holidays & recipes: passover celebrated with cherry blossom meringue cookies
Passover is a Jewish holiday that begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major Jewish festivals that have historical and agricultural significance. It represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. However, the most important and most widely celebrated aspect of Passover is the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Hebrew word for Passover is “Pesach” and it means “to pass over”. Learning the story of Passover will explain the reason the holiday is called Passover. The story of Passover can be found in the Torah, in the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
When Joseph, the son of Jacob, moved his family to Egypt during a famine in their homeland, the Israelites were well received and even lived peacefully with the Egyptians for many years. But, the growing Israelite community made Egyptians fearful that they would become too powerful. Because of this fear an Egyptian Pharaoh had the Israelites enslaved, ordering that their firstborn sons be drowned. One of these infants was Moses, who was ultimately rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a member of the Pharaoh’s family.
Moses eventually became aware of his history, his true identity and the cruelty the Israelites must endure. Moses fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave master. He lived as a shepherd for many years until he was compelled by God to return to Egypt and free the Israelites. Moses asked the pharaoh to free the Israelites, but the request fell on deaf ears and the pharaoh refused. God sent one plague after another as Pharaoh continued to deny freedom to the Israelites.
Finally, God struck down the first born male child of all Egyptians. So that no Israelite child would be confused with the Egyptians the Israelites marked their doorframes and God would pass over their homes, sparing their first born. This final plague is the one that sent terror into the hearts of the Egyptian people who then convinced the pharaoh to release the Israelites.
The Israelites departed Egypt as soon as possible, but their worst fear becomes reality: the Egyptian army pursued them. As the Israelites stood before the Red Sea, God parted the sea, letting them pass. The sea returned to its form, drowning the Egyptian army as they continued their pursuit.
Because the Israelites left Egypt in haste there was no time to allow baked bread to rise. Flat, unleavened bread, matzo, is a reminder of the rapid departure of the Exodus. It is traditional to remove all leavened products from the home and to refrain from eating anything leavened for the seven days of the holiday. Eating Matzo is one way in which the Exodus is remembered.
It is also traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover for a special dinner called a Seder (meaning “order”). During the Seder the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. The Seder is a long meal with a specific order that involves prayer, reading of the Haggadah, discussion, singing and eating.
While it is probably easy to omit leavening from the main meal, doing so from desserts becomes challenging. Desserts such as tapioca with fresh fruit and flourless coconut macaroons are a couple of the desserts that have been seen on many a Seder table. Another dessert that has been seen gracing the Seder table are meringues.
Meringues are easy to make and can be flavored in any variety of ways. Even if you don’t celebrate Passover you will enjoy this recipe for Cherry Blossom Meringues. We will begin offering Cherry Blossom Extract (Flavoring, Sakura) After the holiday, keep and eye out on our upcoming posts.
Cherry Blossom Meringues
3 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cherry blossom extract
Natural Food Coloring (we use Natural food coloring whenever possible).
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place the rack in the center of the oven.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat, on medium-high speed, until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the extract.
4. You can form the cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch plain tip or decorative tip. Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) tip. Pipe 2 ½ inch rounds of meringue in rows on the prepared baking sheet.
5. Bake the meringues for approximately 1 ½ hours, rotating the baking sheet from front to back half way through baking.
6. The meringues are done when they are pale in color and crisp.
7. Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the meringues in the oven to finish drying several hours or overnight.
8. When fully dry the meringues can be covered and stored at room temperature for several days.