Passover comes and goes each year and I usually don’t pay much attention. We would have our own, eager version of Pesach every year growing up – passing the book around the table, dutifully serving matzoh, finding the afikoman. Even though we were never the family to keep kosher or even pretend to care, I never really liked the traditional food.
Besides the canedelach (matzoh ball soup), nothing was really worth getting excited for. (When chicken soup with matzoh-flour dumplings are the most exciting thing on the table, things aren’t looking good.) The haroset, a mixture of grated apples, nuts and spices, sounds delicious but really isn’t. And don’t even get me started on the bitter herbs.
So imagine my delight when I was asked to supply dessert for a seder we’ve been invited to this year. First of all, this will be my first Passover seder at someone else’s house and Francesco’s first Passover ever. And I’m a little nervous for the both of us. I’m not sure he even knows what Passover is all about. I should probably warn him that he’ll have to wait in between each glass of wine. If left to our own devices, Francesco and I would skip Passover altogether and continue to plan our epic Easter feast. (Sorry, mom.) Once tapeworm arrives, things may change. But for now, I will avoid maztoh for as long as I can.
As my roots are more or less not Eastern European, and my mother is adamantly opposed to anything even resembling reconstituted fish, I’ve been spared Passover staples like gefilte fish and maztoh brei. To their credit, my parents always tried their hardest to make Passover palatable. This was usually achieved by lots of wine, some homemade liver pate to liven up the maztoh, and a very colorful reading of the Passover book. (Sorry again, mom, I don’t know what it’s called.) This year, they tell me they’re planning to stuff a leg of lamb with squash puree and sauteed spinach. They’re just trying to up the ante and give my relatives no excuse (gefilte fish) to not show up. As far as dessert was concerned, when the kids turned their noses up at the haroset, my parents would send us off to the ice cream shop with money in our pockets and tell us to bring something back for everyone.
As my acquaintance with specifically kosher-for-passover desserts is pretty much non-existent, my mind flitted to that beast of a flourless chocolate cake I made a few months ago. But I decided against using up the entire supply of chocolate in the Southern Hemisphere. So I asked my mother what I should make. She suggested macaroons, which is exactly what I thought she’d say. That woman will eat anything even resembling a macaroon, especially if it’s dipped in chocolate.
So macaroons it would be. They’re traditional, don’t require any yeast or grains or leavening or dairy, are a cinch to make and a delight to eat. I finally settled on a recipe that looked too good not to try (I already had all the ingredients in the pantry), and, just a little while later, I was biting into what is probably the best macaroon I’ve ever had.
I should say that my macaroons looked almost nothing like the pictures on the wonderful website I followed (which, should you be in need, has lots more Passover-friendly desserts). Her macaroons were pale and pyramid shaped, with just a glow of baked goodness. Mine look more like little balls of hay, dirt and mud all mixed together then dipped in chocolate. But while the aesthetics may be lacking, what matters – the taste – is all there. They are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and not too sweet. The only change I made was swapping maple extract for the vanilla. I think it gives them a nice, nutty flavor.
Now that I know what we’ll be having for dessert on Passover, now I just need to psyche myself up for the rest of the meal. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be seeing a recipe for gefilte fish up here soon. Then again, probably not.
The best macaroons ever? Judge for yourself. Definitely a fine way to end any Passover seder. Adapted from this recipe from Pamela Salzman at pamelasalzman.com, which she adapted from David Lebovitz. Makes about 36 cookies and can be made up to a week ahead if stored in the fridge.
2 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon raw honey or maple syrup
¼ cup almond meal (or, if Kosher is not your thing, flour)
½ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla (or maple or almond) extract
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional, this is for dipping)
In a large bowl, combine coconut, sugar, honey, almond meal, salt, egg whites and extract (all the ingredients except the chocolate) and mix well with a wooden spoon. Take a large skillet and pour the mixture in. Place over medium-low heat on the stove, and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. When the mixture just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, almost about to scorch, remove from the heat. The mixture should be sticky, not dry and pasty.
Transfer back to the bowl you used to mix everything and let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the dough for up to one week or freeze up to one month.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop or your hands, form the dough into little mounds and space them evenly on the prepared pans. Shape them into little pyramids, if desired. (Mine were far too sticky for this.) Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.
If you’re like my mother and can’t resist anything dipped in chocolate, melt some chocolate in a heat -proof (metal) bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, aka a double boiler. Dip the cooled macaroons in chocolate (wherever you like — tops, bottoms, sides) and allow to cool completely on cooling rack or on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you dipped the bottoms.
To store, put in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to a week or freezer for I don’t know how long. Probably not very long once you taste one. They’ll be gone before you have time to pack up and head for the dessert. (Ha. I know, not funny.)