Passover poses many challenges for hungry, observant Jews in Brooklyn forbidden from bread or any food that rises. Burgers and beer are a fond memory. Beer is made with hops and hops are leavened. Pizza, noodles, even croutons are out of the question.
For businesses, making Passover kosher food can be nearly impossible, or at least prohibitively difficult. Most kosher bakeries simply close rather than make their kitchens Passover kosher, a massive undertaking that requires meticulously cleaning every inch of the store, top to bottom. All chametz, as the leavened food is called, must be removed.
But in many Brooklyn bakeries, there is a compromise. Bakeries like Park Slope’s Trois Pommes Patisserie offer not Passover kosher but Passover-style food that includes flourless cakes, matzo and other items made without chametz.
“I’m Jewish so I make the deserts anyway for myself,” said Trois Pommes owner Emily Isaac. Trois Pommes has been making its own Passover-style goods since the bakery opened in 2007. “I think if you’re not Jewish it might not occur to you.”
Made without flour and other ingredients, Passover-style food is typically far starchier than the normal versions, less easily broken and sharper in taste. Because they are baked in a kitchen that is still not kosher, more strictly observant Jews will not eat the sweets. But for many of the borough’s half a million Jews, kosher style is close enough.
Shelly Scott, a Park Slope resident, wandered into Trois Pommes Thursday to buy a skim latte but she left with a bag of homemade matzo. “I forgot it was matzo season,” she said, or at least, she forgot that Trois Pommes made matzo.
Like many who would describe the taste of matzo as not dissimilar from cardboard, Scott is normally “not a big fan,” she said. From Trois Pommes though, she made an exception. “This is the real thing,” she said, homemade rather than the mass-produced kind.
Trois Pommes’s most popular Passover-style food is its chocolate covered coconut macaroons, said Isaac. The macaroons sit behind a glass shelf they share with their Passover-style cousins, brownies. Isaac also makes flourless cheesecake.
For Isaac, Passover-style food is as much a financial decision as it is a religious or aesthetic one, giving her that little edge of business that would have vanished otherwise during the eight days of Passover.
The Passover goods typically go fastest during the first few days of the holiday, largely because that’s when most Passover Seders are held. According to Isaac, as much as 50 percent of her business Monday and Tuesday came from her Passover-style goods. The chocolate covered coconut macaroons ran out. “Monday was double what a regular Monday would be,” Isaac said.
Trois Pommes is not the only Brooklyn bakery to provide Passover-style goods.
Betty Bakery in Boerum Hill also has a full Passover menu for two weeks around the holiday, part of the bakery’s regular holiday specials. “We have a love of the holidays,” said manager Emily Hanhan.
Some bakeries benefit from goods that may automatically be considered acceptable for Passover. In Gowanus, Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop saw a slight uptick in business during Passover for its caramel apple pies. “Pie crust usually doesn’t have any leavening in it,” said manager Colleen Riley.
In Red Hook, Baked sold six or seven dozen flourless chocolate cakes in the first few days of Passover, said co-owner Renato Poliafito. Often misshapen without flour, Baked will coat its cakes in order to give them a glossier, more appealing look. “They sell pretty well,” Poliafito said.
For many bakeries in Brooklyn, Passover was actually a fair bit busier last year, in part because Passover this year fell during spring break for many schools. The timing of the holiday is determined by the Jewish calendar, which does not coincide with the Gregorian calendar.