Gluten-free desserts a natural choice for Passover
Spring desserts are full of fresh, bright flavors to celebrate the turning of the season - think lemon, strawberry, coconut and other cheerful ingredients to mark the return of warmth and sunshine. And if you're baking gluten-free, relying on nature's bounty will make your treats truly stand out.
After a long, wet winter - at least to this recent transplant - we're now solidly in the midst of spring. Take advantage of the fresh, light flavors coming back into season.
When I make gluten-free desserts, I lean on recipes that are naturally gluten-free, meaning that they are not meant as substitutes for desserts made with flour but as recipes in their own right. The recipes included here adhere to that philosophy.
From a rich almond cake drizzled with a lavender-spiked glaze to chocolate cupcakes topped with fluffy strawberry buttercream to a gorgeous pavlova loaded with fresh fruit, they are perfect for gluten-free friends as well as your flour- loving family.
These recipes also are appropriate for Passover, or Pesach, which ends on April 27. During the eight days of the annual Jewish holiday, no leavened products such as wheat flour, grains, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda may be used. Popular desserts often include a torte made with nuts, coconut macaroons, or dishes made with matzo meal, the only flour-containing product that is deemed to be Kosher for Passover.
Fortunately, many naturally gluten-free desserts rely on the airiness of whipped eggs whites or the rich texture of ground nuts as key ingredients and don't need flour or baking powder or soda, thus making them fine for Passover (or any other gluten-free celebration during the year) or for those keeping to a gluten-free diet.
Try making a cake that uses almonds for heft and egg whites for a bit of loft. Punchy lemon zest in the batter is carried through into a glossy glaze created by steeping fresh lemon juice and fragrant lavender, then whisking in a little powdered sugar.
Likewise, delicate chocolate cupcakes consist of not much more than semi-sweet chocolate melted with butter or margarine and folded with whipped egg whites. After 20 minutes in the oven, these little beauties transform into confections reminiscent of a soufflé. They'll firm up the longer they rest in the fridge (if you can, make them at least a day before you plan to serve them, two if you can manage it. You'll be rewarded with a denser crumb and a deep chocolate flavor.). The cupcakes can be frosted with a rich vanilla buttercream or a buttercream swirled with strawberry jam.
For a pavlova - the baked meringue cake served with whipped cream and fruit popular in Australia and New Zealand - you may already have all the ingredients you need - after all, it calls for just a few fridge and pantry staples.
The cake gets its marshmallow-like texture from a long bake at low heat. It's then piled high with softly whipped cream and fresh fruit and scattered with toasted almonds and coconut.
It makes for an elegant and impressive finish to any meal.
Other naturally gluten-free options that incorporate the lighter flavors and textures of spring include French-style macarons - little meringue-like sandwich cookies made with whipped egg whites folded into ground almonds - with fillings of rhubarb jam or lemon curd.
Walnut ghriba, a traditional Moroccan cookie made with ground walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar, is a fine offering to serve to anyone at the tea table (omit the baking powder during Passover for a denser yet still delicious cookie).
Recipes abound online; search for “gluten-free ghriba” to find recipes without flour. Other nuts like almonds may be swapped for the walnuts.
Almendrados, Spanish cookies made with almond meal, egg whites and a hint of lemon, are another solid gluten-free option.
Lemon bars with a gluten-free crust - use ground nuts or mix things up and leave off the crust completely - would also fit in nicely.
Or coconut macaroons, a classic Passover dessert that by no means must be saved solely for the holiday. Cookies may be half-dipped in melted semisweet chocolate for a twist on a black and white cookie.
And when you're short on time or want to keep things very simple, try poached pears, baked apples, a fool (whipped cream folded with fruit) with strawberries, rhubarb, or raspberries, or simply dip strawberries in melted chocolate.
Gluten-free desserts don't have to be intimidating. With a little patience and a bit of spring's bounty, you'll be able to produce beautiful sweets perfect for a holiday - or any day.
Note that if you are preparing these desserts for Passover, you may wish to use kosher for Passover chocolate as well as kosher for Passover powdered sugar -an alternative homemade option is included below. Dairy-free substitutes are also provided where applicable.