Passover Seder just got sweeter

Posted April 12, 2011, at 5 p.m.

The matzo balls can be ethereal, the brisket divine. But the compliment every Seder host most loves to hear is positively backhanded.

“This is so good,” the polite guest will enthuse, “it doesn’t even taste like a Passover dessert.”

The edible end of this Jewish holiday punctuates only the dinner portion of a Seder. There’s plenty more prayer, song, storytelling and wine after dessert is served, so Passover sweets can seem perfunctory. Yet the promise of something better keeps Jewish cooks searching for new recipes every spring. (This year, Passover begins Monday, April 18, at sundown.)

Paula Shoyer has moved beyond the standards: flourless chocolate torte, sad spongecake, gummy brownies and riffs on macaroons. The 45-year-old Chevy Chase, Md., resident started her blog, KosherBaker.blogspot.com, three years ago. It begat the cookbook she published last summer, called “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes From Traditional to Trendy” (Brandeis).

Dairy-free is key, because at a proper Seder, meat and dairy are not served together. That means even sweetened condensed milk is out. For her Key lime pie, Shoyer says, “lots of pies hit the garbage before I found the right mix of filling ingredients.”

Even when she works from family recipes, such as her grandmother’s spongecake, Shoyer manages to elevate the finished product. Her lemon layer cake has an incredibly moist crumb, and, by folding a homemade lemon curd into nondairy whipped cream, she has devised a frosting that tastes as if it came from a French bakery.

Shoyer’s own go-to dessert for Passover is cut-up fruit, served in or with tuiles made with matzo cake meal. “By the time you eat Seder dessert, it’s usually very late in the evening,” she says. “I like to keep it light.”

Why not skip the flour and dairy substitutes altogether, and just serve fruit?

It’s a big entertaining holiday, Shoyer says. “People feel they should go to the trouble.”

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