Dare to Do No-Dairy Desserts

Most desserts depend on dairy products for texture and flavor, making holiday sweets one of the perennial challenges for kosher homemakers. There are all sorts of ersatz techniques to create confections that turn out creamy and light without the benefit of real butter, cream or milk, but the results always seem substandard to me, and I can't help but think that such kitchen chicanery is not quite (how should I put it?) "kosher."

The obvious answer is to rely on any one of the countless classic sweets that don't require dairy products. It might even turn out better for guests, since so many people these days can't tolerate dairy.

The following half-dozen selections prove the point by delivering on the promise of a sweet year without compromise, trickery and, yes, dairy products.

Cardamom Pear Cake


This exotically flavored cake is in the tradition of Jewish apple cake, a recipe that is naturally dairy-free because its richness comes from oil (rather than butter), and its moist crumb comes from the natural juices from the pears, which continually moisten the cake as it sits. The result is a delicious baked good that gets better the longer it stands around.

6 under-ripe pears, cored and cut in eighths
1 Tbsp. ground cardamom
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, large or extra-large
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan, preferably with a removable bottom.

Toss the pear wedges, cardamom and one-third cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl until the pears are thickly coated with sugar and spice. Set aside while preparing the cake batter.

To make the batter, beat the remaining sugar and eggs until thick and creamy. Beat in the oil, one-quarter cup at a time, followed by the orange juice, and the vanilla and almond extracts. Don't worry if the batter splits; it will become smooth once the dry ingredients are added.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, and beat into the batter just until the batter is smooth and thick.

Spread one-third of the batter across the bottom of the prepared pan. Layer with one-third of the pears, and repeat the layers two more times.

Bake for 1 hour and 50 minutes, until a tester comes out barely moist.

Cool in the pan on a rack.

Serves 12.


Warm Rhubarb Crisp Over Strawberries


I love strawberry-rhubarb pie, but I hate that the strawberries always get overcooked by the time the rhubarb has softened. This recipe fixes the problem by baking the rhubarb with strawberry preserves and Grape-Nuts cereal into the easiest fruit crisp ever. The warm crisp is served over freshly sliced strawberries. That way, its heat gently warms the berries without cooking them.

1 lb. frozen sliced rhubarb
1/2 to 13/4 cups sugar (depending on tartness of rhubarb)
1 jar (12 oz.) strawberry preserves
2 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
11/2 pints strawberries, stems removed and sliced
nondairy whipping cream, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the rhubarb with the sugar and preserves in a 9-inch square baking pan. Scatter the cereal over the surface, and bake for 1 hour.

Arrange the strawberry slices on six plates, and top with a portion of warm crisp.

Serve with the nondairy whipping cream, if desired.

Serves 6.


Sweet Potato-Coconut Pudding


Sweet-potato puddings are among the homiest and best-loved treats in Caribbean cooking. Because these puddings are typically made from potatoes that are cooked to a mush with sugar and spices, canned yams or sweet potatoes are a perfect labor-saving substitution. They jump-start this exotic island-style pudding, which requires no cooking, and is assembled in seconds.

1 can (15.5 oz.) sweet potatoes or yams in syrup, drained
1/4 cup plain applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup canned coconut milk

Purée all the ingredients in a food processor until creamy.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in a tightly closed container for up to three days.

Serves 4.


Halvah Shortbread


Halvah — the super-rich, oily sesame candy from the Middle East — is almost shortbread all by itself. All I did was add some flour to make it bakable, as well as a little ginger to complement the flavor of sesame.

4 oz. halvah
4 Tbsps. pareve unsalted margarine
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Purée the halvah, margarine, ginger and flour in a food processor until smooth.

Pack the mixture into an 8-inch layer pan and bake for 20 minutes, until firm and dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes, and cut into 16 thin wedges.

Lift the wedges from the pan with a spatula.

Makes 16 cookies.


Espresso Wheat-Germ Brownies


These flourless brownies are held together by one of the most fibrous of grain products: wheat germ. Wheat germ has a pronounced roasted flavor that is enhanced by other caramelized and browned elements. So the additions of dark coffee and brown sugar are natural. The brownies are exceptionally chewy, and will stay moist for at least a week, kept tightly wrapped.

nonstick flour and oil baking spray
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, large or extra-large
1 cup light-brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup toasted wheat germ
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with baking spray.

Mix the oil, egg, sugar, vanilla, espresso powder, salt and baking powder in a bowl until blended. Stir in the wheat germ, and walnuts and scrape into the prepared baking pan.

Bake until the surface is dry and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

Cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into 2-inch squares.

Makes 16 brownies.


Ginger-Lychee Sorbet


Fresh lychees are one of my favorite fruits, but they are available only for a few weeks in the summer. The rest of the year, we must make do with the canned product. This sorbet is one of the only ways I know to give canned lychees the spark of fresh fruit. If you buy lychees in sweet syrup, you will need no additional sugar. Canned lychees are available in the Asian grocery section of many markets or in any Asian market.

1 can (20 oz.) pitted lychees in heavy syrup
1 Tbsp. pickled sushi ginger

Purée the lychees with their syrup, and the ginger, in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Pour into a shallow pan and freeze until solid, about 4 hours or longer.

Cut or break the frozen mixture into cubes, and purée in a food processor until creamy.

Store in the freezer in a tightly closed container for up to one week. If the mixture should become solid, purée it again before serving.

Makes 1 pint or 4 servings.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.



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