Sunday, April 17, 2011

Passover recalls the tastes, smells of home

Even amid the glories of spring in the Carolinas, there are few things that make transplanted Jews miss their hometown more than the arrival of Passover. No matter how cosmopolitan our grocery chains and privately-operated eateries may be, the faith-based culinary restrictions of the holiday remain a sharp reminder of the tastes and smells missed even by those of us who make no effort to keep a kosher kitchen.

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.

Even stalwarts like Katzin are considering hanging up their aprons. “I love it, but it’s a lot of work,” said the grandmother of four, who typically prepares a seder feast for about 30 friends and family. “Who knows? We’ll see what next year brings.”

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.

Passover-approved recipes sometimes do not compare favorably to everyday choices. When my brothers and I balked at taking matzo sandwiches to school, my mother baked unleavened rolls by the dozens. When they were fresh out of the oven, their steamy goodness fragranced the kitchen. The next day in the lunch room, stuffed with tuna salad, not so much.

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 CafĂ© 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.


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment