Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Because of the cake!"

There are many fun reasons to marry someone with a different religious background than that of your own. There is the marked increase in the number of religious holidays, each with its attendant traditions, that you can now celebrate in your home. There is the multiculti satisfaction that comes with decorating the front window with a Christmas tree and a menorah. There is the unexpected joy of "having" to purchase additional dishware, servingware, etc. to celebrate each holiday appropriately. (What fun is it to use a regular old platter as a seder plate when there are so many gorgeous ones available for purchase?) Of course, there is the deep and abiding love between you and your spouse; yes, there is that.

Most important, there is the food. (Well, most important is the deep and abiding love; I am contractually bound by the State of Ohio to say this. Kidding.) Marrying outside your religion means that you get to incorporate many new and exciting recipes into your culinary repertoire. December used to be about Christmas' pierogies, cut-out cookies, city chicken and Hello Dolly bars. Now it is about Christmas' pierogies, cut-out cookies, city chicken, Hello Dolly bars, as well as Hanukkah's latkes and homemade jelly doughnuts. Spring was about Easter's chocolate bunnies and hard-boiled eggs. Now it is about Easter's chocolate bunnies and hard-boiled eggs, as well as Passover's Hillel sandwich. And Purim's signature sweet, Hamantaschen! Those little gem-like beauties appear out of nowhere, brightening March (give or take a week or two) in a way that no Christian holiday does. Well, except for this year, when Easter was March 23. But I understand that Easter won't fall that early again until 2160, which totally clears a path for the Hamantaschen.

My gentile self is, therefore, always trying to learn new dishes to celebrate the Jewish holidays with Husband. It can be a rather steep learning curve: the first time I made latkes was a disaster, though I have since learned the proper egg-to-shredded-potato-to-matzo-meal proportions. Most of the time, though, my goy self is relatively successful with the Jewish cooking endeavors. I particularly enjoy the seder: each Passover I look for a fresh recipe that will honor tradition as well as taste magnificent. Last year I found this cake.

Walnut and almond cake with orange-pomegranate compote. This Kosher-for-Passover dessert is so nutty, so moist, so pomegranate-y, you might be tempted to answer the age-old question of why this night is different from all other nights with a resounding, "Because of the cake!" It is sweet but not too sweet, nutty but still cakey, egg-white-y enough to give angel food cake a run for its money. The supremed oranges and pomegranate syrup lend an elegant flair to an otherwise rustic treat. This cake really is delicious enough to enjoy any night of the year, but saving it for Passover lends it that extra-special air that comes from a year's worth of anticipation.

I know that Passover brings with it certain sacrifices; going without leavening for even one day is hard enough, let alone eight. But this cake just might make you forget Passover's restrictions. Excuse me while I serve myself another slice.

Happy Passover, everyone.


Adapted from "Bon Appetit"

For the cake:

Vegetable oil

1 3/4 c. walnuts

1 c. whole almonds

1/4 c. matzo cake meal (or finely-ground matzo meal)

8 large eggs, separated

1 T. lemon zest

1 T. orange zest

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 t. salt

1 c. sugar, divided

2 T. freshly-squeezed orange juice

For the syrup and compote:

4 large oranges, the peel of 1 orange removed in strips and reserved

1 c. pure unsweetened pomegranate juice

1 c. sugar

1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Make the cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush 13"x9"x2" metal baking pan with vegetable oil.

Combine the walnuts, almonds and matzo cake meal in a food processor; grind the mixture finely. (Note: if you cannot find matzo cake meal, which I could not even given Husband's valiant search of at least six area grocery stores and gourmet markets, just take the same measure of regular old matzo meal and grind it in the food processor before adding the nuts. Then add the nuts and grind them together with the homemade matzo cake meal. The recipe works just fine with this substitution.)

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks, lemon zest, orange zest, cinnamon and salt until it begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Gradually add 1/2 c. sugar, beating until very thick and light in color, about 2 minutes longer. Beat in the orange juice; fold in the nut mixture.

Using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. (I like to use my KitchenAid mixer for the egg yolk mixture, above, then switch to a hand-held mixer for the egg whites. But if you are not insane and only have one mixing device, just wash and dry the beaters and bowl thoroughly before proceeding to this step.) Gradually add the remaining 1/2 c. sugar to the egg whites, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture in 3 additions. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake the cake until it is puffed and deep golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 32 minutes. Cool cake in the pan on a rack (the center of the cake will fall; do not be alarmed).

While the cake is baking, make the syrup and compote. Place a wire-mesh sieve over a bowl. Cut off all peel and pith from the oranges. Working over sieve, cut oranges between the membranes to release the segments into sieve. (Or, put another way: supreme the oranges.) Squeeze any juice from the orange membranes over the sieve. Let the oranges drain while preparing the syrup.

Bring the pomegranate juice, sugar, lemon juice and reserved orange peel to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and a thin syrup forms. Remove the syrup from the heat. Holding the orange peel back with spoon, pour 3/4 c. syrup into a liquid measuring cup. Pour the syrup over the baked cake; let stand at least 1 hour.

Add the drained orange juice to the remaining syrup in the pan. Boil the syrup with the peel until it is reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Discard peel. Add this syrup to the orange segments; let the compote stand for 15 minutes or until ready to serve.

Cut the cake lengthwise into 2 1/2"-wide strips. Cut strips on the diagonal into diamonds; place on plates. Spoon the compote over and serve.

Serves 10-12. Please note: if you are organized, the cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. You can also supreme the oranges the day ahead, leaving them covered with plastic wrap in a sieve set over a bowl in the refrigerator. Or you can just do everything the day of and totally exhaust yourself in the process. That's the way I roll.


Cakespy said...

Happy Passover indeed--that cake looks like a pure delight!

Dianne said...

Thank you! It disappeared very rapidly from my kitchen....