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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“It’s a stressful, money-losing production,” said Bohbot, whose staff works 12-hour shifts to produce dead ringers for their usual cakes that call for mashed potatoes and potato starch in the batter (their kosher supervision is so rigorous that even matzo meal is off limits for Passover); devising crème pâtissière (pastry cream) using a secret recipe, and grinding freshly roasted pistachios for use in layered confections.

“I do Passover as a service to my customers,” said Bohbot, sounding more in need of a sugar-dusted hug every time he mentioned the dreaded P-word. “Everything, from nuts to parchment paper, is four times as expensive.”

His best sellers include decadent cakes filled with pareve hazelnut cream and ganache, as well as 12-packs of French-style macarons in flavors like pistachio and coffee. “We can’t make enough of them,” he said. “And we can’t wait for Pesach to end.”

Los Angeles chefs with less kashrut pressure tend to look forward to the Passover challenge. Over at Jar, Jewish chef Suzanne Tracht’s (non-kosher) top-rated “modern steakhouse,” pastry chef Sandra Bustamante will bake Meyer lemon cheesecakes for the restaurant’s annual Seder, swapping in matzo cake meal and ground almonds in the crust.

“I want to try new things but this is all everyone wants,” laughed Bustamante, who estimates she’ll make 16 of the cakes for the one-night affair. “And it’s gluten free, which a lot of customers also like,” she added. Two other gluten-free options this Passover will be served by chef Alex Raij at Brooklyn’s La Vara.

In addition to natias — an eggy, thickened rice pudding — Raij plans to riff off of the restaurant’s Moorish leanings by serving a brunch dessert of yogurt topped with salty-sweet haroset contaning pomegranate arils, chopped Medjool dates and dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend that incorporates nuts, seeds and spices.

While not every American chef seems compelled to stretch their creativity to the limit, Israeli cooks are taking the task head on. Renowned Israeli chef and restaurateur Meir Adoni, known for modern Mediterranean cuisine accented with touches of molecular gastronomy, called in from a photo shoot in Tel Aviv.

“I like to use coconut milk, not only as a dairy substitute but also to encourage tropical flavors,” said Adoni, who plans on adapting a recipe he developed for an upcoming cookbook: an Asian-inspired chilled coconut-fruit “soup” served alongside fritters whose filling is bound with the all-natural (and naturally kosher-for-Passover) gelatin substitute agar-agar.


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