And so the story goes. In hastily leaving ancient Egypt, the Israelites, led by Moses, had no time to wait for their bread to rise. The flat, cracker-like result known as matzah (also spelled matzo and matzoh) inspired the tradition of not consuming food and drink made with leavened grain, or chametz, during the festival of Passover. The eight-day celebration begins this month at sundown on April 22 and ends on April 30. But don’t think that Jews forgo ending their ritual seder dinner — or any meal during this holiday — without a sweet alternative. Hardly.
Macaroons are probably the single most popular Passover dessert, made in two traditional ways. The easier one resembles a crisp golden ball of sweetened shredded coconut, egg whites, sugar, and vanilla or almond extract, sometimes drizzled with melted chocolate or filled with dried cranberries. The fancier — and more difficult to make — is the French variation, spelled “macaron” with only one “o.” This treat is a tiny, smooth, meringue-style sandwich with the outer layers — often beautifully colored — made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds. Inside, you most often find a ganache, buttercream, or jam filling. Some food pundits predicted that the dazzling array of distinct macaron flavors — pistachio, chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, lemon, hazelnut, and more — would become the next sweet craze once cupcakes fizzled. It still may.
But if you don’t have the time or inclination to bake, check out these area shops, which offer a wide range of flourless treats to wrap up your holiday seder. Be sure to place your order at least 48 hours in advance, since many of these bakeries sell out fast.
â€‹Long a go-to place for everything from morning croissants that make you think you’re in Paris to elaborate birthday and wedding cakes, this highly touted bakery and bistro offers a decadent display of Passover goodies. They are all baked by pastry chef and co-owner Leslie Balassone, who opened the restaurant with her husband Tony, a Culinary Institute grad, back in 1994. Top on the list of customer favorites are their coconut, chocolate hazelnut, and Sarah Bernhardt macaroons, the latter — an almond version with chocolate ganache — named for the famous actress. They also sell a flourless chocolate cake; almond cake with vanilla mousse and sliced pears; “Success” cake of chocolate and praline mousseline between layers of hazelnut macaroons; and an assortment of truffles. 845-876-2749; www.calicorhinebeck.com
Carousel Cakes Nanuet
All the goodies at this 50-plus-year-old bakery are kosher, and its cakes and other items can be found at top-notch retail establishments such as Bergdorf Goodman and Zabar’s. During Passover the shop bakes coconut, chocolate dipped, and chocolate-chocolate macaroons; a flourless cheesecake; flourless chocolate truffle cake; flourless hazelnut torte; and honey loaf. 845-627-2323; www.carouselcakes.com
Hudson Valley Dessert Company Saugerties
Part-owner Constance Bailey bakes coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate; and almond macaroons made from ground almonds, a bit of almond paste, cocoa powder, lots of egg whites, and half-dipped in chocolate. “It’s not a sandwich,” she explains. She also makes a flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and unleavened cheesecake. 845-246-1545; www.hudsonvalleydessertcompany.com
Pastry Garden Poughkeepsie (two locations)
In business since 1984, this bakery — which has a kosher kitchen certification — sells hazelnut cookies with raspberry filling and chocolate coating. Its top-selling annual favorite is a chocolate mousse cake: two thin cake layers separated by a thick layer of mousse, with a fudge icing. Other items: mousse cups in chocolate, raspberry, and white chocolate; traditional seven-layer and honey cakes; sponge rolls with chocolate or raspberry mousse fillings; and a French nut cake with hazelnut mousse. www.thepastrygarden.com
Rockland Bakery Nanuet
This popular kosher bakery sells coconut macaroons, plain and chocolate dipped; several kinds of French macarons; jelly rolls; and honey balls. 845-623-5800; www.rocklandbakery.com