NEW YORK — To express joy at Rosh Hashanah, people usually serve their finest food. But people in kosher households can feel stress when they contemplate ending the meal with a flourish.
Without butter or cream, is it possible to create dazzling desserts?
In an attempt to have luscious cakes and meat dishes too, many kosher bakers substitute ingredients, often with disappointing results.
"The stuff never tastes right," said caterer and recipe developer Lynn Kutner, disparaging the use of margarine and artificial creams. The author of "A Pocketful of Pies and Bountiful Bread," she proves that pareve cakes can be sensational. Her secret: natural ingredients.
Kutner learned to cook from her Russian grandmother, who knew nothing about non-dairy creams or processed foods. She embraced kashrut with love, finding inspiration in its tenets.
"My grandmother was such a fabulous cook, in a way that this generation has lost," said Kutner. "It would have been bizarre for her to use fake cream, because cream doesn't belong with meat. It's almost like trying to fool God."
A teacher of Jewish cooking and baking at The New School's Culinary Arts program in Manhattan, Kutner tells students that if a recipe calls for cream, save that dish for dairy meals. If a recipe calls for butter, don't replace it with margarine.
"The problem with cakes made from margarine and fake cream is that they taste dense and heavy," said Kutner.
Instead of margarine, Kutner's shortening of choice is sunflower oil. During her frequent travels to France, where patisseries are renowned, she discovered that the French favor sunflower oil in baking.
Lamenting that sunflower oil is expensive and sometimes hard to find in America, Kutner also recommends corn, vegetable or soybean oils instead. Peanut oil is fine, if people don't mind its nutty taste.
Kutner discourages using canola oil in baking, because Canadian farmers fertilize canola with fishmeal, which imparts a fishy odor. She avoids cottonseed oil, too. Grown as a fiber crop, cotton is sprayed with pesticides that are not treated when the seeds are culled for food.
As a healthy alternative, she offers an apple cake that was an invention of her Grandma Fanny's. Instead of worrying about what foods kashrut forbid, her grandmother focused on the world of possibilities it offered. She infused this cake with frozen orange juice concentrate.
"You sense such strong flavor, you think it's loaded with butter," said Kutner, who learned to invent recipes, too.
Her honey chiffon spice cake is moistened by coffee instead of milk. Her chocolate-nut-spice torte is made from matzah meal and is perfect at Passover, too. For bittersweet flavor, Kutner recommends Elite chocolate, a kosher-for-Passover product from Israel with a heavy cocoa butter content.
Her recipes require separating eggs and saving some of the sugar for beating into egg whites, which gives them stability.
"When you throw the entire amount of sugar into the yolks, they become heavy," said Kutner, explaining why some pareve cakes rise poorly.
Reminiscing about helping her grandmother prepare for the High Holy Days, Kutner recalls getting off the bus in Brooklyn a block from her house and smelling an irresistible aroma from the oven.
Today when she teaches, Kutner always imparts her grandmother's advice: "Never try to trick kashrut. A good kosher cake can compete with the best baking in the world."
Serves 8 to 10
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
3 extra large eggs, separated
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1-3/4 pounds apples
1/3 cup sugar mixed with 2 tsp. cinnamon
Setting the rack in middle position, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with vegetable shortening, placing it on a cookie sheet.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve. Beat 3/4 cup of sugar into yolks. Beat in juice, oil and vanilla. Reserve.
Peel, core and slice apples. Sprinkle with one tsp. of cinnamon sugar.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Continue beating while adding 1/4 cup of sugar, until very stiff.
Stir flour mixture into juice mixture. Fold in one-quarter of the egg whites. Turn this batter into remaining egg whites, folding quickly but gently.
Add one-third of batter to springform pan. Spread on one-third of apple slices. Sprinkle with one-third of cinnamon sugar. Continue layering. Bake about 55 to 65 minutes. Lightly cover pan with foil after 30 minutes. Cool in pan.