Like many bakers, I have recipes in my repertoire that I reserve for certain holidays. As my children gobble up rugelach during Hanukkah, they wonder why I never make these delicious cookies in January or May. After enjoying buttery slices of Irish soda bread on St. Patrick's Day, my husband tells me I really should put his favorite quick bread into the regular rotation.
I can't say I ever got the same enthusiastic response to the marble sponge cake I used to make for Passover, which this year begins at sundown Friday. My relatives looked forward to enjoying family favorites including chopped liver and gefilte fish, but they spoke about my bland and dry-as-dust cake, when they mentioned it at all, with resignation and even dread.
Once I realized that the supermarket marshmallow twists and jelly rings were more popular than my cake, I decided to change course.
Instead of baking unexciting, if traditional, Passover cakes, I started to look for flourless desserts that were so good they were enjoyed year-round by diners of every faith. This year, I've found inspiration from around the world.
Coconut rice pudding has refreshing Asian flavors and no dairy, so it can be served at any Sephardic table. Greek-style sesame and honey candy is simple to make and satisfyingly chewy.
For a kosher-for-Passover cobbler, crumble some almond meringue over a fruit filling thickened with potato starch. In early spring, I use frozen fruit, but this dessert is so good I'll make it with fresh fruit in August.
Peach-blueberry cobbler with almond meringue topping
2 large egg whites
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon kosher-for-Passover vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peaches
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen blueberries
1⁄3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons potato starch
To make topping: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium until frothy, about 30 seconds. Turn speed to high and pour sugar into bowl in a slow, steady stream. Continue to beat until egg whites are stiff and shiny. Fold in almonds, vanilla and salt, being careful not to deflate meringue.
Spread meringue into a 7-inch square on prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and beginning to color, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheet.
To make filling: Turn oven up to 375 degrees. Combine peaches, blueberries, sugar and potato starch in a large bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Scrape into an 8-inch-square baking pan, cover pan with foil, and bake until fruit is hot and bubbling and has released its juices, 30 to 35 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, remove foil and gently stir fruit. Crumble meringue topping over fruit, return to oven and bake until topping is browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
If you follow the Sephardic tradition (Ashkenazi Jews don't eat rice during Passover), you can enjoy this dairy-free and delicious rice pudding at your seder.
Coconut-ginger rice pudding
½ cup arborio rice
2 (13.66-ounce) cans lite coconut milk
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
½ mango, peeled, pitted and cut into ¼-inch dice, plus extra for garnish
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachio nuts
Combine rice, coconut milk, ½ cup sugar, ginger and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
While rice is cooking, combine mango, lime juice and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Set aside.
Scrape pudding into a large bowl, cover and set aside to cool to room temperature. Spoon into dessert goblets, top with some mango, sprinkle with pistachios and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
This mixture is very sticky, so don't forget to grease the foil before you pour it into your pan. Organic, unhulled sesame seeds from the natural-foods store will give you the best flavor.
Sesame and honey candy
1 cup honey
1¼ cups sesame seeds
½ teaspoon salt
Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Coat bottom and sides with non-stick cooking spray. Fill a larger pan with ice water.
Place honey, sesame seeds and salt in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until honey is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook.
Pour mixture into prepared pan. Set pan on top of ice water and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
Lift foil from pan and peel foil from candy. Place candy on a cutting board and cut into 1½ -inch diamonds with a sharp chef's knife. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve, as long as 2 weeks.
Makes about ½ pound candy.