When I converted to Judaism, I of course had to learn to prepare traditional Jewish dishes: gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, kugel, cholent, etc. You’d think I would have had to give up favorite family recipes from my childhood in Germany. Not so! My German grandmother’s beloved hazelnut torte turned out to be the perfect (and easy to prepare!) Passover dessert.
For every birthday during my childhood, there would be Oma’s Haselnusstorte (hazelnut cake). She lived a four-hour train ride away in Wiesbaden, and if she wasn’t visiting for my siblings’ or my birthday, the torte would arrive in the mail. She’d save the right kind of cardboard box for those parcels. Even after we had grown up, when Oma wouldn’t necessarily send it right on our birthdays, the tradition prevailed: The next time we visited her, a hazelnut torte would be waiting on her kitchen counter, glazed in glistening dark chocolate and decorated with a gummy bear per slice, or for the more grown up among us, a blanched almond.
My kids are more into piled-high American chocolate cakes for their birthdays, but Oma’s hazelnut torte has become a different tradition in our Jewish household because, since it’s flourless, it’s kosher for Passover. It’s also tremendously easy to prepare if you have mastered the art of separating eggs—making 100 percent sure that no yolk seeps into the egg whites (they won’t stiffen otherwise). Tip: Use a separate glass for cracking the eggs and pour each egg white into a bigger bowl for beating once you’re sure no yolk has gotten in there. If you mess up, toss that egg white.
My husband, my kids, and so far all guests at our seders love Oma’s hazelnut torte, and so every Passover I bake the traditional version using hazelnuts (also called filiberts). Over the course of the eight days of Passover, I also bake an almond and a walnut version. See for yourself what version you like best.
6 eggs, separated
3 cups finely ground hazelnuts (for filiberts, use about 9 oz. ground)
1 1/3 cups sugar
grated rind of half a lemon
1 bar of semi-sweet chocolate
canola oil* and matzoh meal for pan
9″ round springform pan
1. Beat egg yolks until they are foamy, add lemon rind, then beat in sugar until creamy. Add nuts. Beat egg whites until stiff (peaks in the foam will stay when you turn off your beater).
2. Carefully fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. The nut mixture will be a little stiff but it will loosen up with careful folding in of the egg whites.
3. Coat the pan with oil and matzo meal. Pour batter into the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Let cake cool off.
4. Melt the chocolate, add a teaspoon of canola oil* (to keep it just a bit soft for cutting), and spread it over the cake.
Enjoy, and happy Passover!
*Canola oil is considered kosher for Passover for those, most commonly in the Sephardi community, who eat kitniyot during the holiday. Similar mild oils that are kosher for Passover for those who abstain from kitniyot are cottonseed oil and safflower oil.
Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the true story of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burden of the Holocaust.