Ding Dongs hold a special place in my heart. My best friend growing up in Canada was an American. Whenever her family would travel to New York they would bring numerous boxes of Ring Dings back with them and keep them in the freezer. Sure, there were lots of similar sandwich cakes in the great white north, but none had a hechsher. If we were particularly well behaved, we would be allowed to take one from the coveted stash. The memory of the feeling of the frozen squishy cake and its filling, still brings a smile to my face.
With the announcement of the closure of the Hostess brand, the memories of Ring Dings resurfaced. I found myself mulling the loss of an item I have not eaten since before my bat mitzvah. The public discussion of the closure of the Hostess plants centers around the financial challenges the company faced as it sought to restructure. But even without the current financial downturn, the snack cakes may be part of the shifting American foodways.
A popular Italian saying advises: “Dress like a Turk, and eat like a Jew.”
Jews have enjoyed an uninterrupted presence in Italy for more than 2,200 years, producing a delicious cuisine with almost endless regional variations, that profoundly affected broader Italian cuisine. Contrary to the all-too-common American assumption that most Jewish food is bland or boring, Jewish Italian cuisine tends to be seen as a delicacy by non-Jewish locals. Some of the most popular restaurants in Rome serve traditional Jewish dishes, like the famous fried artichokes.
Rome’s unofficial Christmas dessert, cassola, or a baked ricotta cheese cake, was originally a Jewish dish. In the 16th century, while some Jewish communities in Northern Italy made a fresh cheese baked sandwich-like dish sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon called pizza dolce, Roman Jews used ricotta to make large sweet pancakes cooked in a skillet. The dish was called “casciola” (from “cascio”, cheese), says Italian food historian A.Toaff in his “Mangiare alla Giudia.”
Any chef will tell you that the secret to a great Passover dessert is not trying to make kosher-for-Passover versions of year-round cakes. Don’t even think about baking a loaf cake or pie that requires switching out cups of flour for loads of matzo meal or potato starch. Instead, stick to recipes that have little or no flour, or recipes that call for nuts instead of flour.
Flourless chocolate cake is the most well-known Passover-friendly dessert, but we checked in with four talented chefs — a Jewish cookbook author, a Food Network test-kitchen director, a fine-dining restaurateur and a Food Network host — for some more unusual recommendations. Whether it’s a refreshing granita, decadent chocolate truffle, a Mediterranean-style walnut and date cake or the more traditional mandel bread, we think these desserts are winners — on Passover and all year long.
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