“Wait a minute, you served a gluten free, dairy free Passover Almond Coconut Sponge Cake with Whipped Cream Strawberry Filling for dessert tonight, the night before the first seder”? Well, yes, I did. I’ll admit, having the seder the night before everyone else is having their seder was a bit strange, but it worked for all involved. Babies needed to get to bed earlier than we’ve ended seders in years past, guests who traveled quite a distance could get home in time to watch the 11 PM news. It was a win-win situation for everyone. Not to mention I didn’t end up doing dishes way past midnight.
“Wait another minute, you served it on a flat plate that had pictures for every holiday of the year?”. Well, yes, I did. I couldn’t find a flat plate that would work. This did the trick. Don’t be thrown by the Halloween icons on the plate.
The Shulchan Orech, our Passover meal, was a group effort. One guest brought her famous Aunt Ruth’s brisket (her aunt wasn’t famous, her aunt’s brisket was famous) which is a must at all of our family holiday gatherings. Another brought a Spinach Mushroom salad with a Red Wine Vinegar Honey Vinagarette. And one of my guests, a very good and longtime friend who brought the Manischewitz wine (Blackberry & Concord Grape, for the die-hards), seltzer and horseradish, came yesterday and helped me pull off the meal. Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without her. And catching up with her was one of the highlights for me. We talked and laughed and talked about how important it is to stay in touch with those you love, that time is precious and we mustn’t ever forget it.
We read from the haggadah, we sang, we said prayers, we shared stories, we drank wine and we stuffed our bellies, reminding ourselves at numerous points during the seder how fortunate we are to have the freedom to do these very things and acknowledging the importance of telling our story, that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.
We talked about the fact that the word in Hebrew for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which translates to narrow places. I asked everyone to think about their own personal narrowness, places in their own lives that might cause narrowness and constricting. And I gave my own personal example, citing the fact that my role as a nurturer has changed, that my two adult daughters and three adult step children are grown and well on their way to establishing their own lives, and that I have had, for some time now, to move on with my life. This has been difficult for me – I was a mother for so many years. But now, my life has changed, it is time for me to move on. It is time for me to make some changes so that the narrow sadness, the not-letting-go can open to the possibilities that lie ahead.
Let’s talk about the cake. Tonight, we had much to celebrate, in addition to Passover. Three of the people at our table had birthdays this month, one couple had an wedding anniversary. I wanted a gluten free Passover dessert that would be dramatic, different, something to help me symbolically celebrate the narrowness that I’m about to bust out of. This cake seemed a likely candidate. But rolling it did pose a little bit of a challenge. So much so that I almost fell back on the usual sorbet and macaroons. I’m glad I persevered. It was well worth it. And while rolling the cake was no easy feat, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you make it for one minute. It was worth the effort. But if you are intimidated by rolling the cake, I would instead suggest baking it in two 9″ cake pans for 45 minutes, per the original recipe as explained below.
One of my favorite Jewish cookbooks is called Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan. A collection of recipes from many different sources, this compendium is an encyclopedia of wonderful holiday meals. The Strawberry Sponge Cake in her book comes from the late Beatrice Lopoo Nathanson of Natchez, Mississippi and according to Ms. Nathan, was adapted from the Settlement Cook Book. I took it a step further and made some adaptations to it, including making it gluten and dairy free. When I make it again (and I will, this one is a winner), I want to figure out how to make it with either less refined sugar or substitute other sweeteners for the refined sugar.
Passover Almond Coconut Sponge Cake with Whipped Cream Strawberry Filling
adapted by Ellen Allard from Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
4 pints strawberries
2 – 4 tbsp Grand Marnier
8 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
pinch of salt
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
white rice flour for dusting (use almond flour or coconut flour if you don’t use rice on Passover)
3 cups dairy free whipped cream (recipe below)
1. Dice 2 pints of strawberries and place in small bowl. Pour 2 – 4 tbsp Grand Marnier (orange flavored liqueur) over the berries and allow them to macerate while you prepare the cake.
2. Preheat oven to 400Ëš. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Lightly dust with white rice flour.
3. Beat egg yolks until light colored. Add sugar and beat once again.
4. Gently mix in the almond flour, coconut flour, salt, lemon rind and juice. Set aside.
5. Beat whites until stiff. Fold into batter and then spread mixture onto jelly roll pan. Make sure it is spread into one large rectangle almost to edges of pan.
6. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes. Remove cake (with parchment paper) to cooling rack. Must completely cool before filling and rolling.
7. When cool, spread with whipped cream and strawberry filling (while cake remains on the parchment paper), being careful to stop spreading the whipping topping at least an inch before all edges. Spreading works best with a long cake icing spreader, like this one. Also be sure not to overfill the bake or you will not be able to roll it.
8. As you roll the cake, use your hands to gently release the cake from the parchment paper. A two person operation will make this go much more smoothly. Continue until the entire jelly roll cake is rolled. This will not necessarily look pretty – you will have some places that you’ll want to patch, but the icing will cover many of the blemishes caused by rolling the cake.
Coconut Strawberry Whipped Cream Filling
3 cans of full fat coconut milk
1 tbsp + 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave syrup or confectionary sugar
pinch of salt
Remove the hardened coconut milk from the three cans of coconut milk. Reserve the leftover coconut milk for another use. Whip until thick. Add the vanilla extract, agave (or confectionary sugar) and a pinch of salt. Continue whipping until all of the ingredients are blended.
May your Passover be sweet, may your bellies be full, may your stories be told, and may your narrowness be given a wide berth. A zissen Pesach to all.