Like many bakers, I have recipes that I reserve for certain holidays. As my children gobble up rugelach during Hanukkah, they wonder why I never make these delicious cookies in January or May. After enjoying buttery slices of Irish soda bread on St.Patrick's Day, my husband tells me I really should put his favorite quick bread into the regular rotation.
I can't say I ever got the same enthusiastic response to the marble sponge cake I used to make for Passover, which begins at sundown Friday. While my relatives looked forward to enjoying family favorites like chopped liver and gefilte fish, they spoke about my bland and dry-as-dust cake, when they mentioned it at all, with resignation, even dread.
Once I realized that the supermarket marshmallow twists and jelly rings were more popular than my cake, I changed course.
Instead of baking unexciting, if traditional, Passover cakes, I looked for flourless desserts so good they are enjoyed year-round by diners of every faith. I've found inspiration from around the world. My Passover Pavlova, based on a dessert invented by a New Zealand chef in honor of the great ballet dancer, is a crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside meringue disk filled with lemon sorbet and topped with macerated strawberries. And cobbler makes use of frozen fruit now and fresh later in the summer.
Pavlovas With Sorbet and Strawberries
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon potato starch
2 pints strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 pint lemon sorbet
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine egg whites and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-high and whip until white and increased in volume, another minute. With mixer running, add 1 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue to whip until whites are shiny and form stiff peaks, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Gently fold vinegar and potato starch into whites.
Scoop whites into 6 mounds (about ½ cup each), several inches apart, on baking sheet. Use a spoon to spread whites into 4-inch circles and to create an indentation in center of each circle. Bake until firm and dry, 1 ½ hours. Turn off oven, open oven door slightly, and let sit in cooling oven until completely dry, about 2 hours.
Combine strawberries and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Place two small scoops of lemon sorbet in center of each meringue shell, top with strawberries and serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.
With Almond Meringue Topping
For a kosher-for-Passover cobbler, crumble some almond meringue over a fruit filling thickened with potato starch. In early spring, I use frozen fruit, but this dessert is so good I'll make it with fresh fruit in August.
2 large egg whites
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon kosher-for-Passover vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peaches
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons potato starch
Make topping: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium until frothy, about 30 seconds. Turn speed to high and pour sugar into bowl in a slow, steady stream. Continue to beat until egg whites are stiff and shiny. Fold in almonds, vanilla and salt, being careful not to deflate meringue.
Spread meringue into a 7-inch square on prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and beginning to color, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheet.
Make filling: Turn oven up to 375 degrees. Combine peaches, blueberries, sugar and potato starch in a large bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Scrape into an 8-inch-square baking pan, cover pan with foil and bake until fruit is hot and bubbling and has released its juices, 30 to 35 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, remove foil and gently stir fruit. Crumble meringue topping over fruit, return to oven and bake until topping is browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Coconut-Ginger Rice Pudding
If you follow the Sephardic tradition (Ashkenazi Jews don't eat rice during Passover), you can enjoy this dairy-free and delicious rice pudding at your seder.
½ cup arborio rice
2 (13.66-ounce) cans lite coconut milk
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
½ mango, peeled, pitted and cut into ¼-inch dice, plus extra for garnish
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachio nuts
Combine rice, coconut milk, ½ cup sugar, ginger and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
While rice is cooking, combine mango, lime juice and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Set aside.
Scrape pudding into a large bowl, cover and set aside to cool to room temperature. Spoon into dessert goblets, top with some mango, sprinkle with pistachios and serve.
Makes 6 servings.