PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert

Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.


Spectator – The Geffen’s Great Escape

In the 1930s, with the Great Depression at home and Hitler saber-rattling overseas, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, two sharp-witted Jewish lads, kept Broadway and the nation laughing.

Together, they wrote such comedic classics as “Once in a Lifetime,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “I’d Rather Be Right” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”

The latter play, which debuted on Broadway in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize and as an Oscar-winning movie two years later, has now been revived by the Geffen Playhouse.

The revival marks the 100th anniversary of Hart’s birth and, to keep the familial connection, is directed by his son, Christopher.

Cunningly constructed, the play relates the adventures and misadventures of the Sycamore Family of New York, whose guiding motto is, do whatever turns you on, however eccentric, and you’ll have lots of fun, avoid ulcers and enjoy a happy ending.

This philosophy may not always work in this harsh world but it surely does on the stage.

The pace of this production is not quite as antic and frantic as we recall from the olden days, but there are enough laughs to get your money’s worth.

Excelling in a somewhat uneven cast is veteran British actor Roy Dotrice as the family patriarch, who quit the rat race 35 years ago and has never looked back.

Also amusing are Conrad John Schuck as an irascible Wall Street tycoon, and Magda Harout, who doubles as an inebriated actress and an aristocratic Russian refugee who has fallen on hard times.

The Geffen’s performances have been in exile on the Veterans Administration grounds while its Westwood playhouse has been undergoing a $17 million facelift.

Included in the renovations are a plusher main stage and audience seats and construction of the smaller Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre.

A grand reopening of the Westwood facility is set for Oct. 17. The inaugural drama on Nov. 4 will be Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Gilbert Cates and starring John Goodman as Big Daddy.

“You Can’t Take It With You” concludes its run on May 22 at the VA’s Brentwood Theatre. For information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit


Dinner Celebrates Families

Aphilanthropic couple and a young family with a preschooler are to be recognized at the 9th annual Jewish Family Service of Orange County (JFS) dinner celebrating family.

The contributions of Gerald and Eleanor Weinstein, of Tustin, are getting notice because Jewish tenets about giving and righting social ills are reflected in their chosen careers and volunteer commitments, said Mel Roth, director of the agency, a provider of psychological services.

Both former health professionals, the couple has known each other for 25 years but only married in September 2001, following the loss of their spouses.

JFS hopes to raise $60,000 from the event, supporting the agency’s $825,000 annual budget. JFS receives 30 percent of its funding from the O.C. Jewish Federation and is its largest beneficiary. The agency’s 11-person staff, including four full-time counselors, annually serve about 7,000 people in support groups, counseling, older adult services, volunteer opportunities, refugee resettlement, information and referral, a healing center and with interest-free loans.

Also under the spotlight are Stacy and Phil Kaplan, of Newport Beach, who met at a young Jewish leadership get-together. The couple, who have a 2-year-old daughter, remain involved in numerous O.C. Federation programs.

"It is a special privilege to honor the Weinsteins and the Kaplans, who set an example of model families enriching the Jewish and general community by teaching the values love, honesty, education, loving kindness and giving back to the community," Roth said.

The $100-per-person dinner is to be held at the Hyatt Newporter Hotel in Newport Beach May 20 at 6 p.m. For more information, call JFS at (714) 445-4950.

Family Dinners

"Give me the ‘A,’" my husband, Larry, says.

"There’s no ‘A,’" answers Danny, 10.

"Then give me the ‘R,’" Larry responds.

"No ‘R,’" says Danny, as he gleefully draws a circle for the body.

I’m sitting at Maria’s Italian Kitchen on a Sunday evening, eating and watching my husband and my four sons, ages 10, 12, 14 and 17, play multiple games of Hangman. Or, as my husband prefers to call it, "Stump the Dad."

This is a family dinner. This is what health-care professionals swear will protect my sons from a life of drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction.

This is what I swear will have me begging for an extended stay at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"So," I interrupt, looking to start a conversation, "What do you think about carbon dioxide emissions?"

"Mom…" they moan in unison, rolling their eyes.

"What about salmonella in ground beef?" I ask, vowing to bring along some reading material next time.

But it could be worse. For one thing, I didn’t have to cook this dinner. For another, they’re not calling each other names ("Dirty Diaper" is this week’s epithet of choice) or making rude bodily noises (which usually involves some kind of competition).

According to Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," family dinners occur 33 percent less frequently today than in 1970.

And for many good reasons.

First, let’s talk about the logistics. Let’s talk about the fact that my husband, who, thankfully, is not Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver, generally returns home after 8 p.m.

Let’s talk about the fact that I generally spend my late afternoons and early evenings picking up carpool, schlepping some child to karate or piano or the orthodontist as well as watching — or feeling guilty about missing — a soccer or baseball game. And that’s before someone invariably pipes up with "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I need 24 kosher cupcakes (or car repair mesh wire and five 3-foot strips of balsa wood or one dozen large, live crickets) for school tomorrow."

Plus, let’s talk about the fact that, for me, cooking — from the preliminary trip to Ralphs to the postprandial cleanup — is about as enjoyable as pulling up weeds, having my gums scraped or standing in line to ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

There’s also the fact that there is not a single dinner menu that appeals to the two vegetarians, the one pescetarian and the three omnivores (one of whom eats only "white" foods) that comprise my family.

Growing up, of course, we were forced to eat whatever was served. Occasionally — and my mother will confirm this — this meant tongue with raisin sauce or pheasant with fresh buckshot or, the worst, wax beans, which even the dog, who sat vigilantly under the table, refused to touch.

In Judaism, the family is sacrosanct; it is the primal, civilizing building block of society. And our tradition mandates that the family, this cohesive and essential unit, engage in certain culinary celebrations — from the weekly Shabbat dinner to the annual seder, from the bar mitzvah banquet to the wedding feast — with certain requisite and ritualistic foods. But nowhere is there a commandment, not in any of the 613 mitzvot, requiring us to sit down together regularly for an evening meal.

No, the concept of family dinners is a modern myth, a psychological and sentimental hoax perpetrated on us already overextended and overburdened mothers by people who have forgotten the taste of tongue with raisin sauce. By people who don’t watch Woody Allen movies. And by people who also think that quality time and home schooling are viable — and valuable — ideas.

So just say no to family dinners that require more than 10 minutes to prepare or pick up and that require the skills of air traffic controllers to coordinate.

And forget that National Merit Scholars, those academically talented high-schoolers who excel on the PSAT test, share the one characteristic of eating dinner with their families at least three times a week.

Instead, remember that what’s truly important is to give our kids a sense of stability and solidarity. To make them feel loved and protected. To nourish them emotionally and physically.

This doesn’t happen at prescribed times with preplanned, multidish meals featuring the four food groups.

No, this happens serendipitously and unexpectedly.

It can happen over a dinner of Team Cheerios, at a table with mismatched bowls and disposal-chewed spoons. It can happen during a spur-of-the-moment midnight run to Krispy Kreme. It can even happen on a Sunday evening at Maria’s Italian Kitchen over pizza, chopped salad and uninterrupted games of Hangman.

Breaking the Fast

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown on Sunday, Oct. 8, during which time a strict fast is observed

Prior to the fast, it is customary to serve a family dinner consisting of simple foods prepared with a minimum of salt and spices.

After the fast, dairy foods are traditionally served, and of course bagels are an important part of the after-fast menu, often accompanied by smoked fish and salads.

If there is one favorite item in the Jewish-American cuisine, it is certainly the bagel. Their popularity has spread to almost every part of the U.S. And many shops specializing only in bagels have popped up everywhere. We can choose from egg or water bagels, whole wheat, oat bran, rye, onion, blueberry, cinnamon-raisin, cheese and even chocolate chip bagels.

There are many opinions as to where the bagel originated. Some say Germany, while others insist it was Austria, Poland or Russia, although scholars claim that the word “bagel” is derived from the German word “bugel,” which means a ring or curved bracelet. No matter where they came from, we know that the bagel is here to stay, and they are not just for breakfast.

Few of us have attempted to bake bagels in our home kitchens.

I love making bagels, but it is true that they do take a lot of time. Bagels are made in a unique manner; they are first boiled, then baked, which gives them their distinctive shiny, chewy crust.

This year, for break-the-fast, bagels will be my theme – a bagel buffet, with enough delicious toppings to satisfy everyone.

Let your family and friends have fun creating their own open-face bagel fantasy from a selection of interesting toppings.

Izzy’s Authentic Bagels

I never knew how to make perfect bagels until I met Izzy Cohen, an elderly retired baker, who made bagels for his friends. He came to my house to demonstrate his technique, bringing his own high-gluten flour. Once you learn the basic process, you’ll love making bagels in many varieties – plain, onion, poppy seed, cinnamon, or your own special creations. You might have to go to a health food store to find the malt for this recipe.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • 8 cups high-gluten flour (12 to 13 percent gluten) or 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour mixed with
  • 1/4 cup powdered gluten, plus more as needed
  • 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal

In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, blend the water, sugar, salt, malt, and oil on medium speed.In another large bowl, mix 6 cups of the flour with yeast; gradually add flour mixture to water mixture and blend until the dough comes together. Add the remaining 2 cups flour, beating until smooth. (If any dry flour mixture remains in the bottom of the bowl, add several drops of water to moisten it and continue beating 5 minutes.)

Transfer dough to a lightly floured board, cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough into 15 pieces and cover with a towel while you knead and shape each piece. Knead by folding each piece in half and pushing out any air pockets, then fold in half again and repeat. Shape into a rope about 5 inches long; form into a doughnut shape, overlap ends by about 1 inch, and knead into a smooth perfect circle. Repeat the process with remaining pieces of dough.

Sprinkle cornmeal on the board and place bagels on top. Cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes.Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Fill a large heavy pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Working in batches, drop 4 to 6 bagels (do not crowd) into boiling water and boil 10 seconds only. At this time, bagels should rise to the top of the water. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a wire rack and drain. Transfer bagels to a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire racks. Makes about 15 bagels.Variations: Mix together chopped onion and poppy seeds or caraway seeds with a little coarse kosher salt. After boiling and draining bagels, press the top of each bagel into seed mixture and bake as directed.

Toasted Garlic Bagels

Instead of garlic toast using French bread, try my version.

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Salt
  • 8 bagels, sliced in half

In a processor, mix butter and garlic until well blended. Pulse in parsley. Season to taste with salt. With a rubber spatula, transfer mixture to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. (You can also shape the mixture into a cube, wrap in plastic wrap and foil, then freeze it; defrost until spreadable before use.)

Preheat the broiler. Spread the butter mixture on the bagel halves, place them on a baking sheet, and broil until the butter mixture bubbles and begins to brown. Serve immediately.

Grandma’s Chopped Herring

  • 1 pound schmaltz herring fillets or 1 jar (1 pound) pickled herring fillets in wine sauce
  • 2 slices challah or egg bread
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 green apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vinegar
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

Soak the herring in cold water overnight. Drain well. Bone and skin the herring and cut it into pieces. Soak the challah in cold water for a few minutes and squeeze out the water.

Place the herring, challah, onion, and apple in a food grinder and grind. Chop the hard-boiled egg whites and combine with 3 teaspoons of the vinegar. Mix the whites into the herring mixture. Spread the chopped herring on a platter. Mash the egg yolks with the remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar and spread over the top of the chopped herring.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Just before serving, pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the oil over the top. Serve with toasted bagels.

Broiled Lox and Cream Cheese on a Bagel

  • 8 bagels, sliced and toasted
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/2 cup diced smoked salmon
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, onions and smoked salmon. Fold in capers. Season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on toasted bagels. Broil 3 inches from the heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Italian Deli Platter

  • 12 thin slices of tomatoes
  • 12 thin slices of mozzarella cheese
  • 12 anchovy fillets

On a large platter, arrange slices of tomatoes. Top each tomato with a slice of cheese and an anchovy fillet. Serves 12.

Smoked Whitefish Platter

  • Lettuce leaves
  • Smoked whitefish or cod fish
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced onions

On a large platter, arrange lettuce leaves, white fish, cucumbers and onions.