by Les Saidel - April, 2012

With the festival of Pesach (Passover) almost on our doorstep and cleaning going full throttle, you may not think this is an opportune moment to consider reading an article on baking tips for Pesach, being up to your eyelids in cleaning fluid.

However, for those of us control freaks for whom cleaning is ancient history (me excluded), for anyone who wants to get some fresh ideas before Pesach, or even for those who are browsing this link during Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of Pesach), read on and enjoy.

Pesach baking presents an additional challenge as you do not have the regular arsenal of ingredients (and for some - the equipment) that you normally would have at your disposal.

For those who follow the custom of refraining from eating "Gebrochts" (Matzo that is soaked in liquid), you have even a tougher time as you may not bake anything with Matzo flour (without which cakes and cookies are impossible) and your baking will probably be limited to confectionery items such as meringues, chocolate coated nuts, chocolate coated or candied dried/fresh fruit and perhaps gelatin confectionery items such as marshmallows.

For the rest of us who do indulge in the use of Matzo flour, the spectrum is expanded considerably.

Obviously the use of regular flour made from any of the 5 grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye) is not permitted on Pesach and only flour that is made by grinding already baked Matzos into Matzo flour is allowed, (the assumption being that once the Matzo is already baked it cannot become leavened). Matzo flour is then the basis for any baked item such as a cake or cookie.

Unfortunately the component that makes regular flour behave the way it does when you bake normally, the protein or gluten content, is no longer present in Matzo flour. The protein/gluten has already coagulated and is no longer chemically active after the Matzos are baked. It is this protein/gluten content that creates the adhesion/elasticity or the stuff that "basically holds things together". Since it is missing from Matzo flour, you need to substitute something in its place to perform a similar role.

That is where potato flour/starch comes in. One cannot bake a cake or a cookie from plain potato flour/starch. Potato starch is very similar to cornstarch in consistency and function and is used as a "jellifying" agent, in thickening sauces for example. However when combined with Matzo flour, potato starch makes up, to a certain degree, for the lack of gluten in the Matzo flour.

Therefore when baking on Pesach it is recommended to use a Matzo flour - potato starch mix, preferably in the ratio of 3:1, i.e 3 cups of Matzo flour to 1 cup of potato starch. I call this my Pesach flour mix and it can be used successfully for almost any regular cake or cookie recipe. You do not need special Pesach baking recipes.

Before my Pesach baking bonanza, I simply take 3 kilos of Matzo flour and one kilo of potato starch and combine them in a container until thoroughly mixed. I then bag this Pesach flour mix and use it as required, in any recipe where flour is called for - cakes, cookies, pancakes, whatever!

Professional Tip: You won't find this tip in any cook book. Perhaps the best investment you could make as an avid Pesach baker, is a coffee grinder. "What would you need this for?" you may ask. It's simple. Matzo flour is never of a fine enough consistency to create those light, fluffy cakes you are used to. It usually has a coarse consistency, reminiscent of whole wheat flour. To get light fluffy cakes and cookies, I recommend giving your Matzo flour a spin in the coffee grinder before mixing it with the potato starch, until it is of a powdery consistency like regular flour (although the color will never be white, but rather a powdery tan color). Recently, commercially available "Matzo cake flour" is being sold, but this costs sometimes 3 times the price of regular Matzo flour and is not worth the money. Simply refine it yourself with your coffee grinder.

Two more points to consider about Pesach baking. Firstly, Matzo flour is not white, but tan colored (because it is made from ground, ready-baked Matzos). This means that all your Pesach baking will look "darker" than regular baking. This is only significant when light color is a factor, for example in light colored sponge cakes or marble cake when a sharp contrast between light and chocolate is required. For those who the darker color disturbs, rather get around this issue by baking darker items to begin with, like chocolate cake, for example, where this will not be noticed.

Another matter related to Pesach baking is that of margarine. Unless you are Sephardic and eat kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach, you will probably have to settle for margarine that is different than what you are used to. This margarine will either be harder or softer than the margarine that you are accustomed to. This can be a factor in a recipe which calls for creaming margarine with sugar for example. It may be necessary to soften the margarine a little if it is harder that what you are used to.

Finally, it is important to note that however skilled you are and whatever tricks you use, your Pesach baking is going to turn out different to your regular, year-round baking, in color (darker), volume (won't rise as high) and in consistency (heavier). Despite this you can easily turn out delicacies that will have your family's mouths watering.

In summary, aside from the flour issue and perhaps the margarine issue, Pesach baking is pretty much the same as regular, year-round baking. Before Pesach, you should simply make a photocopy of your favorite cake and cookie recipes that you use during the year (the cookbook or loose pages may have Chometz on them), use the copies for Pesach and dazzle your family and guests with your baking genius

For additional reading on cake baking, read last month's article The Science and Art of Cake Baking.
Click here for a full list of other interesting articles.

Have a kosher and happy Pesach.

Les Saidel


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