NUTTY AND SWEET FOR THE HOLIDAYS
As has been chronicled before in these pages, my mother was no happy homemaker. Oh, she loved her family, loved her home, ruled over all and sundry in true Matriarchal fashion, loving and silent, giving the old Iron Eye when necessary, yet always great fun to be with. Dad absolutely loved cooking and baking when he could, steaks on the grill, waffles for dinner, boxed cakes and puddings, homemade cream puffs and beautiful jewel-colored dried fruit compote. But mom was never happy in the kitchen and abhorred cooking. But, in her own stalwart fashion, she made sure there was a meal on the table for husband and kids every night.
Jewish holidays were a treat because we got to go and celebrate – and eat – at the Rosenberg’s. Mrs. Rosenberg was the Jewish Mama extraordinaire, overseeing her Kosher kitchen and her family with love and tradition and a huge personality. Her Apple-Noodle Kugel warm from the oven, dense and just sweet with the crisp cinnamon-sugar topping, was my ultimate comfort food (I loved it so much she made a huge baking pan of it just for me as a special Bat Mitzvah gift!). Spending Passover at her home meant a fabulous meal, complete with homemade chicken soup with hand-rolled matzoh balls (worth hours of discussion about the quality of firm versus fluffy), Charoses so rich with cinnamon, chunks of apples and nuts and drunk with sweet kosher wine that we would surreptitiously nibble at it all throughout the Sedar.
We would all joyously sing and laugh throughout the meal, waiting impatiently for the search for the Afikomen (the hidden matzoh), winner receiving a small gift, and the hours of hysterical and extremely strange kids’ games that followed (can you say Lost in Space?).
But who cooked all of those special holiday treats at our home? Passover meant store-bought canned chocolate macaroons, jelly on matzoh and dry, boring cake. I vowed to NOT pass this tradition on to my sons.
Every year as this holiday approaches, I start scouring cookbooks for Passover-friendly recipes – flour and wheat products, grains and leavening agents are all forbidden. There is no way that I can go 8 days without sweets in the house! So out come the cocoa powder, the ground nuts and the matzoh meal and matzoh flour. Down from the shelf come Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food with a little Jayne Cohen’s The Gefilte Variations thrown in. Fabulous cookbooks, so often used, are indispensable on this special holiday. Chocolate cakes, nut cakes, cookies and treats; sometimes there are more baked goods popping out of my oven on Passover, a holiday when many feel that they may be deprived of good things, than at any other time of the year.
This incredible, moist and flavorful macaroon is from Jayne Cohen’s book, too perfect to need any fiddling with (though I did add a drizzle of melted chocolate on top). Made with hazelnuts (and sometimes I mix the ground hazelnuts with ground almonds, depending on what is in the pantry) instead of coconut, it is a change from the ordinary. Beautiful any time of the year yet a necessary treat to have on hand during this season, it is a snap to put together and one of the most delicious cookies I have ever eaten. All from 4 simple, basic ingredients.
Even if you don’t celebrate Passover, it is a delicious, really delicious cookie to have on hand, although I can’t guarantee that a plateful will last very long. Moist, chewy and flavorful, delicious every time! AND Gluten/flour-free and dairy-free, so the perfect snack to offer to anyone and everyone!
From Jayne Cohen’s The Gefilte Variations
12 oz (340 g) ground toasted hazelnuts or a combination of ground hazelnuts and ground almonds (2 1/3 cups shelled, whole hazelnuts, toasted then ground)
1 cup (200 g) plus 2 Tbs white or light brown sugar
½ tsp almond extract (kosher for Passover if necessary) or 1 tsp nut-flavored liqueur like Frangelico or Amaretto
3 large egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper (you will be working in batches).
In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, or in a food processor, blend the ground nuts with the sugar (I used 1 cup white granulated sugar and 2 Tbs granulated light brown sugar).
Add the almond extract or the liqueur (I used Amaretto, of course) and the 3 egg whites.
Process of mix all the ingredients together just until well blended into a smooth paste. If it seems to sticky for you to comfortably work with, refrigerate it covered for 15 – 20 minutes.
Scoop out rounded tablespoons of batter and drop, 2 inches ( about 4 cm) apart, onto the lined cookie sheets.
With the back of a spoon or using your fingers, smooth and flatten slightly each cookie. The batter is sticky, so you may have to wet your fingers to do this.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until just dry to the touch and golden underneath and around the edges.
The macaroons on the right are a tad more golden underneath
which I find to be a more perfectly-cooked cookie
which I find to be a more perfectly-cooked cookie
Remove from the oven and transfer the parchment sheet to a cooling rack to cool completely. The macaroons will be too soft to move when warm, but once cooled they will slide right off of the parchment.
If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate or dunk half the cookie in the melted chocolate if desired. These cookies are flavorful and sweet, so too much chocolate serves no purpose except to cover up the intense flavor. I drizzled just enough chocolate to enhance the nut flavor and add a small hint of chocolate.
I lined them up on a piece of parchment and just drizzled a bit of melted dark chocolate from a plastic sandwich bag whose corner I snipped off to leave a tiny hole.
Truly moist and tender inside, light and delicate to eat, but each bite packs a mouthful of extraordinary flavor
These store well for up to 5 days in an airtight container.