The seder-a solemn service with a meal that ushers in the Passover holiday-connects generations of Jews with their ancestors who escaped slavery in ancient Egypt. Seder means "order," and throughout the service, symbolic foods like bitter herbs, a roasted shank bone and a hard-boiled egg commemorate certain events of the Exodus. Because of their frantic and hasty departure, the Jews could not take the time to let their breads rise before baking. As a result, during this eight-day holiday-also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread-there are strict prohibitions against foods with leavening or yeast. That restriction normally leads to a seder dinner featuring traditional dishes like matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, and brisket. In place of bread, matzo, an unleavened cracker-like food, is permitted. Other baked foods, also unleavened, are made with the flour and meal from ground matzo.
These restrictions might make it seem difficult to serve delicious desserts at a Passover seder, the ceremonial dinner. And indeed, I have been to many a seder where the same old dependable sponge cake was the grande finale. But it doesn't have to be so. Despite the limitations, there are plenty of ingredients available to fashion some very appealing desserts. With a combination of fresh and dried fruits, a variety of nuts, spices, and chocolate, Passover desserts can range from simple and homespin to upscale and elegant. This year, pick one to suit your seder, or any spring celebration. And forget about the sponge cake.
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