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.
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Since she isn’t bound by religious practice, she has no problem taking an unconventional approach to her Beard House task, where she’ll serve a midcourse of milk-and-honey soup with honey, yogurt ice cream and almond brittle, as well as a dessert of individual haroset-flavored cakes accented with apples, cinnamon and walnuts.

Still, every year at her East Village shop, she recreates a classic Passover dessert similar to one many Israelis grew up on: layers of softened matzo, in this case moistened with Stumptown coffee, drizzled with a halvah-laced coffee-chocolate sauce.

Cloud Cookies: Payard puts his own twist on this Passover treat. Try the recipe below.
Adeena Sussman
Cloud Cookies: Payard puts his own twist on this Passover treat. Try the recipe below.

For a modern take on the matzo layer cake his grandmother used to make, wedding cake guru Ron Ben-Israel, who also hosts the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” and produces a separate line of kosher cakes, sprinkles his matzo with apple juice, then enrobes it in a special ganache he creates using top-quality chocolate, simple syrup and almond or rice milk in lieu of cream. “A good ganache is something everyone should have in their repertoire,” said Ben Israel, who also recommends using it in Passover-friendly ways: as a cake icing; in a silky pot de crème (a mousselike pudding) or, when chilled, as the base for simply decadent truffles.

For some bakers, Passover is also a chance to employ ingredients they love. At New York’s recently opened Breads Bakery — an offshoot of the wildly popular Tel Aviv chain Lechamim — proprietor Uri Scheft uses top-quality, German-made Lubeca marzipan in a variety of desserts.

Scheft, who trained in Paris under legendary baker Eric Kayser, plans to incorporate more marzipan items into a Passover-friendly item this year, though his specific menu hasn’t been finalized. “I love its delicate nature, Passover or no Passover,” said Scheft. “The fact that it works for the holiday is a bonus.”

While many pastry gurus look at Passover as a culinary challenge akin to offering one or two vegan or gluten-free options amid a sea of quotidian options, others are literally bound to traditions.

“Passover? Wow, I hate Passover,” Julien Bohbot said over the phone from Los Angeles, where he owns Delice, considered by many to be the most authentic French-style kosher bakery in America. Bohbot was just days away from opening the special production facility he operates every year for two weeks in advance of the first Seder.

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