This may sound like a broken record, but getting ready for Pesach is never easy. Is anyone really immune to the stress? Even if you are going away, you still have to shop and pack and travel. For me, it is mostly a mental game. Well, I like to tell myself that. If I can just get a grip and convince myself it’s not a big deal then it won’t be. I keep reminding myself that it’s just for one week, that there is plenty to eat, that we can live without sushi and bagels and cornflake crumbs. Nevertheless, I still spend much time after Purim has passed worrying about how I am going to clean and organize, when I am going to shop, figure out what I will need, how many people are sleeping over, when I will “turn over” my kitchen, and when I will actually begin cooking.
This year I decided to stay home for half of Pesach and go away for the second half. That way I can clean and prepare my house, shop, cook, host the Seders for 21 people and then pack up everyone and go away. See—the best of both worlds. Am I worried? Nah. Everyone else is worrying for me. Now if only the mind can follow the heart.
The best way to deal with Pesach prep is to be organized, and the best way to get organized is by making lists. I think some people view making lists as a sign of weakness. It might mean they are admittedly overwhelmed, or it might just be daunting to see it all in black and white. But if you make lists—an organized cleaning list and a shopping list, broken down by categories on an actual calendar, into household supplies, dry goods, frozen, meat and poultry, dairy products and fresh produce, you can tackle one errand at a time. The first three can be done in advance and the last two whenever you are ready to start cooking. As far as the actual cooking is concerned, there are so many good Pesach cookbooks with great menu ideas! Just pick one, plan a menu, and make a shopping list from your meal ideas.
What I used to find most challenging is making desserts. But nowadays there are so many gluten-free recipes and ideas, that even dessert is becoming a non-issue. A few years-ago, one of my sisters-in-law told me we were going to skip all the kugels with eggs, matzah meal and starches. Only fresh vegetables and salads. So much lighter and healthier. And less expensive. And now desserts are lighter too. Stick to fresh fruits, compotes or desserts that are light on the eggs, matzah meal and potato starches. You will feel so much better and there will be less guessing about substitutions.
So don’t stress, enjoy wherever you are with whomever is with you, and have a chag kasher v’sameach! If you are inclined to bake, here is a stunning gluten-free chocolate cake that I adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine. It can be made for Pesach and will impress your guests, if that’s what you are aiming for! (Step-by-step directions can also be found on my website at thekosherdinnerlady.com.)
Mexican Chocolate Torte
- 1 cup finely ground almonds
- 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Paskesz)
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup white granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Don’t use spray, as it won’t release as well. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper, grease the paper and coat with cake meal, knocking out the excess. Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, in 20-second increments, taking care it doesn’t burn. (If it is very hot, let it cool slightly before continuing.) Add the almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt to the bowl with the melted chocolate, and mix well. It will be thick. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix by hand until well combined. Pour the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment (or use hand-held mixer) until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Scoop a third of the egg whites into the bowl with the chocolate mixture and gently fold together. Take care not to deflate the whites, and mix by turning the whites into the heavy chocolate mixture with a spatula.
Keep adding more whites to the chocolate mixture until everything is thoroughly combined and you don’t see any more white. (It’s OK if there is a streak or two. Better not to overmix.) Pour batter into prepared pan, and gently smooth the top.
Bake torte in the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Remove torte and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and release the sides. Let it cool completely. Invert the cake onto a flat platter, and gently peel off the parchment paper. The cake is now ready to be decorated. I find it is easiest and cleanest to tuck strips of parchment paper right under the edge of the cake to catch the icing drips. It makes for a neater presentation.
- 1/3 cup chocolate (I used chips)
- 2 tablespoons margarine
- 2 tablespoons pareve whipping cream (unwhipped)
- 1 tablespoon honey
In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the ingredients and microwave in 10-second increments, until the chocolate starts to melt. Stir the ingredients and the residual heat will melt everything. You will have a thick, pourable, shiny glaze. Pour into center of the cake, and use the back of a spoon to spread the glaze to completely cover the top, and allow excess to drip down the sides.
Combine 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar with 1 tablespoon of unwhipped topping (or any liquid). It should be thick. Pour icing into a small bag and snip off the end. Decorate with the icing on the glazed cake as you please. To obtain the look in the picture, pipe concentric circles on the cake. Take a sharp knife or toothpick and drag it through the circles, one away from the middle, and then toward the middle. Even if you just pipe squiggly lines it will look amazing! Enjoy!
By Rachel Berger