Raised in a southern Reform Jewish home, I’m a tad wanting when it comes to the exactness of the culinary requirements for the strictly traditional Passover meal. Knowing this about myself, our seder guest list always includes someone who grew up in a more traditional Jewish home and therefore, knows how to make matzo ball soup, without which a Passover seder simply cannot occur.
Alas, my most honored and eldest invitee for this honor passed away last year, and with her, the best matzo ball soup ever, according to Gideon, my youngest. So this year’s matzo ball soup fell to me. I, who do not eat grits because of the texture, haven’t actually eaten a matzo ball either…again, a texture thing.
So I turned to the internet, where I discovered the shiska and her recipe for matzo ball soup success: the boxed soup mix by Manischewitz; then, on to my trusty issues of Cooks Illustrated and the Test Kitchen results for the best boxed chicken broth: Swanson’s Certified Organic. Following the directions for both, I placed a brimming pot of mb soup in the refrigerator and shut the door.
The Seder meal takes days to prepare. The pot of soup joined the already-refrigerated dessert, a compote marinating in champagne (actually, the fruit was resting in a prosecco bath, because I had a bottle on hand and was loathe to pop a Moet and Chandon for peaches).
A day to my seder, and the mail delivered the May issue of Country Living. With tons still to do, I nonetheless plopped down and immediately began flipping through one of my favorite magazines.
And on page 119 was a photo of a Chocolate-Almond Torte…a flourless dessert, and therefore, perfect for Passover! Because I knew my compote was a bit lackluster, this Torte was the answer. And at only 5 ingredients!!
The instructions call for melting butter and chocolate in “a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.” And I would have followed this to the letter, except that I have an ancient double boiler inherited from a premiere baker, Else Geisel, my mother-in-law:
While the mixture melted and melded, I moved on to the next step, “…whisking egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy.” Rather than using a modern whisk, I instead chose to incorporate the mixture using an initialed, sterling fork that had belonged to another superb baker, my grandmother Birdye.
Using the utilities of these women, I felt their guidance and a sense of happiness, as if they were with me on this torte journey.
The CL recipe notes a working time of only twenty minutes. The mess I created took a lot longer to clean up.
With the torte in the oven, I went outside to cut some lilac blooms, and there she was – a bright yellow butterfly. Racing back into the house for a camera, I knew, just knew, she would be gone upon my return. But, no! I promise, this is not photo-shopped.
I took the butterfly as a sign, that despite my insecurity and lack of actual know-how, I was going to pull this seder together, especially with dessert.
Holidays like Passover and Easter are so very rich in tradition and the foods served are as much a part of that as any ceremonial recitation.
Whether matzo ball soup or a baked ham, what’s important is we celebrate our heritage with not an empty seat at our table.
Tie One On…an apron, of course!