Baking With Alternative Flours for Passover
Another passover means another classic flourless chocolate cake for dessert, right?
Not necessarily. This year, flex your baking muscle and make desserts using alternative flours that can up the flavor and fiber. Alternative-grain baking substitutes continue to grow in popularity and availability thanks to wider health trends like gluten-free and ketogenic diets. The result is an unexpected bounty of choices—think cassava, sorghum and tapioca, among others—for Passover bakers looking beyond matzah meal to help satisfy an eight-day, unleavened sweet tooth.
Pastry chef Zoë François remembers her first encounter with almond flour nearly 25 years ago. She was working at a popular catering company in Minneapolis when Passover came around. “As the resident Jew on staff, all the desserts fell to me, and someone mentioned almond flour,” said François, author of last year’s Zoë Bakes Cakes cookbook and the star of the Magnolia Network television show Zoë Bakes.
“I hadn’t heard of it but learned quickly how to use it to its best effect,” said François, who notes that almond flour formulations have improved over the years. She advises bakers to be aware of the difference between the two almond products widely available in stores: almond meal, which is coarser and is typically ground with the skins on, and almond flour, which is fine and lighter since the skins are usually removed during production.
“If you are going for more of a cakelike result, such as an angel food or sponge, almond flour is the choice,” said François, who uses the flour in her Almond Plum Cake for Passover. For denser desserts like chewy cookies or bars, almond meal works well. “Almond meal has a slightly ‘healthier’ taste, while almond flour is a bit closer to regular flour.” In a pinch, almond meal and almond flour can be swapped, but the results will vary.
“When baking with alternative flours, some trial and error is to be expected,” said David Tamarkin, editorial director for King Arthur Baking Company, who has noted an increase in requests to the famous Vermont-based company for desserts using grain-free flours.
“Anything gluten-free is hot,” continued Tamarkin, who is adding more grain-free recipes to King Arthur’s recipe archive to meet demand. (This includes flours like buckwheat and teff, which are technically grain-free but often still considered off-limits during Passover for many Ashkenazi Jews since they are kitniyot, or legumes.)
“The main thing to look out for when baking with these alternatives is how much liquid they absorb,” said Tamarkin. “It’s all about hydration. They pretty much all require an infusion of liquid beyond what you would expect.”
Take coconut flour, the latest darling of the grain-free flour pantry. “It’s extremely thirsty and absorbs a lot more moisture than real flour and even almond flour,” said Tamarkin. To compensate when replacing all-purpose flour in a conventional recipe, Tamarkin recommends either reducing the amount of flour by 20 percent or adding more liquid in the form of water or eggs.
Another suggestion from both Tamarkin and François is to blend the alternative flour with some matzah cake meal. “Test a recipe out a few times to arrive at the balance you like the best,” Tamarkin advised.
Many of the new swap-in flours have distinct flavors, so make sure you like the base flavor of your alternative and expect it to play a role in the dessert’s overall taste. Also, these flours often produce chewier results, and for good reason: Almond flour has a whopping 7 grams of dietary fiber per serving, and coconut flour 5 grams, while conventional all-purpose flour contains only 3 grams. And coconut flour is extremely low in net carbohydrates (2 grams versus 23 in a cup of almond flour and 76 in a cup of all-purpose flour).
With all those health benefits, you’ll feel extra virtuous enjoying the Chocolate Coconut Quick Bread courtesy of King Arthur. Dress it up for the seder with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, berries and whipped topping, or enjoy it during the week toasted with a shmear of cream cheese.
Almond Plum Cake
Makes 1, 9-inch cake
10 tablespoons butter or butter substitute, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk or nondairy substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup matzah cake meal
3/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon kosher for Passover baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 plums, cut into 8 slices
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or butter substitute, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Generously grease a 9-inch springform pan, then line the bottom and sides with greased parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, combine the butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla and process until smooth. Mix in matzah cake meal and almond flour, the baking powder and salt by pulsing several times, just until smooth.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Gently tap the pan on the counter several times to release excess air bubbles. Add the plums in a spiral on top of the batter. Set the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, to make the topping, in a small bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Carefully sprinkle the topping over the baking cake and then dot with the butter.
5. Continue baking until the cake is golden-brown and a tester comes out clean, another 15-20 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and set on a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
Almond Plum Cake adapted from Zoë Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More by Zoë François © Ten Speed Press 2021. Recipe and photo provided courtesy of Zoë François. All rights reserved.
Chocolate Coconut Quick Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon kosher for Passover baking powder
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8 1/2-inch by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch square cake pan.
2. Sift together the coconut flour and baking powder, mixing to combine; set aside.
3. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter with the cocoa, stirring until well blended.
4. Whisk the sugar, salt, vanilla and eggs into the butter-cocoa mixture. Add the coconut flour and baking powder, whisking until smooth.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
6. Bake the loaf or cake until set, and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. This will take 35 to 45 minutes for the loaf pan, or 30 to 35 minutes for the square pan.
7. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a rack to cool completely. The cake is easiest to slice when it’s completely cool.
Chocolate Coconut Quick Bread recipe and photo courtesy of King Arthur Baking Company.
Adeena Sussman is the author of Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen and co-author of Gazoz: The Art of Making Magical, Seasonal Sparkling Drinks. She lives in Tel Aviv.