It’s a shame that my brother’s an environmental historian, because he’d make a damned fine food writer. He’d be one of those issues writers, verbose (in a good way) about Things That Need To Be Discussed. He’d be a good raw milk advocate, and he’d detail the best way to cure venison sausage, and he’d write about how a stranger fries trout in Tennessee, if there are really good trout in Tennessee. (I’m not one to know.) And every April, his Haggadah (PDF) – the religious guide to the Jewish Passover service that’s traditionally done the same way every year – would be anticipated like the New Yorker’s cartoon issue.
That’s how I see it. It’s not that I look forward to The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project – that’s what we’ve all come to call it, my family and the separate group of friends he shares Passover with each year in San Francisco – because I’m so into religion. On the contrary, I only really like the tradition of Passover because it instigates a familial bond we might not otherwise get every year when April rolls around. I don’t really observe, if by observe you mean cutting out everything but matzo. (I do add matzo to my diet, though, and as my sister points out, it makes fine fodder for a prosciutto and cream cheese sandwich, which is obviously Kosher.) I stink at remembering the story, and frankly, I don’t find it all that interesting, which means that reliably, on the day Passover starts, I’m frisking the internet for a dummy’s guide to the Seder plate when I get a nice long email from Josh. I know that makes me the world’s worst Jew, but seriously, doesn’t the whole schmegegge about Moses floating down the Nile in a wicker basket get more interesting when you learn that it was found on Craigslist, listed as a two-bedroom with on-site laundry?
Here, celebrating means channelling Josh’s voice, and a proper feast, and not much on the religious front.
This year, I’ll be celebrating with my husband and Graham, who might be actually old enough to find the matzo. My mom will be here, as will my sister, and whichever soul walks past the door when we open it. We’ll start with artichokes with homemade garlic aioli, then we’ll have matzo ball soup, fragrant with lemon peel and peppered with parsley. There will be brisket with carrots and parsnips, and sautéed spring greens, and roasted potatoes. And then, when we can’t possibly eat a bite more, we’ll have cake.
Flourless cake is the Kate Moss of the pastry world. It always seems like it should be too anemic to stand up, but there it is, beautiful, even if you wish you didn’t think so. This version, structured with almond meal and eggs and flavored with bananas and cocoa, isn’t exactly congruent with the whole doing without concept that surrounds Passover. But you know what? Once you take a bite, I’m not sure you’ll be all that concerned.
Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake (PDF)
Flourless cakes have been a Passover staple for ages. Although this simple, satisfying cake is made without chametz, you may find yourself making it all year long, because it carries the flavor of a chocolate-infused banana bread but only takes half the time to bake. The cream cheese ganache that tops it is like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting—serve it dolloped on top of the cake, with extra sliced bananas.
Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 8 servings
For the cake
Vegetable oil spray
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
For the cream cheese ganache
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup regular cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Note: If you can’t find almond meal, make your own: Toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Let cool completely, then grind cooled nuts in a food processor or coffee grinder.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with the vegetable oil spray. Line the pan with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment. Set aside.
Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a large fork, then stir in the sugar, honey, salt, and vanilla. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs for about 1 minute on medium speed, or until foamy. Add the sweetened banana mixture, and mix again on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond meal and cocoa powder, and mix on low speed until well blended. Add the canola oil, and pour the batter into the prepared pan. (It will be thin.)
Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is slightly domed and firm in the center. Cool cake 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto cooling rack (run a small knife around the edges if necessary), then invert again onto a plate.
While the cake cools, make the cream cheese ganache: Beat the butter and cream cheese in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the cold cream and sugar, and whip again on high speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, for a minute or two, until light and fluffy.
Serve the cake with the cream cheese ganache, topped with extra banana slices.