The Great (Passover) Dessert Challenge

Can the Best Pastry Chefs Sugar Coat an Age-Old Dilemma?

Ooh La La: Pastry chef Francois Payard creates French-inspired Passover desserts like these Petit Fours.The box is a collection of almond cookies and flavors include cherry, chocolate chip, slivered almond, candied orange and powdered sugar.
Felipe Coronado
Ooh La La: Pastry chef Francois Payard creates French-inspired Passover desserts like these Petit Fours.The box is a collection of almond cookies and flavors include cherry, chocolate chip, slivered almond, candied orange and powdered sugar.

By Adeena Sussman

Published March 20, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

French-trained pastry chef Francois Payard thought he had done his homework when he opened his first patisserie in New York in 1997, but he soon realized that the learning curve might be a bit steeper than he’d anticipated. That year he stocked the display cases with a surplus of Easter-friendly confections, anticipating a rush of biblical proportions.

“Was I ever wrong,” said the celebrated Frenchman Payard, who now operates 13 sweets-centric establishments around the world. “Passover was much, much bigger for us.”

Bigger, indeed. As Passover approaches, chefs around the country are plotting their Passover dessert menus. Some keep their selections rooted in tradition and others seek a creative edge, but the common denominator is a quest for good taste in the face of some very basic culinary conundrums, and an inclination whenever possible to favor culinary expertise over gimmickry.

“No flour and no dairy? That’s tough,” said Zohar Zohar, owner of New York’s Zucker Bakery, which features many Israeli-style pastries. “The stricter you are, the harder it is,” she added.

For Payard, what started 14 years ago with flourless chocolate cake has grown into a seasonal business featuring six items — with more new products on the way. “We try to develop something new every year,” said Payard, who begins plotting his Passover production six months in advance, sometimes running through a new recipe concept as many as 20 times before he gets it right.

This year’s dessert debutante is a chewy meringue kiss Payard makes by whipping a classic Swiss-style meringue of heated egg whites and sugar, adding ground toasted nuts and then freezing the batter before slicing and baking. The result is a fragile, soft-centered confection with a shattering shell that melts on impact. “We think it’s going to be big,” said Payard, who isn’t Jewish but enjoys telling his Passover-observing customers that his first girlfriend was of Moroccan-Jewish descent.

He’s also quick to remind this reporter that his desserts, though inspired by the holiday, aren’t under kosher supervision — and many contain dairy products, meaning they can not be served after a meat meal.

So do the desserts made by Zucker’s Zohar, who’s been asked to handle the sweet stuff at this year’s James Beard House Passover Seder in New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.