Editors Note: We have several delightful Passover stories coming up. Today, we’ll start with a Passover memory. We hope you’ll share some of your Passover memories, too. Your comments are always welcome!
Passover desserts are famously leaden. Without leavening, you are basically eating sweetened bricks. Or pasty (nasty) egg white meringues. Or dense, sticky macaroons.
But it wasn’t always so—at least not when we celebrated Passover at my Bubbe’s house. My grandmother made a sponge cake that was as light as angel food cake, as bright as orange cake and as rich as jelly roll cake. It was worth suffering through a week of matzah to inhale the airy crumbs of her signature Passover dessert.
The secret to the magic of her cake was 13 eggs. Yes, a baker’s dozen! This is not cake for the faint-hearted (or the cholesterol challenged) but if you make it, you will never see Passover desserts the same way again.
If I exaggerate, it’s just that my Passover Sponge Cake memory is as rich as Proust’s paean to his sweet madeleines.
My reverie on sponge cake returns me to my Brooklyn childhood days when the amazing Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town each spring. One year, when I was about five and my sister was seven, my Bubbe and Zayde took us to the circus during Passover. In our young lives, we had never seen such wondrous sights as dancing elephants and prancing horses with princesses pirouetting atop. We’d never thrilled to trapeze artists flying through the air with the greatest of ease or clapped to the comedy of a cluster of clowns collapsing into a compact car. We were mesmerized. And while we watched these astounding feats, we didn’t eat the boxes of Cracker Jacks or bags of peanuts hawked by ringside vendors. No, my grandparents were strictly Orthodox and so we ate only strictly Kosher L’Pesach. Instead, as we sat spellbound throughout the afternoon, we munched on Bubbe’s lighter-than-air sponge cake.
Circuses and Bubbe’s sponge cake are inextricably linked in my sense memories. I confess that I never made Bubbe’s sponge cake when I grew up but one of my sisters did. And she was prescient enough to ask my grandmother to dictate the recipe.
And now, I bequeath it to you. I can promise you a revelatory dessert experience… but not a circus! That’s my Passover dessert memory. I invite you to create yours.
Bubbe’s Passover Sponge Cake
3 1/2 cups of matzo cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
13 eggs, separated
1 glass seltzer (about 10 oz)
juice and rind of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 1 orange (approx. 2 oz)
Preheat oven to 350
Beat egg whites, seltzer and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine lemon, orange and yolks in a separate dish. Add cake meal to egg yolk mixture. Fold eggs whites into cake meal & yolk mixture. Don’t over-process or cake will fall.
Put into floured and greased cake pans.
Put into oven.
For first 20 minutes, keep oven door slightly ajar using a folded paper. Remove and bake for another 40 minutes or until knife comes out clean.