Setting the Table

The Seder is a meal of ritual.  While there can be some playing around with the menu, sacrosanct are the serving of matzo ball soup and the absence of flour in any recipe.

Never a fan of the matzo ball, I handed off this part of the meal for many years to a friend’s mother, who was delighted to bring her specialty to the table. Sadly, Sibi died and with her went the BEST matzo ball soup in the world, this according to my family. Sibi’s replacement soup provider arrives with two pots still bubbling from her stove, as well as her own ladle. Such preparedness is my own little prayer answered.

Baking a flourless dessert is, thankfully, not the hassle of years ago.

This recipe from Country Living magazine is my go-to. It’s a cake so delicious as to deserve an appearance more than once a year.

Chocolate-Almond Torte

Special equipment – a spring form cake pan

2 sticks unsalted butter cut into small pieces

9 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped

6 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup superfine sugar

½ cup fined ground almonds

· Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10” spring form cake pan.

· In a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir until smooth. Set bowl aside to cool.

· In another bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually pour melted chocolate mixture into egg mixture, stirring constantly. Now, fold in the almonds. Set bowl aside.

· In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just combined.

· Pour this mixture into the spring form pan and bake for 35 minutes. (torte will be very moist in the middle).

· Cool in the pan about 1 hour. Then undo spring form. Now you have the torte on the pan bottom. Slide a spatula (or long piece of dental floss) to loosen the torte from the bottom. Then use the spatula to push/slide the torte onto a serving plate.

In a corner of the dining room is the dessert table. The torte offers a wonderful landscape for a plop of whipped cream with a sprinkle of blackberries and raspberries.


Passover co living www

For those who believe fruit is dessert – a peach compote with a side of macaroon. Fresh mint is a pretty topper for both desserts.

With the meal in hand, I can revel in setting the table with an heirloom embroidered cloth, not of my own inheritance, but of a purchase at a second hand store. Cast off by one family, it is a part of my family’s holiday table.

table cloth closeup www (Small)

Such beauty reminds me of the importance of remembering those who once graced our tables at holidays and how filling their seats with new families and friends is a testament to their memories…like a good matzo ball, gone but never forgotten.

Whether searching for the Passover matzo or a golden Easter egg, may this year’s holiday be beautifully blessed.

xx EllynAnne

a Passover Rescue by Country Living Magazine

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:

DSCN7106 [640x480]

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.
DSCN7107 [640x480]

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.

DSCN7108 [640x480]

DSCN7109 [640x480]

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.

DSCN7116 [640x480]

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.

My Prince Charming, who’s eaten a life-time of mb soup, proclaimed my version THE BEST HE’S EVER SLURPED and the CL Chocolate Almond Torte delicious beyond yummy. DSCN7124 [640x480]

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!