Passover is the Jewish festival of freedom from slavery in Egypt and the realization of Jewish national identity. The Jews fled Egypt in such haste that there was no time to let their dough rise to bake waybread. They simply rolled the unrisen dough out and baked it flat. And thus were born matzot, also known as matzahs, eaten every Passover for almost the past 3000 years, instead of bread and in commemoration. Here’s our traditional matzah ball recipe.
To remember the Exodus, Jewish law requires that every household be free of leavened food during the week-long holiday, and even renounce possession of it.
Passover food restrictions extend to all foods and drinks containing or processed with wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt or their by-products, and which might have been leavened. In communities that originate in Eastern Europe, Jews also avoid eating pulses and grains.
This doesn’t seem to leave much room for enjoyable eating, and the truth is, Passover is the time of year when Jews eat the most potatoes. But clever cooks always find ways to put delicious foods on the table during the holiday week. Some recipes are even favorites that the family looks forward to eating from year to year.
One such recipe is coconut macaroons, a Passover delicacy that was invented in 1871 by Esther Levy, author of The Jewish Cookery Book, the first Jewish cookbook published in America. Before Levy created coconut macaroons, the sweet was based on almond flour. When coconuts from Florida came into American markets, Levy created a new, coconut-based tradition.
You can substitute any finely-ground nut for the shredded coconut in this recipe. Walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are typical. But I’m sticking with Esther Levy’s version, because it reminds me of childhood Passovers, when coconut macaroons were a once-a-year treat. This recipe yields macaroons that are all a macaroon should be: light, slightly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, melting away almost with a sigh.
3 to 5 cups (180 to 300 grm.) sweetened shredded coconut*
4 large egg whites
½ cup (115 grm.) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt
A thin layer of chocolate on each macaroon makes a luxurious Passover cookie.
Ingredient: ⅔ cup (115 grm.) semi-sweet chocolate
Equipment: a small pan set over a larger pan containing boiling water.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
Add the sugar gradually and beat until the whites are stiff.
Add the vanilla or almond extract, blend well. Add the salt.
Fold the coconut into the egg white mixture.
With wet hands, or using two spoons, form the macaroons into 1-1/2 inch balls.
Place them 1 inch apart on the parchment paper.
Bake the macaroons for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bottom edges look golden-brown.
Let the macaroons cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer them to a rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate over, not in, the hot water.
Take a macaroon by its bottom and dip the top into the melted chocolate. Place it back on the rack for the chocolate layer to cool and harden.
Store, tightly covered, up to 3 days at room temperature, 7-10 days in the refrigerator, and 1-3 months in the freezer.
Photo of coconut macaroons by Lila Dobbs via Flickr.