As I said at the end of my last post, this weekend I have been working on desserts to take to our family Passover meal at Eco Sis's house tonight. Passover was another of my favourite Jewish festivals as a child. It's a week-long celebration of the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt, during which no bread, or anything else which is risen is eaten. This is because when Moses was instructed to lead the Jews out of Egypt he met quite a lot of resistance from the Pharaoh, who wasn't keen on losing his pyramid-building slaves. He only relented after being visited by the ten plagues, the last of which killed all the first-born sons in the land (the 'passover' name apparently relates to the fact that the angel of death passed over the houses of the Jews during this plague). So they had to get a bit of a move on when Pharaoh finally gave the green light, and they didn't have a chance to let their bread rise. Hence the no-bread thing.
Not only that, you can in fact have nothing leaven in your house at all during Passover. All bread and other leaven products have to be got rid of, sealed up, or 'sold' (sometimes on a temporary basis in the case of spirits!). A whole new set of crockery and cutlery are brought out and the whole house is spring cleaned. This is why I loved Passover as a child - for the ritual of getting down all the special kitchen goods which we only saw once a year. When you consider that religious Jews have separate cutlery and crockery for meat and milk meals anyway, this was quite a big deal. I remember particularly the funny little brightly-coloured UFO-shaped Passover eggcups we had, and also some Disney plastic mugs. Ah, nostalgia. The matzah (cracker) sandwiches we had to take to school were less good (they just broke everywhere), but there was a lot of good stuff too.
It has been quite a number of years since I was this involved in the intricacies of Passover, but in my cultural affiliation with it I still like to mark its arrival in some way. Usually this involves, hmmmm, baking. The last few years we've had a family get-together to celebrate the ritual first-night meal (though this year it's actually taking place on the second night), taking all the bits we remember most fondly from our childhood. There are usually a few new traditions someone has found out about - I particularly remember the year Eco Sis insisted on everyone whipping their neighbour with spring onions during one of the songs to symbolise slavery, but on the whole, it's mainly singing and recounting the story of the exodus from Egypt. In previous years I have catered for all of these rituals, but this year Eco Sis has nominated me to provide desserts.
Being a historian, I like to read up on things before doing them. I am also, however, too enthusiastic about the things I read to put them on hold, and have a complete disregard for how much dessert we can actually eat. This is how we have three desserts to take tonight. The one which features here is the most traditional in our family, and I actually almost didn't make them, but thought Eco Sis might be disappointed. It was hardly a hardship as I love them too: cinnamon balls. When I made them today I realised that they are actually a meringue base, plus ground almonds and cinnamon. Ground almonds are a common replacement for flour in Passover baking, and a flavour I love (the nuts phobia is related to the texture of actual bits of nut). They're really quick and easy to make, although the ones from my childhood were actually balls, whereas mine seem to be splats. They still taste amazing though (sorry, Eco Sis, I tried one already) and not much like meringue - chewier and softer.
We're off down to Oxford very shortly, so I'm off to pack up the cinnamon balls and other mystery desserts right now. I'll post the other recipes later if they get the thumbs up. Since Kiwi Sis is now up to date with the blog (showing remarkable stamina given that she's had 60 posts to get through in a week), I wanted to start with the one from our childhood. We'll save an afikomon present for you and the Munchkin!! Now, where are those spring onions...?
Passover cinnamon balls
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
1 level tbsps cinnamon
Beat whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold in all the remaining ingredients. Form into balls.
Bake on a greased tray at Gas 3/325F/170C for 25 minutes or until just firm to the touch.
Roll in ice sugar
Makes about 24.