Leaven the seder with rich, luscious chocolate

Growing up in Southern California in the 1950s, I was lucky to celebrate a very traditional Passover with European relatives. To a thoroughly American child, Passover at Aunt Rose’s was lavish and as exotic as a feast in a foreign land. One year, Rose served an enormous platter of fresh fruit ices scooped into hollow citrus shells and pressed into wedges on sliced melon rinds. And there was a memorable bittersweet chocolate layer cake, the kind you linger over, as in a trance, licking the frosting from the fork.

Young as I was, I never imagined Passover could change. And that is how it is that I never thought to ask for Rose’s cake recipe. Now, when I think of Passover, I remember the food more than anything — except the pleasure of sharing the piano bench at the foot of the table with my favorite boy cousin, giggling and being teased throughout the service. I always went home wishing I had the appetite and time enough for more … of everything.

Absent the cake of memory, this luscious Gateau au Chocolat is a favorite choice for Passover. Meanwhile, anyone can (and should) lean to make perfect chocolate-dipped strawberries; they are irresistible and easier than you think. Both are from my book “A Year in Chocolate” (Warner Books, 2001).

Passover Gateau Au Chocolat | Serves 12-15
1/4 cup whole untoasted almonds
3 Tbs. matzah cake meal
9 oz. bittersweet (70 percent chocolate) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
16 Tbs. unsalted butter, or unsalted stick margarine, cut into pieces
6 large eggs, separated
zest of one medium orange
1/3 cup (packed) golden or light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
spoonful of cocoa or powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and matzah meal until the almonds are very finely ground. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small bowl placed in a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Or microwave on medium (50 percent) power for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Stir until smooth and completely melted.

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and orange zest with brown sugar, 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar and salt until pale and thick. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture. Set aside.

In a clean, dry mixer bowl, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they are white and foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar, beating at high speed until almost stiff. Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites and all of the almond mixture into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites.

Scrape the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep, and bake 30 to 35 minutes (or up to about 10 minutes less if you use a 70 percent bittersweet chocolate) or until a toothpick or wooden skewer plunged into the cake about 1½ inches from the edge of the cake comes out clean. The center of the cake will jiggle slightly when the pan is jostled and will still be gooey if tested.

Set the cake on a rack to cool completely. The surface will crack and fall as it cools.

Cake may be prepared to this point and kept, covered, at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to three months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Slide a slim knife around the sides of the cake to release it. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, right side up, to a serving platter. Sprinkle a little cocoa or powdered sugar over the top before serving.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
8 oz. chocolate (bittersweet, semisweet, milk or white), coarsely chopped; don’t use chocolate chips or morsels.
2 pints strawberries of mixed size or up to 3 dozen large stemmed berries

Line two cookie sheets, with wax or parchment paper.

Rinse the berries gently and spread to dry on a tray lined with paper towels. Refrigerate. Berries should be cold and as dry as possible before dipping. If necessary, use a cupped hand to cradle each berry gently in a soft dishtowel or paper towel to dry them completely.

Melt bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water, or in a microwave on 50 percent power. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

To melt white or milk chocolate in a double boiler or water bath, bring the water to a simmer and then remove from heat and wait 60 seconds before setting the container of chocolate directly into it (the water should touch the container of chocolate). Stir almost constantly. To melt in the microwave, use low (30 percent) power and stir frequently. Chocolate should be warm and fluid, not hot.

Transfer chocolate to a clean, dry, one-cup glass measure, or another container of similar shape.

Grasp a berry by the stem or the shoulders and dip it about two thirds of the way into the chocolate. Lift the berry above the chocolate and shake off the excess, letting it drip back into the cup. Wipe a little excess chocolate from one side of the berry very gently on the edge of the cup.

Set the berry on wax- or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, wiped side down, and slide it forward slightly to avoid a puddle forming at the tip. Refrigerate the berries as soon as the first tray is filled. Do not keep the berries for long at room temperature or the chocolate will turn dull and streaky.

Dip and refrigerate the remaining berries. Berries are ready to serve as soon as the chocolate is hardened. Leave them in the fridge until serving time.

Transfer each to a fluted paper cup if desired.

Alice Medrich, a guest columnist, is the founder of Cocolat, a former specialty bakery and dessert shop in Berkeley; a culinary consultant and teacher; and the author of numerous cookbooks, including “Bittersweet: Recipes for Today’s Better Chocolates.”


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