I remember Passovers past at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses were always large and boisterous with at least 25-30 people attending, spread over two or three tables. We always invited friends who didn’t have anywhere else to go, and also the stray Jewish soldiers who were “stuck” at Fort McClellan during their basic training. Occasionally, we had a visiting Israeli soldier or two share the seder with us. I really miss these seders, my grandparents, my great-aunts and uncles, the wonderful food, the family tunes, waiting for Uncle Alfred or Papa to proudly read the last stanza of “Had Gadya” in one breath, ribbing my uncle Don about watering my wine, misbehaving at the “children’s” table (some of who were over 30), and the seder discussions. I must admit that I am more than teary-eyed as I am writing this post.
The seder was always a grand affair: the unveiling of the grand china, crystal, and silver, the beautiful way Alberta plated the individual servings of the haroset, hard-boiled egg and karpas. The lamb that my father carefully slathered with mustard and basted every 30 minutes, the minted peas in lettuce cups, the wild rice mixture or boiled new potatoes, and the pièce de résistance, the matza balls swimming in golden chicken soup. For dessert, Mama’s lovingly-made matza schalet with its beautiful crunchy crust and creamy lemon custard with just the right sourness.
Since moving to Israel, we attend the seder at my cousin’s or their in-laws where we share their seder traditions and variety of food from Poland, Bulgaria and Russia: gefilte fish, fritas de prasa, and matza blini. The younger generations add their own traditions like rocket and endive salad with walnuts and pears. And, Mr BT and I are bringing new traditions to their seder: Italian haroset and whatever flourless dessert tickles my fancy.
This year I decided to bring a tray of cookies and found two easy and delicious recipes for fudgy chocolate-walnut cookies and a variation of Sicilian pistachio cookies which Mr BT and I enjoyed eating at a bakery in Venice. Both of these cookies were a huge hit. I really liked the salty-sweetness of the pistachio cookies, and the other cookies were a chocolate lover’s delight. I couldn’t find any orange blossom water for the pistachio cookies as I had wanted, but it will add a slight orangey floral note.
Don’t be afraid to add new traditions to your seder table. There is always room for the old and new traditions.
320g (9oz or 2-3/4 cups) walnut halves
3 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature, not beaten
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with a silpat liner or parchment paper.
Spread the walnut halves on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and finely chop them.
In a large bowl, whisk the icing sugar with the cocoa powder and salt to combine. Whisk in the chopped walnuts. Add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not over beat the mixture or it will stiffen). Spoon a tablespoon of the batter for each cookie onto the baking sheets.
Bake the cookies for 16- 20 minutes, depending on your oven, until the tops of the cookies are glossy and lightly cracked and feel firm to the touch; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.
Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks to cool completely before serving. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
(Flourless Pistachio Cookies)
190g (7oz) pistachios (roasted and salted)
100g (3.5 oz) almond meal
120 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) caster (granulated) sugar
2 egg whites, room temperature, not beaten
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
A few drops of green food colouring (optional)
Icing (confectioners') sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 170C (325F). Line a baking sheet with a silpat liner or parchment paper.
Grind 90 grams of the pistachios finely and set aside. Chop the remaining 100 grams roughly and place in a plate or flat bowl for rolling.
Put the finely ground pistachios, almond meal, sugar, egg whites, optional orange blossom water and optional food colouring in a large bowl. Mix just until the batter is moistened, do not over beat. If the batter is too moist, add a little more almond meal.
Form one tablespoon of the batter into balls and roll in the chopped pistachios. Place the cookies about 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) apart and bake for approximately 13 minutes. Let cook for 10 minutes before moving to a baking rack. Dust with icing sugar, when cooled.