(François Payard)

One of the world’s most decorated pastry chefs is set to unveil his latest Passover creation, but for the time being he’s preserving a bit of mystery. François Payard would reveal only that it will be filled with caramel and based on matzo meal.

“We are working on something very special,” Payard divulged. “The idea is that people not get tired of you. It’s about trying to create something new for the market.”

Payard, a third-generation pâtissier who calls himself “Mr. Macaron” and claims to have ganache coursing through his veins, has received many awards, including the prestigious “Pastry Chef of the Year” from the James Beard Foundation in 1995. But the title he never expected was “Pastry Chef to the Jews.”

Payard opened his first New York patisserie on the Upper East Side in 1997. He discovered that his clientele was largely Jewish and quickly learned to respond to their preferences. “If you’re Jewish you want to see Passover,” he said. “You don’t want to see a rabbit next to you.” Soon his customers requested chocolate-covered matzo, but Payard created a more festive version of the old standby: He’d dip it in butter and brown sugar and bake before dipping it in chocolate; afterward, he’d sprinkle with salt. Although not Jewish himself, Payard wanted to make the holiday more special. “If clients are celebrating Passover,” he said, “why not try to make them happy.”

Payard stresses that his Passover desserts are not kosher, but Kosher for Passover-style. There is no rabbinical supervision at his bakeries.

The Passover pastries will only be available at Payard’s five New York patisseries and bistros as well as online for pick-up or delivery in Manhattan. They will not be available at Payard’s dozen other patisseries in Las Vegas, Japan and Korea, where demand for Passover treats is not expected to be as great.

Passover’s limited ingredient mix presents a special challenge to the author of four pastry cookbooks. “The flourless cake, it is very dense,” he lamented. “The petit fours, you can eat all year round, probably as much as almond petit fours—you just have to call them gluten-free or flourless.”

Payard’s advice for home bakers making Passover desserts is to be open-minded and not just swap ingredients in a favorite non-Passover recipe. “I’m not trying to substitute to make something for Passover,” he said. “Substitute means you will change things and maybe it won’t be as good.” He warns against looking to nuts as flour substitutes, because when used incorrectly, they can make desserts dense and tasteless. Instead, he suggests using gluten-free recipes as starting points for Passover desserts.

Payard’s new mystery dessert will bump the meringue kisses from his 2013 Passover menu. (You can find the recipe for those below.) Treats that made the cut from last year are raspberry-lychee macarons; fudgy, dairy-free, flourless chocolate walnut cookies; and caramelized twice-dipped dark chocolate covered matzo sprinkled with slivered almonds and fleur de sel. These desserts don’t come cheap: A six-portion flourless chocolate cake will run you a cool $45.

Meringue Kisses
Adapted from François Payard

4 cups Kosher for Passover confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 1/16 tsp (4 large) egg whites
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups whole raw almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast whole almonds on a baking sheet until they are fragrant and start to color, about 15 minutes. Cool.

2. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, egg whites and vanilla extract in a double boiler over medium heat until mixture reaches 122°F on a candy thermometer.

3. Transfer to a stand mixer. Using whisk attachment, beat on high speed until whites hold stiff peaks. Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Add toasted almonds to the meringue mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Pour mixture over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in freezer until firm, for at least an hour or overnight, depending on your freezer.

5. Remove from freezer and with a sharp knife, cut into squares about 1 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches.

6. Working quickly, place the cut cookies on another parchment-lined baking sheet (it’s okay if they loose their shape a little). Place baking sheet back in the freezer for one hour.

7. Bake the cookies at 300°F for 35 minutes or until they are a light brown color.

Yield: 100 cookies

Maia Cheslow Baff is a user experience designer and a trained pastry chef from the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. She is also the founder of the dessert blog Dessert-o-licious.

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