Organizing Theory & Artistry

My Adventures in Passover Cooking

Mmmm....the tempting Passover dessert.
Mmmm….the tempting Passover dessert.

It was just before Easter and I was browsing The Washington Post when I came across an interesting photo slide show of Passover foods. For some reason, I was drawn to these foods. I knew that the cooks who made them were making the best of a tough cooking situation where their ingredient combinations were limited. The matzoh recipes in particular reminded me of a great southern cookbook I picked up while road-tripping through Tennessee that has numerous recipes for making desserts out of soda crackers. A truly good cook can take any ingredients and make them delicious.

The two recipes that caught my eye from the list were the matzoh lasagna and the lemon layer cake. I loved the write-up next to the matzoh lasagna where the woman said that growing up she though that lasagna was supposed to be made from matzoh because that was the only kind she ever knew.

Now, I know almost nothing about the kosher and dietary rules for Passover. From what I understand, there are two big rules:

1. Any wheat/flour used must be sanctioned Passover wheat/matzoh and no yeast can be used to make bread.

2. You cannot combine dairy ingredients (milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, etc.) with meat. So if you plan to serve any meat at your meal, you have to make a dairy-free dessert or make your guests wait 6 hours after eating meat before serving a dairy-containing dessert. (Note to self: if I ever have to cook a Passover meal for anyone, it will be vegetarian for simplicity!)

Matzoh Lasagna

The super-simple ingredients for matzoh lasagna.
The super-simple ingredients for matzoh lasagna.

This recipe is super-easy to make, requires no specialty ingredients other than matzoh and is vegetarian and relatively low-calorie too! I easily found the matzoh at the grocery store. While perusing the kosher section, I noticed that an even better choice for matzoh would have been the whole wheat matzoh version (which was sold out).

First, you soak the matzoh briefly in very hot or boiling water.  I thought it would fall apart immediately but you have at least 15-20 seconds before it gets too soggy.  The water helps you to slice the matzoh into pieces to fit your pan.
First, you soak the matzoh briefly in very hot or boiling water. I thought it would fall apart immediately but you have at least 15-20 seconds before it gets too soggy. The water helps you to slice the matzoh into pieces to fit your pan.
Layer 1: Matzoh
Layer 1: Matzoh
Layer 2: cottage cheese
Layer 2: cottage cheese
Layer 3: sauce
Layer 3: sauce
Layer 4: cheese (applied by an enthusiastic helper)
Layer 4: cheese (applied by an enthusiastic helper)
Repeat the layers about 3 times until done.
Repeat the layers about 3 times until done.
Lasagna after baking.
Lasagna after baking.

My children thought the lasagna smelled delicious while we were assembling it and while it was baking. They said it smelled like cheese pizza! It did! The taste of this lasagna is actually really good! The matzoh is a great substitute for noodles. I really enjoyed it and so did all of my children! The only thing I would do differently next time is to add some greens (spinach? collard greens?) to give it a little more vegetable flavor and nutrition.

My son REALLY liked the lasagna.  He climbed up to the counter to spoon his own second helping and ate it right off the spatula!
My son REALLY liked the lasagna. He climbed up to the counter to spoon his own second helping and ate it right off the spatula!

While the lasagna was OK the next day, it does lose something in consistency. This is a dish that is best prepared and served the same day. It is so easy, though that it should not be a problem.

Lemon Layer Cake

The shopping list for this cake was a little confusing. It asked for things like matzoh cake meal and potato starch. Fortunately, matzoh cake meal was a standard item in our local grocery store. Potato starch was not so I had to substitute corn starch. I also could not find the pareve margarine and pareve whipping cream the recipe called for so I used standard margarine and whipping cream. As I understand, all of the recipe ingredients are special-versions of these items, perhaps made from various chemicals, to simulate these ingredients in a Passover-friendly way. The version of this cake I ended up making would not meet Passover standards but if the Passover version is even half as good as my version, it would be well worth your time to special order these ingredients.

First step, mixing the matzoh cake meal batter.  The recipe calls for only a tiny amount of the cake meal.
First step, mixing the matzoh cake meal batter. The recipe calls for only a tiny amount of the cake meal.
The batter after mixing in the corn starch and matzoh cake meal.
The batter after mixing in the corn starch and matzoh cake meal.
Whipping up the egg whites for the cake batter.
Whipping up the egg whites for the cake batter.
The meringue-like cake batter just before baking.
The meringue-like cake batter just before baking.
The cake after baking.  I used a slightly larger cake pan than the recipe called for so I shortened the cooking time by 10 minutes.
The cake after baking. I used a slightly larger cake pan than the recipe called for so I shortened the cooking time by 10 minutes.

At this point I started reading the rest of the recipe and had a momentary feeling that I was in completely over my head. The recipe wanted me to do all sorts of cooking things I had never done before. But, since I had the cake part done at this point, I figured I would proceed and if nothing else, it would make a humorous disaster story for you, my loyal blog readers.

The first challenge: slicing the cake into layers.  I was supposed to do 3 layers but my cake was only about 3/4" tall to begin with so I settled on just slicing it in half.
The first challenge: slicing the cake into layers. I was supposed to do 3 layers but my cake was only about 3/4″ tall to begin with so I settled on just slicing it in half.

Next, it was time to start making the lemon cream. When I looked at the ingredients for this (lots of eggs, some lemon juice, sugar, margarine) I wasn’t sure how this was supposed to make a “cream” or even anything lemon-tasting.

The lemon cream starts off looking like this.  It sits on top of a double-boiler and stirred occasionally for about 25 minutes.
The lemon cream starts off looking like this. It sits on top of a double-boiler and stirred occasionally for about 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, you have this sinfully delicious lemon cream that you put in a bowl of ice to cool it down.
After 25 minutes, you have this sinfully delicious lemon cream that you put in a bowl of ice to cool it down.

The lemon cream is too delicious for words! It is far superior to the lemon gel in any danish I have ever eaten and better than any lemon bar. It is creamy and lemony and simply perfect! This part of the recipe alone is worth trying.

Assembling the cake: spreading the lemon cream between the layers.
Assembling the cake: spreading the lemon cream between the layers.
After the lemon cream is spread between the layers, you mix the remaining lemon cream with whipping cream and frost the cake with it.  There was something about this lemon "frosting" that was irresistible to young fingers.
After the lemon cream is spread between the layers, you mix the remaining lemon cream with whipping cream and frost the cake with it. There was something about this lemon “frosting” that was irresistible to young fingers.
The recipe had details about how to frost the cake specifically but I didn't have time to follow all of them.  I kind of glopped the lemon frosting on and put some frozen fruit on top.  It still looked very pretty.  Gourmet even!
The recipe had details about how to frost the cake specifically but I didn’t have time to follow all of them. I kind of glopped the lemon frosting on and put some frozen fruit on top. It still looked very pretty. Gourmet even!
Delectable!  The sliced layer view!
Delectable! The sliced layer view!

This cake was awesome! It is the best cake I have probably ever made and may be my current favorite cake! I loved the texture of the cake. It was stiffer than regular cake but reminded me of the ladyfingers they use in tiramisu. The lemon cream is amazing! Even the frozen strawberries were a perfect pairing with the lemon. And for a cake, it is pretty low calorie because it has almost no flour in it. Everyone should try this cake! I plan to make one for myself for my birthday. It would be a wonderful and refreshing cake for a summer party as well.

Because the lemon “frosting” is so light and might slide off the cake at warmer temperatures, we stored the cake in the freezer so that it behaved more like frosting. I limited myself to eat only one small slice a day until it was gone. My husband and I adored this cake.

Despite the initial interest in the frosting, none of the children cared for the cake! They thought the lemon flavor was too strong. Great! More for us!

So, our Passover cooking (flawed as it was) was a great success and a lot of delicious fun! My children got a cultural lesson out of the experience as well.

Have you ever cooked for Passover or tried any of the above recipes? Please share in the comments.