Passover Favorites

With Passover around the corner, the Jewish cooking frenzy has officially begun. Passover, which begins this year at sundown on Friday, April 15, is the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. Even people who never step inside a synagogue will knock themselves out for this one.
   I asked Julie Ghodsi, owner with her husband, Shahrokh, of Golden Dreidle on El Camino Real in Tustin, “I’ve read that more Jewish cookbooks are sold before Passover than at any other time of year, including Hanukkah. Is that true?”
   “A hundred percent true,” she said. “I sell the majority of my cookbooks at Passover time. At this time of year people are looking for Passover recipes, but also for hostess gifts. Sometimes they’ll buy two copies of the same cookbook.”
   With so many cookbooks to choose from, I sat down with Julie to check out her favorites. “All Paula Shoyer’s cookbooks continue to sell well,” she told me. “In fact, ‘The New Passover Menu’ (Sterling Epicure, $24.95) is sold out right now. I’m waiting for my shipment. It has beautiful pictures, and the layout is lovely.”
   Of course, talking about Passover, we quickly turned to desserts, the greatest challenge for this holiday that forbids flour and leavening. “We love making Passover desserts,” Julie noted. “In fact, I started specializing in Passover cookbooks because I didn’t want my kids to say, ‘Passover desserts – eeww!’ They had to bring extras for lunch, because all the other kids would mooch what was in their lunch boxes.”
   Shoyer, a graduate of the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris and widely known for her previous baking books, “The Kosher Baker” and “The Holiday Kosher Baker,” has provided a variety of Passover choices in this book, including Triple Chocolate Biscotti, Pistachio and Strawberry Roll, Pear Frangipane Tart, and Opera Cake, the famous French chocolate and coffee dessert that you see in the windows of every pastry shop in France and Switzerland. “This dessert is usually made with French cooked butter cream and has four parts to it,” Shoyer noted. “I have spent years working on this recipe to streamline it and yet keep the tastes I love. This is a light hazelnut cake with deep coffee and chocolate flavors.”
   The cookbook is dedicated to “all the kosher baker fans who asked me to write a cookbook of savory recipes,” and Shoyer proves up to the task with an updated and global menu, including Peruvian Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde, Moroccan Spiced Short Ribs and today’s feature, Coconut Schnitzel with Almond Butter Sauce.
    Susie Fishbein, the wildly popular author of the Kosher by Design series, continues to be the “rock star” of the kosher cooking world. “All her cookbooks sell well. She even has her own shelf!” Julie told me. “Her books are so beautifully photographed. My daughter makes the Giant Zebra Fudge Cookies from Suzie’s ‘Passover by Design’ (Artscroll, $26.99). There’s nothing about this cookie that says Passover. I can sell this cookbook based on this recipe alone.”
   Next Julie showed me her own dog-eared copy of “Dining in on Pesach” by Yeshiva Masores Avos (Judaica Press, $32.95), one of her favorites. “It has the biggest selection of sides, 19 kugels alone. With so many savory kugels, it’s great if you have a vegetarian coming. I like this book because the recipes are so easy and well explained. I use this cookbook all year long. That’s how you know a Passover cookbook is a good cookbook.”
   Julie also chose “Perfect for Pesach” (Mesorah Publications, $26.99) by chef, caterer and radio personality Naomi Nachman with over 125 easy-to-follow, innovative recipes from Nachman’s years of experience catering Passover dinners, including Hawaiian Poke, Chimichurri Coleslaw and Tequila Lime Chicken.
    “’A Taste of Pesach’ (Shaar Press, $26.99) is a bit more upscale,” she said. “It comes in two editions and sells well.” The set began as a fundraising project for Yeshiva Me’On Hatorah. With scores of contributors sharing their best Passover recipes, you’ll find traditional favorites as well as modern innovations from gefilte fish to sushi-style seared tuna with avocado and spicy mayo. The Passover Tiramisu makes an easy, but showy sweet ending to your holiday meal.   
  Golden Dreidle, Orange County’s one and only Judaica store, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. You’ll find everything for the holiday from Seder plates to toys and games, even matzo-printed baby bibs, plus ketubas, tallit and mezzuzot. The magnificent vertical Seder plates by Michael Aram especially caught my eye. “There are Kiddush cups to match,” Julie pointed out. “He keeps adding Judaica in the most beautiful way.” See for more ideas.
   “We love Tustin,” she said. “It’s very hamish – the community is wonderful to us. With so many Judaica stores across the country dropping like flies, we’re so grateful.”   

Opera Cake

Make the ganache first so that it firms up a bit while the cake is baking.

For Ganache

1 pound) bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

1 cup almond milk or whipping cream

3 tablespoons strong brewed coffee or espresso

For Hazelnut Cake

6 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar

11/3 cups ground hazelnuts

2/3 cup potato starch

4 teaspoons vegetable oil

For Coffee Syrup

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

2 tablespoons strong coffee or espresso

1. Ganache: Melt chocolate either over double boiler or in microwave. Heat almond milk until hot but not boiling. Add to chocolate mixture a little at a time, whisking well after each addition. It will get very thick but will smooth out as you add more almond milk.

2. Divide ganache between two bowls, putting 2/3 in 1 bowl and 1/3 in the other. Cover and refrigerate bowl containing 1/3. Into bowl containing 2/3 of ganache, add coffee and whisk well. Cover and refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes, or until ganache thickens to a spreadable, not pourable, consistency. If the coffee-flavored ganache is not thick enough, when you are ready to assemble cake, put bowl in freezer for 5 to 10 minutes and then whisk. If ganache gets too hard, heat in microwave oven a few seconds and whisk until smooth.

3. Cake: Preheat oven to 375°F. Trim a piece of parchment paper to fit perfectly flat in bottom of 12 x 16-inch jelly roll pan.

  1. In large bowl, use electric mixer to beat egg whites on high speed until stiff. Reduce speed to low, add granulated sugar, and beat 30 seconds. Transfer beaten whites to separate medium bowl. Into bowl you used to beat whites, place confectioners’ sugar, ground hazelnuts, egg yolks, potato starch, and oil and beat 1 minute on medium speed. (Mixture will be dry.)
  2. Add half of beaten egg whites and mix well on medium speed for 30 seconds to combine. Scrape down sides of bowl with silicone spatula. Whisk in remaining whites in two parts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Use offset spatula to spread batter as evenly as possible in prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
  3. Coffee syrup: In small saucepan, bring sugar, water, and coffee to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let syrup sit until ready for use. May be made up to 5 days in advance and stored, covered, at room temperature.
  4. To assemble: Run knife around edges of cake pan. Cover pan with a piece of parchment paper and cooling rack, and flip cake over onto parchment and rack. Peel off parchment on bottom of cake. Measure midpoint on long side of cake and cut cake in half to make two 6 x 8-inch rectangles. Place 1/2 on small cookie sheet lined with parchment, with bottom of cake facing up. Use a pastry brush to moisten every part of cake with coffee syrup. Use spatula to spread chocolate ganache evenly on top of cake all the way to edges. Place other cake half on top. Brush with syrup. Spread coffee-flavored ganache on top, reserving about 2 tablespoons to decorate cakes later, if desired. Heat metal spatula under boiling water. Dry spatula and use it to smooth top of cake. Place cake in freezer until ready to serve. Put any extra ganache into small bowl and refrigerate it until ready to decorate slices.
  5. To serve: Trim 1/4 inch from all sides of cake to even them out. Eat the trimmings. Heat a knife with hot water to cut cake into rectangles. Clean and reheat the knife between slices to get perfect slices. Decorate slices, if desired. Warm reserved coffee ganache slightly to make it spreadable. Put it into pastry bag with any shape tip you choose and pipe designs on top of each slice. You may add a coffee bean to the decor. If you do not have a pastry bag, to create some texture on the tops, heat the ganache to thin it, and then use a fork to drizzle chocolate lines or swirls over slices. Store in fridge.

Source: “The New Passover Menu” by Paula Shoyer

Coconut Schnitzel with Almond Butter Sauce

Almond butter, like peanut butter, is a great pareve ingredient.

Yield: 8 servings

For the Sauce

½ cup almond butter

¾ cup boiling water

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and black pepper

For the Chicken

1½–2 pounds chicken, cut scaloppini style

½ cup matzo cake meal or potato starch

3 large eggs, beaten

¾ cup matzo meal, Passover crumbs, or Passover panko

1 cup dried coconut flakes (not shredded coconut), untoasted

2 teaspoons garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed

1. Sauce: In medium bowl or 2-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk butter and boiling water until smooth. Add garlic, vinegar, red onion, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste, and whisk well. May be made 3 days in advance; cover and store in fridge. Serve at room temperature.

2. Chicken:  Preheat oven to 300°F.

3. Place cake meal in 1 shallow bowl and eggs in second shallow bowl. In third shallow bowl, mix matzo meal, coconut flakes, garlic powder, salt, and pepper until well combined.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Dip both sides of each piece of chicken into cake meal, then into beaten eggs and, finally, into coconut breading. Working in batches, cook each piece of chicken 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until golden. (Pieces do not need to be completely cooked through.) Do not crowd pan. Remove each browned piece to baking sheet. When pan seems dry, add remaining tablespoon oil, plus more if needed. When all the chicken has been cooked, place in oven for 10 minutes. Serve chicken with almond butter sauce on the side.

Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at


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