Hold the sponge cake! New desserts beckon

I was in the process of mentally completing my Passover menu, deciding that my Nine-Egg Sponge Cake needed a vacation this year, when I received an email from j. asking if I would review a new Passover cookbook.

“Send it ASAP,” I replied, hoping it had some new, fresh ideas for my seder. “Passover Cookery” by Joan Kekst arrived two days later. Kekst, a food columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, begins with an overview of Passover cooking, customs, the seder plate and traditional foods.

The rest of the book is organized by course, from first to dessert. My appetite was whetted with recipes for halibut wrapped in romaine, Cornish hens in plum sauce and Persian chicken with dates and almonds. But it was the final chapters that offered solutions for my dessert course.

The requisite sponge cake was followed by Passover desserts that sound light and luscious: raspberry poached pears, lemon squares and a Passover pie crust.

I’m sure my sponge cake will never be missed. Although I have not yet tried any of these, they are well written and easy to follow. And speaking of desserts, I wish all of you a sweet Pesach.

Matzah Meal Pie Crust | Serves 8-10

1/4 cup parve margarine
2 Tbs. sugar
pinch salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup matzah meal
1 tsp. potato starch
1/2 cup ground walnuts
2 Tbs. red Passover wine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9- or 10-inch pie plate.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream margarine, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Slowly add matzah meal, potato starch and walnuts. Add enough wine to bind the mixture. Press into pie plate with fingers or a wooden spoon.
Bake in center of oven 10-12 minutes. Cool. Fill as desired. Store in refrigerator.

Raspberry Poached Pears | Serves 8

1 1/4 cups sugar
4 long strips lemon zest
1 8 oz. package frozen

8 firm but ripe pears
fresh mint leaves for garnish
1/2 pint raspberries, picked over
In a large saucepan that holds pears in a single layer, bring sugar and 4 cups water to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, add lemon zest and simmer 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, puree frozen raspberries in processor. Press through fine sieve to remove seeds. Stir into the syrup and remove from heat. Can be made a day in advance and chilled.
Peel pears and remove core through base with a vegetable peeler. Bring syrup to a simmer and add pears. Cook, turning several times for about 30 minutes, until still tender but firm.
Transfer to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce syrup by one-third and strain over pears. Chill. Garnish with fresh mint and fresh raspberries.

Lemon Squares | Makes 16

1/2 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. orange juice
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
4 Tbs. sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square pan with vegetable spray.
Sift cake meal, potato starch and salt together, set aside. In a large bowl of electric mixer, beat oil and sugar together for three minutes. Add lemon zest and sifted dry ingredients alternately with lemon and orange juice. Stir in chopped walnuts with a wooden spoon.
In another bowl, beat egg whites until softly peaked. Fold into lemon mixture and blend well. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes until set.
While hot, cut into 2-inch squares. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Cool completely.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].