With a nut meringue base, a rich chocolate layer, and a billowy cloud of whipped cream on top, this cake blows every stereotype of paltry Passover desserts out of the water. It's easy to make in a limited Pesach kitchen and a treat that my family looks forward to all year.
Jotted down in my mom's old recipe notebook is this recipe from a neighbor in Rehovot in the early eighties, for "three-layer Passover cake." It got its current moniker from my husband, who ceremoniously named it Passover Awesome Cake upon taking his first bite, many Pesachs ago. It's important to me that my children think of Passover as full of special treats and delicious food, a time to be eagerly anticipated rather than gotten through without bread, of which we are, to say the least, big fans in this house. This cake is the lynchpin of that campaign, anchoring what has grown into a full-blown lineup of baked goods and chocolatey things.
The original recipe, in the laconic manner of jotted-down Israeli recipes, doesn't exactly provide a lot of guidance, such as what pan to bake this in. Over the years I've tried lots of different pans and my favorite method is to bake it in a large springform pan. A regular round cake pan (8" / 22 cm) is too small and a large rectangular pan (9"x13" / 23x33 cm) is too big. If you don't have a Passover springform pan, you can use a medium rectangular pyrex or foil pan, about 8"x11" / 20x28 cm. (It might seem superfluous to have a springform dedicated just for Pesach, but since many Passover cakes work best in a springform, it makes a pretty good investment, I think.)
Making the nut meringue base
It might sound fussy, but a nut meringue is just egg whites whipped with sugar until they're stiff, with finely ground nuts folded in. When you separate the eggs, keep the yolks around, because they're going to get added to the chocolate layer. (I love it when recipes use both the whites and yolks, so you don't have to worry about using them up or wasting them).
For the nuts, you can use any kind you like or have on hand. In the Passover food aisle, you can generally find bags of ground walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, all of which work well. Walnuts and hazelnuts have a shade of bitterness to them, so my favorite is probably almonds, but we've tried and like them all. Note that the bagged ground nut flours they sell for Pesach are a bit coarser than regular almond or hazelnut flours, which you can also use, they'll just have a bit less texture in the finished meringue. You can also finely grind nuts in a food processor (to that point right before they become a flour).
Making the chocolate layer
The chocolate layer is similar to ganache, but contains a few other ingredients. Chopped chocolate gets melted with butter and a bit of sugar and water. When it's completely melted, let it cool slightly, then stir in the beaten yolks. (The heat from the chocolate gently cooks the yolks, but if you're concerned about undercooked eggs, then you can skip adding the yolks.)
The whipped cream layer
The chocolate layer gets topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and the cake is complete. Optionally, you can flavor the cream with a bit of instant coffee granules, for a subtle mocha flavor. This is especially nice if you're making the dairy-free version.
You can top it with finely chopped chocolate for decoration, if you like. Cut into wedges or squares, depending on the type of cake pan you use.
Making this cake dairy-free
I've made Passover Awesome Cake in a dairy-free version many times, and it works pretty well if you swap the butter and cream out for margarine and non-dairy whipping cream (the kind that comes in a little carton as a liquid and which you whip just like dairy cream; these are usually easy to find kosher for Passover). That being said, it is well worth serving a festive dairy meal once over the holiday just to have this cake with rich dairy ganache and creamy topping. Our family tradition is to have it on Shvi'i shel Pesach (chag sheni), the seventh day of Passover which is yomtov, following a main course of nut-crusted fish.
Passover Awesome Cake (dairy or parve)
Nut meringue layer:
- 4 eggs whites - reserve the yolks for the chocolate layer
- 1 cup granulated sugar - 200 g
- 1 cup finely ground nuts - such as hazelnuts or almonds - 125 g
- 7 oz semisweet chocolate - 200 g
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- ½ cup butter or margarine, cubed - - 1 stick 110 g
- 4 egg yolks - reserved
- 1 cup cream or non-dairy whipping cream - 240 ml
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp instant coffee granules - optional, for mocha
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C and grease a 9" / 22 cm springform cake pan or small rectangular pan.
Make the nut meringue base layer:
- Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Gradually add in the sugar while whipping. Fold in the ground nuts.
- Spread the mixture in the prepared cake pan. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden around the edges and well set in the center.
Make the chocolate layer:
- Melt together the chopped chocolate along with the water and sugar, either in a double boiler or in the microwave in 2 20-second intervals, stirring between.
- When evenly melted, stir in the butter/margarine. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
- Beat the reserved egg yolks with a fork and strain them into the chocolate mixture. Stir to combine.
- Spread the chocolate evenly over the meringue when it's ready, then cover and place in the refrigerator to chill completely, about 1 hour.
Make the crème layer:
- Whisk the coffee granules in the cream, if using. Whip the cream until stiff, then add the sugar. Spread on top of the cake and continue to chill until serving.