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Passover Dessert Challenge: No Eggs!

 Passover-eggless-chocolatealmondtorte-halfsheet

Bear with me, I’m still a little hyper (see below). Three days before the first Passover seder, and I’ve been asked to bring a non-fruit, non-macaroon dessert. With a few caveats.

This is the ultimate, I think: a fresh dessert, preferably deep chocolate, with no dairy (serving at a meat meal), no fake stuff (because I can’t stand it) and obviously for Passover, no chametz (forbidden grains like wheat, barley, oats, etc.) or kitniyot (legumes, corn, rice, peas and green beans, some seeds, nuts and spices, plus some vegetable oils derived from them, like sunflower…). Also, for reasons of the requesting family’s allergies, no pistachios, hazelnuts or cashews, or cinnamon.

Or, and here’s the kicker for Passover desserts–eggs. No eggs! And it’s got to be moist and fabulous, or at least obviously better than the standard choke cake box mix, and prettier than the all-real-but-undecorated apple-almond cake I served a couple of years ago. And it’s got to rise and still be kosher for Passover under Orthodox Union rules. Which I had to look up on line for some of the possibilities I had in mind.

It’s not dread in my heart, surprisingly, but a little tinge of excitement at another chance to mess around and come up with something decent.

I’ve done a few home desserts that weren’t bad and that didn’t contain most of the forbidden items. My first best hope is something as close as possible to my favorite, Sacher torte (because I’m unoriginal and because at least I’ll like it). I’ve been working on this for a while and I thought, I can get by without eggs as long as I have some other way to raise the cake and keep it from turning into a rubber brick.

And eggs aren’t the only way to raise a cake or make a cookie without violating the kosher-for-Passover rules. It turns out that some brands of baking soda, including Arm&Hammer and a number of smaller and store brands, are processed under sufficient supervision so there’s no contamination from cornstarch or grains or the like, and are now considered kosher for Passover under O-U rules–it’s worthwhile looking them up. So is all unflavored bottled soda water, even without a kosher certification mark. That one I remember from my student days, when somebody said you could pour seltzer into matzah ball mix to lighten it.

Another item that turns out to be okay is linseed–aka flax. So if you grind linseed and bring it up with water, you could do a kosher-for-Passover dessert without eggs for the kinds of things flaxmeal works for. Consult a vegan dessert book (aside: a lot of the authors are Jewish! Maybe not so surprising), use matzah cake meal and/or almond meal instead of standard flour, and you might be in like Flynn (or at least like Feldman).

Other key ingredients to check are K-leP (kasher lePesach; kosher for Passover)…

The chocolate, obviously. Elite makes so-so quality but certified pareve kosher for Passover bittersweet bars, and they can definitely be put to work. Hershey’s plain (not Special Dark) non-dutched cocoa powder is accepted by the O-U even with just its regular certification mark. Some cider vinegar is probably certified–but fresh lemon juice or orange juice might work too, in case I can’t find an O-U-labeled version. And unflavored raw almonds, walnuts, pecans and almond meal from Trader Joe’s are also all approved, at least this year. Also white cane sugar and non-iodized salt with a regular year-round O-U certification mark.

Other items:

Plain dried fruits as long as they’re not coated with vegetable oils or the like.

Plain fresh fruits other than raspberries and their kin, which are hard to inspect for tiny bugs among the drupelets (but which the O-U has a whole procedure for inspecting at home to make them okay–it boils down to washing and looking carefully. So much for the mystery…).

Spices are more of a pain–some, like caraway and fennel, are considered kitniyot, even though very similar ones in the same family, like anise, are acceptable. Not that I was going to put any of these in a chocolate cake, mind you, but I like to keep my options open for other, non-chocolate, possibilities. Ground spices need to be certified for Passover, and most of the supermarket store brands aren’t.

Finally there’s the taste/texture issue, the 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Serve No Choke Cake (not even before its time, and thank you so much Paul Masson).

You want something raised with seltzer or baking soda and no eggs, you’re taking your chances on a pretty dry item. Almond meal contributes oil and moisture without making things oily as long as you remember to cut down on oil ingredients to compensate. But depending on how light or springy you want your cake, you may need more matzah cake meal for structure, which really dries things out if you go too far with it. Weighing the matzah meal is better than measuring into a cup because it’s dryer–already baked–so it’s denser than regular flour. You need more liquids if you use matzah meal–hence the usual eggs. Without eggs, you want something that will retain moisture in the cake and still give a bit of structure. Apples or applesauce would be my best bet, substituted for whatever oil, margarine or butter your cake recipe calls for, just slightly lower volumes to avoid making the batter too wet.

Pumpkin I’ve also tried in my callow youth. While it’s fine and occasionally impressive for a non-chocolate dessert and for plenty of savory dishes, something about it suppresses the essence of chocolate. The one time I tried canned pumpkin for fat-free brownies, the texture came out near-perfect, but it mysteriously sucked all the chocolateness out of the air while the brownies were baking. And then there was a serious blank in the chocolate department when I tasted, even though the texture was good and I’d put in a lot of cocoa powder. Life is unfair. And on the other hand apples won’t let you down, and even a little applesauce works beautifully instead of oil both in chocolate box mixes and in from-scratch cakes. Should work for Passover versions too.

Lest you wonder whether it’s possible to do a decent pareve frosting suited to a Sacher Torte Occasion, which–no surprise here–is what I’m aiming for, I’ve just done a test run (Wednesday) on the whole cake recipe I had in mind, thinking I might have to adjust before Friday.

This cake is a cocoa-flavored version of the basic gingerbread (cake, not cookie) recipe from the Silver Palate cookbooks. I’ve used it for honeycake at Rosh Hashanah with good results—even in the microwave. I almost always substitute unsweetened applesauce or grated apples for any oil in standard cake recipes or box mixes.

Here I’m also increasing the baking soda a little to compensate for the lack of an egg and substituting almond meal for most or all of the flour (and not adding molasses or ginger, obviously). From the typical nutrition label, I estimate the almond meal is about fifty percent oil by weight, most of it polyunsaturated fats. You really don’t need any more fat in the cake. It’s not low-cal even so, but the advantage healthwise is that most of the oil is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, plus the almonds have fiber and protein. Beats adding sticks of butter.

The Silver Palate gingerbread method is pretty classic: you mix the dry ingredients together. Stir in the egg and oil (in most recipes) or in this case just the apple or applesauce and extra baking soda. Then you pour on fresh hot coffee or boiling water and stir quickly to get things just mixed to a batter. A little vinegar or in this case, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stirred in at the last minute before pouring into a sheet pan and sticking it in the oven, helps the coffee activate the baking soda.

The pareve, egg-and-butter-free chocolate cake didn’t rise a ton, probably because I included exactly zero matzah cake meal, and just a tiny token bit of potato starch, probably not quite enough to keep the rise. The cocoa powder itself provides a little backbone as it cooks, but probably next time I’ll add either another two or three spoonfuls of potato starch or a single sheet of matzah, crumbled into the coffee grinder and turned into fine grind cake meal.

But even as it was, first time around, this cake came out like you wouldn’t believe. Excessively fudgy cake, insanely good, and the attempt at a completely nondairy ganache without nasty creamer or margarine-type additions went so well I’m going to have to patent it or something.

As I’m sure (and sorry) is apparent, due to the serious cocoa-and-hot-coffee content, plus the elation that it wasn’t a flop, I found myself on a caffeine high and completely unable to shut up about it while driving my kid home from school. She discovered I wasn’t wrong. We both recommend thin (half-inch) slices to avoid shock, caffeine highs, and that feeling afterward like you’ve just eaten Monty Python’s wafer-thin mint. You will be satisfied–a little goes a long way.

This half-inch slice is seriously enough for a serving. It's that rich.

This half-inch slice is seriously enough for a serving at the seder. It’s that rich.

Anyway, this is going to work and it is SIMPLE. And tastes fabulous. Fabulous, very definitely. If you like flourless chocolate cake and ganache, try this at home. Even though, as I say, it has no butter. No eggs. And no crap. And it’s not too slow (though the baking time kind of is; 40-45 minutes because it’s very moist and stays that way after it collapses back down and shows light cracking–see photo at top of post).

nondairyganache

Simple nondairy ganache–skip the creamer or margarine or whatever else and hit up the coffee pot again. Plus a little apricot jam.

I did the ganache while the cake was baking. Always brew more coffee than you need, so you have some left for ganache! My earlier ganache experiments revealed shocking, shocking levels of success (and hyperactivity after consumption) with skim milk or even just sugar-and-water syrup (for chocolate sauce or, when frozen, Forbidden Sorbet). It’s not completely good for you, but it’s quite doable without fakery and margarine.

So in any case, maybe it’s not looking so bleak (except when I estimate just how long it’ll take to scrub out my fridge this time around tonight).

Other possibilities for egg-free elegance, just in case decadent chocolate torte isn’t your thing:

If the linseed thing works for things like cream puff dough (pâte à choux), I’m going to try some éclairs just for us and report back. What to fill them with, though? Maybe some kind of lemon pudding mix from Osem? eeeeh. Maybe this is the place for canned pumpkin, though–it might make a pretty good mousselike filling mixed or diluted with some Greek yogurt (for a dairy dinner, anyhow), or mixed with potato starch, some sugar, some strong coffee or a little juice or water, plus appropriate flavorings? And if not doing a citrus flavor, maybe a pinch of salt and a bit of nutmeg to simulate a custard.

Not-too-ripe bananas, blended with other flavors, might be another candidate base ingredient for the filling, especially for a chocolate “custard” whether room temperature or frozen. You might even be able to freeze a pumpkin- or banana-based mousse to a convincing scoopable texture for profiteroles, especially if you add a spoonful or two of slivovitz or other kosher-for-Passover brandy or liqueur to fend off iciness. Worth a shot?

And there are always almond florentines made simply with a thick caramel-type sugar syrup, plus maybe a little olive oil or almond meal and some orange peel or ginger shavings as the coating for the sliced almonds. Heat the mixture in a saucepan, minus the sliced almonds, up to a light caramel, stir in the almond flakes, pat out 3-inch rounds on oiled foil or parchment paper and let harden. Coat with melted kosher-for-Passover chocolate on one side and maybe even sandwich together…

If you’re not a chocoholic, you could try an egg-free almond meal-based version of gingerbread. Molasses–you need to check the certification rules for Passover or else use certified honey. The O-U checks for adulteration with corn syrup and so on, which might actually serve as a benefit to non-kosher consumers as well. Either add raisins that haven’t been oil-treated to prevent sticking or–a fresher take–bake or microwave some pineapple slices in the bottom of the baking dish first, then pour on the gingerbread batter when you’re ready to go.

Less elegant, perhaps, and more obviously in Passover Dessert Territory (aka “the Desert”) but maybe worth a try: matzah baklava. This is just my imagined idea, though I think there may be real versions floating around the web. I would make a finely-chopped-or-coarsely-ground walnut or almond filling with sugar and cinnamon-type spices (if your family and guests can hack them) but (unfortunately it’s kitniyot) no cardamom. Grate some orange peel into it and/or add maybe a spoonful of orange blossom water, and sandwich between two dry matzah sheets. Place in a baking dish and let chill in the fridge. Make a thick sugar syrup with a squeeze of lemon juice, add a bit of orange peel or orange blossom water, and pour hot over the big matzah sandwich, spreading it all over and letting it sink in. Another hour or so in the fridge, when the syrup has absorbed enough to soften the matzah slightly, cut the thing in small decorative pieces with a sharp knife, sprinkle on some toasted almond flakes to stick to the top prettily (remember my experience and learn from it…) and serve.

How wrong could it be? OK, don’t answer that! Or no–let me redo that one, borrowing from a really awful, creepy Las Vegas hotel chain ad campaign I saw in Condé Nast Traveler a couple of years ago:

6th Question for Passover: How wrong could it be?

Answer: Just the right amount of wrong!

(But let’s face it. That’s only funny if your dessert really comes out spectacular and sexy-looking. Otherwise it’s just another sad attempt at Aunt Estelle’s Famous, Delicious Orange Passover Sponge–cough, cough–cake mix, and who needs more ridicule over that?)

Decadent Passover Eggless Chocolate Almond Torte (boca negra? Sacher torte? flourless chocolate cake with ganache?–maybe all of these)

Approximately 20 servings, about 265-300 calories each and 30-35 g. carbohydrate each with apricot fruit spread and ganache frosting.

Cake batter:

  • 1 lb. (454 g) almond meal
  • 7 or so heaping T. (72 g) non-dutched cocoa
  • ~1.5 c. (320 g) cane sugar
  • ~2-3 T (40 g–actually, I think I’d double this amount) potato starch OR 1 sheet matzah, broken up and ground fine in a coffee grinder OR 1/4-1/3 c. matzah cake meal
  • large (4″ diameter, 300 g) Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and grated down to about the core–about 200 g or 3/4 c. pulp
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. uniodized (“kosher” is okay) salt
  • 10-11 oz./mug full/260-300 mL hot fresh strong coffee
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Filling:

  • ~1/2 c apricot fruit spread (fruit and juice only, no corn syrup) for sandwiching layers, optional, mixed with 1-2 t lemon juice

Chocolate ganache topping:

  • 2 3oz(100 g) bars Elite or similar pareve (nondairy) bittersweet chocolate bars, kosher for Passover (i.e., no lecithin or vanilla)
  • 1/4-1/3 c. (50 mL or so) very hot coffee
  • 1 heaping T (10 g) cocoa powder, non-dutched
  • 1-2 T apricot fruit spread
  1. Brew at least 2 c. coffee and preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare 9″ round or square foil pans or a larger half-sheet pan lined with foil. Oil with olive oil and sprinkle on a little cocoa powder or almond meal. You might want to line the pan bottoms with parchment paper to make removing the cake layers and stacking them a little easier once they’re baked and cooled. Lining with a sling of foil you can lift out of the pan afterward works okay too.
  2. Weigh or measure and mix the dry cake ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Peel and grate the apple, stir into the mixture. As soon as the oven is hot, pour the hot coffee over the mixture–just enough to make a thick cake-type batter–and whisk to combine until all ingredients are just mixed in. You may need just a little over 1 standard 10-oz. mug of coffee, but don’t swamp it. Squeeze about 1-2 t. lemon juice over (about 1/2 lemon) and make sure to pick out any seeds. Stir quickly to activate baking soda, pour into pan(s) immediately, and put them in the oven. If you use a half-sheet pan, the batter won’t reach the edges, but it will spread evenly and rise as it bakes.
  3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, checking progress toward the end without opening the door if possible. The cake layers should rise and smell good, but will probably collapse to flat layers when done and show light cracking on the surface. If you added matzah cake meal, they may stay up a bit sturdier than if you went with the all-almond meal version, which is softer.
  4. Remove from oven when done to your satisfaction and let cool completely. I would say also chill the pans in the fridge afterward for a bit to firm up before attempting to stack the layers with the apricot jam in between. They’re pretty soft compared to Duncan Hines cakes and may crack if you handle them while warm. If you used a large half-sheet pan and want to do a stacked 2-layer cake, you’ll need to cut the layer in half crosswise down through the foil and very gently slide the halves apart. This is kind of tricky to do without breaking or cracking them, so chill well before attempting it, and get a large flat server or two for support under whichever half you’re lifting out of the pan. The half-sheet is probably better just to frost as a single layer and serve in the pan—if so, make a double recipe of the ganache to spread on top.
  5. While they’re baking, or maybe cooling, make the ganache: Heat coffee to boiling, break up both chocolate bars in a microwaveable ceramic bowl (make sure there are no shreds of foil stuck to any of them!) and pour the coffee over them. Wait a few seconds, then start whisking with a fork or whisk. Add a heaping tablespoon of apricot fruit spread and keep stirring, then a heaping tablespoon of cocoa, and stir until thick and smooth. If it’s still runny after it incorporates fully, stick the bowl in the microwave for 30-60 s. on high and stir again. Let cool a bit.
  6. When the cake layers have cooled fully and firmed up, invert one carefully onto a serving plate, peel off the foil, mix the half-cup of apricot fruit spread with a squeeze or so of lemon juice, spread it on that layer, and carefully invert or lift out the second layer from its pan to stack on the first. If it cracks a bit, mold it back together gently–these layers are kind of like brownies. If you want a completely smooth top side for the ganache, put another serving plate over the stacked cake layers and carefully invert, then peel off the foil or parchment. Spread the ganache over the top and sides as desired. It’s a bit of juggling…

Tip: if you’ve waited a while, or overnight, and the ganache solidifies, you can microwave the bowl 30-60 s. and stir and it will become spreadable again.

Serve with fresh fruit and keep the slices to about 1/2 inch thick or your guests will need to take their stomachs home in a wheelbarrow. Especially after a seder meal.

Chag Sameach (Happy Passover) and B’te’avon (Bon appétit)!

3 Responses

  1. This sounds great! It sounds strange to bake without eggs, but it looks like you’ve managed so I might give it a try out of curiosity 🙂

    • Good luck with it! And eat small, small “therapeutic” pieces…(I know, what kind of cake recommendation is that?!) The only hard part, really, is handling the layers to stack them–definitely let them chill all the way to let them firm up a bit before you attempt to pick them up or invert on a plate or whatever, they’re a lot like brownies that way.

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