Sunday, April 17, 2011
Passover recalls the tastes, smells of home
A native New Yorker, Judy Katzin moved to Raleigh as a bride in 1958. “Talk about culture shock,” she said. “No Jewish delis; no kosher butcher. It took years before I found a decent bagel.”
In an attempt to feed her soul, Katzin started buying pre-packaged Lender's bagels, which she found in the refrigerator case of her local grocery store. “I’ll never forget, one day when I was buying some I looked up and saw someone wearing a Brooklyn College sweatshirt looking back at me,” she said. “He asked me, ‘Are they any good?’ I answered, ‘It depends on how long you’ve been living here.’”
Things have changed, of course, but today there is not a single kosher restaurant in Raleigh. Jewish-style delis arrive with fanfare and promises of overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and real knishes only to vanish weeks later like yet another diaspora.
Many area supermarkets feature displays of Passover products, notably matzo, macaroons and candies. Personally, I pine for egg kichel, those airy, dry little rounds perfect for coffee dunking that were crowned with a glaze of crackled sugar. Not unlike the polar ice cap, the icing got thinner over time and the cookies got smaller – and now, at least locally, the mere mention of them stumps even the most customer-friendly grocers. (The link above, from Amazon, sadly invites shoppers to sign up for possible availability.)
Observant Jews know – and those likely to feed them should be on the lookout – that many commercially-prepared baked goods and sweets that look the same probably aren’t this time of year. That innocent box of Tam-Tam crackers left over from bridge club? Not unless it’s specially marked as kosher for Passover.
Products not labeled kosher for Passover may contain hamtez, leavened “impurities” that are OK other times of the year but not during this period of reflection on the hasty escape from bondage in ancient Egypt. If you look closely, you’ll find a whole range of unexpected products marked this way, including Coca-Cola and mini-marshmallows.
You can find an abundance of Passover recipes online – Joan Nathan is an ideal source – but Raleigh Downtowner readers are lucky that Katzin has share her most-requested seder dessert: Chocolate Sponge Cake, developed by her own mother some 70 years ago.
We also persuaded Kim Hammer, the wonderful baker at Café Helios and owner of bittycakes, to share her flourless chocolate cupcake (see related story). It’s not truly hametz-free, given that they are produced alongside other sweets with Passover-forbidden ingredients, but it’s close enough for those who take consolation in a Lender’s bagel when they really crave a New York classic.
JUDY’S CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE
8 eggs, separated
11 tbsp. sugar, divided
8 tbsp. matzo cake meal (available seasonally at local grocers or online)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat egg yolks with 8 tbsp. sugar until they change in color from golden to buttery yellow, then add vanilla. Add matzo cake flour, folding lightly until just blended.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add about one-third of egg white to egg-flour mix, folding in to lighten. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites, taking care to not over mix.
Pour about 80% of the batter into a well-greased heavy bundt pan.
Into the remaining batter, add 3 tbsp. sugar and 3 tbsp. cocoa. Blend well, then pour in a ring centered over the original batter. Using a spatula, poke chocolate layer to tuck into plain batter, creating a tunnel of chocolate.
Bake for about 40 minutes (check after 35 minutes) or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely in pan over a wire rack.
When cool, invert onto a serving plate. Set a glass bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Place chocolate chips and a few spoonfuls of water in the bowl. Melt and stir until a thin stream trickles from a spoon, then drizzle over top of cake.