[Sca-cooks] Passover cakes

Judith Epstein judith at ipstenu.org
Fri Nov 20 06:44:10 PST 2009

On 19 Nov 2009, at 9:52 PM, Stefan li Rous wrote:

> Okay, what is/are the passover restrictions? I thought this was no leavening, but maybe that is a different holiday. You can make cakes with flour without leavening, right, (or do you get a rock?)? Or a flourless cake with leavening?
> On a "flourless" chocolate cake, is that really flourless, or just made with no wheat flour?
> Stefan

Good question, Stefan!

The very basic requirement for Passover is "no leavening." This refers to anything involving yeast: bread, Marmite and Vegemite, beer (fermented grain), grain whiskey -- in short, NOTHING involving any of the Five Grains: oat, barley, spelt, rye, or wheat, unless it is sh'murah (watched, guarded) from the moment of harvest to the moment of baking, so that one knows for certain that there has been no moisture introduced to the grain. 

It gets more nitpicky after that: no using any vessels or utensils that one has used throughout the non-Passover year, because traces of the leavening may still be on those items. One uses special grindstones; no water is permitted in the storage rooms with the grain. Moisture is introduced to small batches in a separate room, mixed rapidly, and baked in thin sheets called matzah (unleavened bread), all within 18 minutes or less, because that's the minimum time at which fermentation can occur. This is the unleavened bread, also called bread of affliction, which we eat at our Passover ritual meals.

Ashkenazi Jewish communities also avoid using any other grain or legume which is used to make anything that resembles bread or baked goods; these other items are called kitnios (in the Ashkenazi pronunciation), and include corn, rice, beans, peas, peanuts, and so on. (Oddly, they can eat quinoa.) Some Ashkenazim are also non-gebroks (Yiddish, from ungebrochts,meaning 'unbroken'), meaning that they won't eat matzah which has been treated in any way since its baking. Plain matzah sheets are fine, but they won't do matzah balls, matzah spinach pie, matzah shepherd's pie, matzah-flour cakes, or anything else that involves getting matzah wet. This is on the theory that because of the rapid mixing, some flour may not have been moistened properly before baking, and therefore if it gets wet by being broken/ground and used in a recipe, it will ferment before being eaten.

Sephardi, Mizrachi, Indian, Ethiopian, and basically all non-Ashkenazi communities are perfectly fine with kitniot (Sephardi pronunciation; Teimani/Yemenite communities pronounce it as kitniyoth), so in predominantly non-Ashkenazi communities, you can find Passover products containing kitniyot; unfortuately the US is predominantly Ashkenazi, so it's just about impossible to get Passover kitniyot. Some non-Ashkenazi communities or individuals will eat some kitniot but not others during Passover. For instance, , Jews of Egypt and Jews of Egyptian descent, such as my rav, also won't eat chickpeas because the word for chickpea is chumus, which resembles chametz (leavening) in sound, and they don't want people thinking they're talking about eating chametz during Passover. 

As you might imagine, all these differences in practice result in a lot of lively discussion about what is and isn't appropriate for Passover. There are individuals in my own community (mixture of Sephardi, Mizrachi, Teimani, and Persian Jews) that won't eat anywhere but in their own homes. I've got one friend whose parents are Hornshtiebler Chasidim (they are non-gebroks), but she herself married a Sephardi man and took on Sephardi practice to create a unified family practice for their children. She could go over to her parents' house for Passover, but they can't come to her house because by their standards, her meticulously-chametz-free home is not kosher for Passover. I even know one man of Egyptian Jewish descent (who therefore doesn't eat chickpeas) who won't eat at his Bukharan rabbi's house because his rabbi's wife's favorite Passover meal includes a chickpea salad!

Judith / no SCA name yet
Master Albrecht Waldfurster's Egg
Middle Kingdom, Midlands, Ayreton, Tree-Girt-Sea (Chicago, IL)

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