(January 28, 2015 / JNS) By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
For those who feel that Passover cooking can be as restrictive as their ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt, pastry chef and author Paula Shoyer says her new book “has arrived to set you free.”
A former practicing attorney, Shoyer has appeared on the Food Network and Martha Stewart Living Radio and works as a consultant to kosher bakeries. Her latest undertaking is “The New Passover Menu,” a book released on Feb. 3.
“Jews who host the holiday often feel that preparing the house and food for Passover makes them feel a little too much like the Israelite slaves,” Shoyer writes in the book’s introduction.
The recipes offered in the book, Shoyer hopes, will change that feeling. Bread, rice, corn, oats, rye, spelt, barley, legumes, and pasta all fall under the category of chametz—foods that are forbidden on Passover. But rather than dwelling on prohibited items, Shoyer suggests focusing on what you can eat on Passover.
Known for her desserts, Shoyer’s book includes triple-chocolate biscotti, pistachio and strawberry roll, and meringue fruit tarts. “The New Passover Menu” also features an updated Ashkenazic seder menu (with items like fresh salmon gefilte fish loaf with arugula; brisket osso buco; and asparagus, zucchini, and leek kugel), an international seder menu (including Middle Eastern charoset, whole chicken with dried fruit stuffing, and Moroccan spiced short ribs), a Shabbat menu, a Yom Tov menu, a French dairy menu, and more desserts.
Shoyer has traveled globally and spent significant time in Switzerland and Paris, where she graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in 1996. Fittingly, her book has an international flair.
“In my travels I would meet people who told me they loved my desserts, but that I should write a food cookbook,” Shoyer told JNS.org. “Everywhere I went, people asked me about savory food, but specifically Passover foods. They mentioned how hard it is, the food is terrible, the desserts are terrible. They made it sound like it was such a misery to cook for Passover. For me it is not. I realized I needed to write a cookbook and focus on what you can eat, instead of what you cannot eat.”
Shoyer teaches classes on French pastry-making and Jewish cooking in the Washington, DC, area, and holds demonstrations around the world. Her goal is to make traditional Jewish desserts more contemporary, more interesting, and healthier. Many of her desserts are dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
On March 25 at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, Shoyer will give a presentation on her updates to traditional dishes, contemporary Passover recipes, and her personal journey as part of the Y’s Kitchen Arts and Letters series. Referencing Shoyer’s previous books—2010’s “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and 2013’s “The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts”—Christine Chen, the 92nd Street Y’s director of adult programs, said Shoyer “literally wrote the book on kosher baking.”
The Y is looking forward to hearing “some tales from [Shoyer’s] unusual career journey and even some tidbits from her experience competing on the Food Network’s ‘Sweet Genius’[program],” Chen told JNS.org.
Shoyer is planing to write more books, including one on Shabbat cooking and another on desserts, and she also intends to introduce a new frozen Jewish dessert. But for now, her focus is on “The New Passover Menu,” with three book events coming up in Chicago in March on top of the 92nd Street Y program. Recently, when visiting Israel to attend a family bar mitzvah, Shoyer held what she called a “food tour” that kicked off at U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro’s residence in Herzliya Pituach. Eighty attended the event, at which Shoyer demonstrated desserts from her three books.
In Israel, Shoyer said she was also researching a forthcoming article about the best bakeries in the Jewish state. Asked to divulge a few of those bakeries, she told JNS.org that her top three are the Pe’er bakery and Ness Patisserie in Jerusalem, as well as Tel Aviv’s Careme.
Besides offering contemporary recipes, Shoyer’s book includes personal anecdotes such as one titled “Italian Vegetarian Menu,” which is dedicated to her father, Reuben Marcus, who served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II.
“In 1945, just prior to Passover, the Rochester Jewish Welfare Board shipped a massive amount of Passover essentials—matzah, wine, gefilte fish—to the base where he was stationed in northern Italy,” Shoyer writes. “My father and his Jewish buddies decided to organize two seders, but they needed more supplies, and most importantly, a large enough venue to host them. The Jewish chaplain convinced the quartermaster to supply the required items. Searching the area, they found an old abandoned farm building. They cleaned it out and convened a seder for three to four hundred Jewish soldiers. My father says this story proves that with a little bit of dedication and moxie, you can turn nothing into something, and that it is truly possible to hold a Passover seder anywhere.”