A kosher pastry is any sort of cake, cookie, or small dessert item that is baked in compliance with the Jewish laws of kosher. Among other things, kosher rules prohibit milk from mixing with any meat product or with any specifically non-dairy food. This restriction carries not to just what is eaten together, but also to how food is prepared. Dishes and utensils that touch dairy products must be kept separate, and the strictest kosher cooks maintain separate work spaces, implements, and even tools like ovens to ensure no cross-contamination. A pastry baked in compliance with these specifications can be properly labeled and sold as a kosher pastry.
Most kosher rules concern meats, but baked goods are implicated insofar as their recipes often call for dairy. Meat and dairy can never be mixed in kosher foods, in the kitchen or even within the same meal. For this reason, many kosher pastries are made without any dairy ingredients in facilities and with utensils that have never so much as touched dairy ingredients. Foods like this that contain neither meat nor dairy are called pareve.
In order for a bakery to sell kosher pastries, its kitchen must generally be certified as kosher by a rabbi or some rabbinical authority. Kosher pastry products that are marketed commercially are usually designated as kosher by certain labels, symbols, or certifications. Commercial pastries may be labeled as simply “kosher,” which means that they contain dairy, or “kosher pareve,” which means that they are dairy-free. A pareve kosher pastry usually looks like an ordinary pastry, but contains dairy substitutes like applesauce, oils, or some margarines.
Kosher baked goods and other kosher products are often sold in specifically kosher groceries but can also be found in most mainstream grocery stores. Home cooks who keep kosher kitchens can make kosher baked goods rather easily at home, as well. An important aspect of cooking kosher is that all ingredients are known: adding jams, spreads, and other fillings that are not certified kosher can destroy the kosher nature of the food being served.
Even a fully compliant kosher pastry may not be kosher for Passover. Passover, a Jewish holiday celebrated each spring, has its own set of highly rigorous kosher rules that do not apply during the rest of the year. A pastry must be specially labeled “kosher for Passover” in order to be consumed during the Passover period.
One of the first requirements for Passover food is that it be made in a “purified” kitchen. In most cases, this means that the kitchen must be scrubbed completely, removing all old food and food products. Leavened bread is specifically forbidden, a restriction that applies to many a kosher pastry.
In basic parlance, leavened bread is any bread that has risen — basically any bread with yeast. Passover leavening rules also forbid the use of wheat, rye, and oats, among other things, unless they have been specifically certified by a rabbi. This usually means that any flour is forbidden. Kosher baking for Passover can accordingly be something of a challenge. Passover pastries are often made of matzo meal, and may include kosher chocolate, coconut, or hazelnut paste.