
Pecan meal on the left; ground pecans on the right.
What's the difference between using finely ground pecans, and pecan meal? The cake with the finely ground pecans will be a bit taller, and its texture will be less smooth; a bit chunkier. Our tasters said the texture brought to mind Passover charoset.
Stir in the nuts.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix again, till no big lumps remain.
Now, back to the egg whites. Beat the 10 whites with 1 teaspoon vanilla till foamy. This isn't foamy enough.
This is. See how the bubbles are getting finer?
Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar. It's better to sprinkle the sugar in while the mixer is going; I kinda forgot to do that.
Beat till soft peaks form.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.
Easiest way to do this is to put the mixer at its lowest speed, and dollop in the whites in big spoonfuls.
Mix gently till no streaks of white show.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.
DARN - forgot the parchment. Oh well, it won't really make any difference... will it?
Gently shake the pan to level the batter.
Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, till a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
It should rise nicely - even without any chemical leavening. Ah, the power of eggs...
Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack. Loosen the edges, and let it cool in the pan for 1 hour.
Towards the end of the cooling time, make the glaze.
Put the following in a microwave-safe bowl:
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Melt till very hot; the cream will be starting to form bubbles.
Stir to combine the chocolate and cream. It'll look unpromising at first; don't panic, just keep stirring.
Pretty soon it'll all come together – oh ye of little faith!
Next, let's turn the cake out of the pan onto a rack.
WHOOOOOOPS. Guess the parchment really would have helped.
No worries. We'll just turn it over, and no one will be the wiser. Unless they look really hard.
If the glaze isn't pourable, add more cream to thin it out. Pour it over the cake. It's OK if the cake is still warm when you glaze it.
Spread it around so it dribbles artfully down the sides.
Like this. If you play your cards right, icing will cover that gouge in the side...
Ah-HA! This time I DID remember the parchment.
And here's the result. A wee bit wrinkled, but damage-free.
And no need for any icing cover-up.
Janet thinks the pecan meal version (on the right) is moister. The ground pecan version (on the left) is a bit taller and chunkier.
You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate chocolate cake. Chag sameach!
And don't forget, this cake is not only appropriate for Passover - it's wheat-free and gluten-free.
Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Flourless Chocolate Nut Cake.