By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
On April 24th 2005, I had what would turn out to be my busiest day ever at my new shop, Bonnie’s Kitchen & Catering in Bloomfield, Mich. Why? A month earlier, I had moved the site of my first shop, Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield to a larger, grander space. That day, we were hopping with old and new customers, sightseers, and curious folks. What was this new food service all about?
Now compound that newness with the weeklong Passover holiday, which had just begun, and you’ve got a landslide of business. Cooking and baking specifically for the Passover holiday is an ordeal for many Jewish families. My shop was extra busy with orders especially on the years when Passover and Easter coincided on the calendar. Those celebrating Easter wanted cakes, too, so the demand was epic!
To celebrate Passover according to religious rules, you need to adhere to strict Kosher laws with a list of dos and don’ts. When baking for this holiday, no leavening agents–yeast, baking powder, or baking soda–are permitted. Also, traditional flour is avoided and replaced with unleavened matzo cake meal and cake flour. These ingredients become available in local grocery stores the month before Passover so that observers can begin their baking rituals.
For those of you unfamiliar with what this holiday means, Rabbi Faith Joy Dankowitz of Temple Emeth in Morgan Hill, Calif. explains it this way:
“Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. The Passover seder is a key part of observance and involves the retelling of the story along with infusing what freedom means to us today. During Passover, it is traditional to eat only unleavened bread as the ancient Israelites did not have time for their dough to rise in their rush to leave slavery. Passover desserts have evolved through the generations and the taste of freedom can be sweet!”
I might add, the “taste of freedom” for all of us is very sweet!
Often, Jewish bakeries offer sponge cakes with whisked egg whites folded into the batter as the leavening agent. One inherent problem with sponge cakes, however, is that they collapse easily if the baker is not careful. It’s not a good look!
Other common cakes are flourless chocolate cakes or brownies. These are fine, but, hey, let’s live a little and eat something more exciting! We had several popular show-stopping cakes at Bonnie’s Kitchen, such as Lemon Mousse Torte, Banana Nut Cake, Hungarian Walnut Torte with Glazed Strawberries, and Double Chocolate Mousse Pie.
One of the easiest cakes to make is Italian Almond Torte. This is technically a sponge cake but sturdier than most. The recipe goes back decades for me, to the time I found it reprinted in Gourmet magazine from the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. The Italians serve it as one layer dusted with confectioners’ sugar. That’s the basic, simple presentation.
However, this cake can be dressed up with more elaborate finishes. We used to stack one layer on top of the other, filling the center with fresh sliced strawberries and whipped cream. We’d then iced it with more cream and garnished it with strawberries.
If you are not that confident at decorating cakes (no easy feat if you can’t practice repeatedly), I recommend serving one layer, then topped with strawberries or raspberries glazed with currant jelly. A dollop of Chantilly cream on the side rounds out the dessert nicely. If you want to keep it really basic like the Italians, give it a nice dusting of confectioners’ sugar and call it a day!
Let us know here at The Insider what you decide to bake for Passover or Easter. Better yet, email a photo of the finished product to email@example.com so we can share it online! Happy holidays and good wishes for a non-collapsed sponge cake!
Italian Almond Torte
Yield: 10-12 Servings
4 lg. eggs, separated, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. finely ground almonds
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cake meal
12 oz. fresh raspberries
1/2 c. strawberry or currant jelly
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Optional: Chantilly cream on the side
Line the bottom of a 9” springform pan with a parchment round. Spray the pan with pan release. Reserve. Preheat oven to 350°.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and vanilla until light and lemony colored. Fold in the almonds and cake meal.
Whip the whites on high speed until soft peaks. Fold one third egg whites into batter. Fold in remaining egg whites. Empty into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool.
Put the jelly and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Melt over low until there are no more lumps. Bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute or until glazy.
Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Peel off the parchment round. Brush the cake with a thin layer of glaze. Arrange the raspberries in concentric circles beginning with the outside and working your way into the center.
Brush the glaze carefully on the berries, filling in the holes with glaze. Chill to set. Serve at room temperature with Chantilly cream if desired.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.