This excerpt from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking has been reprinted with permission from the author. The book will be available in September, 1998, from Doubleday.

"Kosher For Passover"
Stocking Up the Passover Baking Pantry

By Marcy Goldman

"The day I see `Kosher-for-Pesach' white sliced bread, then I will know the messiah has arrived"
- A Conservative Rabbi

Used to be, Passover baking ingredients were pretty slim pickings - chocolate and nuts and those citrus jellies and coconut embalmed marshmallows. Recipes for Passover reflected the simple ingredients - matzoh meal or potato starch based sponge cakes accounted for most cookbook offerings. A couple of weeks before Passover stores that feature kosher products for their clientele will usually dedicate whole displays, in some cases, at least in major centres, whole aisles of products that are "kosher-for- Passover". I have even seen "Passover" warehouses, chock full of interesting "Pesach" products. These are specialty kosher products that are manufactured for this unique holiday. But even dairies in major centres, will relabel their milk and cream products with the "special for Passover" label in deference to their Jewish customers.

These days, there is very little you cannot obtain. One of the nicest evolutions in this market are the many new baking products - such as brown sugar, cocoa, Passover vanilla sugar, Passover confectioners sugar, and Passover unsalted margarine that have made baking for Passover that much easier.

Before you begin baking for Passover, it is wise to stock up with your "foundation" ingredients. You don't want to run out in the middle of baking to get an item. Here is a list of "must haves" for the holidays. Some of these items seem self-evident (such as nuts and chocolate) but others are equally important and helpful.

Vanilla, since it is an extract made with alcohol, a fermented substance, is generally not recommended on Passover. Artificial vanilla powder mixed with sugar is now widely available. It comes in packets or envelopes of better yet, 12 ounce tubs that have a little measuring spoon inside. "Kosher-for-Passover" Vanilla Powder or Vanilla Sugar does not compare at all to real, pure vanilla BUT....... it is an approved and oh-so-helpful ingredient for Passover. Look for brands such as Haddar, Lieber's, Rokeach, or Itkowitz (check sources in back of book). If you have any vanilla sugar leftover after Passover passes, you can add it to your regular sugar jar. Serve the vanilla scented sugar with that special mug of coffee. There is also almond and rum extract for Passover. You can add these where ever you like. However, they are less widely available and can be omitted if you do not have them. If you choose, a substitution of one teaspoon regular pure vanilla extract would replace the one to two tablespoons "Passover Vanilla Powder" referred to in this recipe collection.

When it is not Passover, a "non dairy" or "pareve" fat can be either regular "pareve" margarine or good old Crisco, or any other brand of a non animal fat or neutral shortening you may prefer. At Passover, look for an unsalted or sweet margarine. I recommend Migdal's brand because it has the most innocuous taste in baked goods. Some unsalted Passover margarines are just unacceptable in taste and are to be avoided. If the item you are making is not being served with a Seder meal, certainly, you can replace the margarine with unsalted butter. One thing is certain, do not use a salted, whipped margarine for baking with. Results will not be good. Depending on what you are serving or what you needs are, you may not require a non-dairy fat in your Passover baking. In this case, feel free to substitute unsalted butter for the unsalted Passover margarine. This is particularly good advice in the case of during-the-week of Passover inbetween meal treats such as cookies and brownies. When you can, use less processed products.

Passover baking powder and Passover Baking Soda? My grandmothers would have had kittens! It seems to fly in the face of what Passover symbolizes. Technically, however, it is leavened goods that are the result of fermentation (as with yeast baking) that are forbidden on Passover. If you are not sure, ask a rabbi - there are many written debates on whether or not "Passover baking powder and baking soda" should be permitted. Baking soda, and baking powder are chemical leaveners so they are not in the regular category of "leaven" goods, if one is going to abide by technicalities. Also, Passover baking powder is made without cornstarch, a carrier in baking powder products, so there is no dispute there. HOWEVER...... my personal feeling is that I can appreciate whipped egg whites to aerate my Passover cakes but somehow once baking soda and baking powder, even okay-for- Passover ones, are introduced, the spirit of the holiday is compromised (never mind that all the big kosher packaged goods companies include these leaveners in their cookies and cakes - just check the ingredient list). Passover cakes that use these products, even though they have no regular flour, approach regular baking, at least in style. Incidentally, if you have always wondered why these packaged items "taste almost normal" it is because they are using these leaveners. In any case, I have not included these them.

This product is more recent and is a combination of potato starch and sugar, pulverized into a state that resembles regular confectioner's sugar. If you require a glaze, you can use this product along with some liquid, such as water, coffee, or orange juice. For a frosting consistency, use it as you would regular confectioners' sugar, with unsalted margarine or butter, and a touch of liquid to make a whipped icing. I have found this product in one pound canisters.

When it is not Passover, a more typical starch would be cornstarch. But this corn and corn products (i.e. corn starch, corn syrup) are on the "no" list, potato starch is what Passover recipes rely on for to add a bit of tenderness to baked goods.

A ground up matzoh product used in Passover cake baking. There are many brands to choose from but most are about the same.

A finer granulation of matzoh meal, this sandy fine powder is used in most cakes. It works best in combination with matzoh meal and potato starch for the most optimal balance (all things considered) between body and tenderness in the finished cake. Many brands are available, but some brands are finer granulation than others. A medium granulation works better as it tends to dry out a cake less than a fine granulation.

A more recent addition to the Passover line, brown sugar adds much needed extra flavor to Passover cakes. Great in Passover Spice Sponge Cakes, cookies, and squares. Maple table syrup is also available and this is another sweetener that offers a unique flavor along with its sweetening power.

Ground nuts are used in many Passover cakes to replace the flour and work with matzoh meal and cake meal to give the cake flavor. They are often the starring flavor and character if the cake. So stock up on all your favorites: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts. Most important, make sure they are fresh, fresh, fresh. Rancid nuts will destroy a cake (and never assume they are fresh - taste, taste, taste). Toasted nuts (toast first, then grind up) lend the most flavor. Store toasted, ground nuts in the freezer. Do remember that young children and those with nut allergies must avoid nut based desserts. Refer to some nut-free recipes to give these sort of Seder guests a choice or replace the nuts with matzoh meal.

Another prime ingredient in Passover cakes, although semi-sweet is usually what is called for as it contains no dairy solids. Look for kosher, quality chocolate. You will be using it in every fashion - shredded, melted, shaved, and chopped. Also, chocolate chips are easily available and very helpful when adding a bit more decadence to Passover cookies and brownies (or plain snacking on). Cocoa is a boon at Passover as it is flavor rich and very convenient, easily converting a vanilla sponge into a chocolate one.

At Passover, you might as well buy a hen house or rent a kitchen near one. Passover cakes rely on eggs for their leavening which is why sponge cakes are synonymous with Passover. Honestly, buy lots and lots of eggs. They last for a couple of weeks. So, instead of buying two dozen - look for a good egg sale, and come home with alot. One less thing to run out for. Also, separate eggs when cold but work with the egg whites, once they are warmed up. The difference in volume is remarkable.

Fruit lightens up the modest treats of Passover - they are fresh, flavorful and colorful. Orange and lemon zest perk up so many recipes, and slices of citrus, or strawberries, raspberries, mandarin orange slices boost taste and eye appeal. Fruit salads, an afterthought at many other occasions, do alot to revive a tired, after-the-Seder-meal palate. Also, not everyone can eat an egg rich cake, or chocolate, or a nut laden square so fruit is a wonderful and appropriate alternative.

All contents Copyright ©1997 Kosher Express.