Kosher Kitchen

Ancient matzah’s tasty beyond-seder twist


Matzah is as old as the Exodus. The flour and water cracker bread has a starring role in the saga, with the Jews leaving Egypt so quickly that they couldn’t let their bread rise.

The crispy flat bread is the quintessential symbol of both the affliction and the freedom of the Jewish people and, for over 3,400 years, it has remained the same, baked by the same rules and with the same ingredients, millennium after millennium — flour and water, 18 minutes, and nothing else. Not very interesting as foods go.

Long ago, bakeries in cities, towns and shtetles across Europe, burned fire in their ovens to kasher them for the week-long holiday. They then watched their clocks and hurried through the 18-minute process of mixing, rolling, and baking the cracker-like breads in uneven shaped pieces. One second longer than 18 minutes, and the product was deemed not suitable — not kosher — for the holiday. The acceptable pieces were wrapped in cloth and sold to the community.

The process remained static for thousands of years across continents, though wars and migrating populations in a process adhered to in the strictest sense, until the industrialization of the world in the early 19th century. The invention of machines that could do the work of people changed everything (except the sameness of the taste of the product itself).

In France, in 1838, a man named Isaac Singer invented a rolling machine (like the old wringer washing machines) that rolled out the dough faster than his workers could. People were aghast! How could an observant Jew trust this new-fangled machine to create strictly kosher matzah? Many observant Jews shied away, preferring the hand-made matzah from their old, trusted bakeries.

In 1888, in America, a young man named Dov Behr opened the first mechanized matzah factory in Cincinnati, Ohio. He used the name, “The B. Manischewitz Company,” and revolutionized the matzah making business. He was very proud of his modern approach, yet he strictly adhered to the laws pertaining to this food. Though many distrusted this modern incarnation of this ancient tradition, Behr persevered.

The debate between machine-made and man-made matzah raged, and in 1908, a bakery located in a tenement in the Lower East Side boasted that it could make two million pounds of matzah a year, by hand, and most of it during Passover. In 1918 a new factory opened, Streits, and they, too, made all their matzah by hand.

In 1920, Dov Behr proclaimed that he was the biggest manufacturer of matzah in America, turning out 1.25 million pieces of the “bread of affliction” every year. But many people still would not buy the uniformly shaped, machine-made, carefully boxed matzah. They did not trust the sanctity of the flour, the mixing process, or the baking. So Dov Behr headed to Jerusalem to study. He returned 13 years later with acceptable credibility (for most Jews) as a matzah authority. Sales of his machine matzah soared and he opened a second factory, in Newark, NJ, in 1932. Still, matzah was matzah and nothing could be done to make it taste like anything other than the bread of affliction.

Incredibly, this debate continued into the 1950s, when a famous Ukrainian rabbi, Solomon Kluger, wrote a strong argument stating that the matzah machines would deprive poor Jews of the jobs of mixing, kneading, rolling and baking the matzah. His own brother-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson, argued that the machine made matzah was cheap enough for poor people to afford. Rabbis from around the world weighed in and fueled the fight.

For some, the argument has never ended. Luckily, today, people can buy what they like, machine or man-made. But, either way, the taste is unchanged.

• • •

Somewhere along the line, someone decided to make matzah more palatable by drenching it in chocolate. Good call. It spawned ideas for even more ways to make matzah more appealing. Today, matzah — though not what you’ll be eating to fulfill the mitzvah — is available covered in orange chocolate, mint chocolate, raspberry chocolate, or white, milk, or dark chocolate. You can even get it from Amazon and it is eligible for Prime shipping!

As they say, “We’ve come a long way!” But there’s more…

In addition to processed, chocolate-covered matzah, recipes abound for the home cook who wants to add matzah snacks to the week. Most are designed to mask the non-flavor of the matzah and none is as popular as the decadent recipe created by famed baker, Marcy Goldman, in the 1990’s.

Her recipe, “My Trademark, Most Requested, Absolutely Magnificent Caramel Matzah Crunch,” revolutionized the matzah world and the sales of butter, brown sugar and matzah probably increases dramatically every Passover as cooks make the treat again and again. In fact, it is the most common matzah recipe online and every blogger, Internet food writer and home cook has claimed the creation as is or her own! Goldman’s recipe made matzah not only palatable, but addictively delicious.

Leading manufacturers could not match this or other incredible matzah concoctions — storage and shipping were probably issues — so home cooks took the recipe and ran with it adding all kinds of deliciousness to Goldman’s invention. Some added nuts and others added pieces of candy, coconut, and even sea salt. That now world-famous recipe opened a universe of possibilities for the traditional, ritualistic, ancient food.

So what can one do with matzah after the sedorim to make it taste delicious and delectable? And, to use up those extra boxes we always seem to have? The answer is, with some imagination, lots of things!

1. Mix matzah farfel, nuts, raisins, shaved coconut and any other fruits or nuts you like for matzah trail mix. Add chocolate chips, too.

2. Toss matzah farfel with a bit of olive oil, lots of spices, and herbs. Make it as spicy as you like. Toast for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool, toss with nuts and some grated parmesan, if you like.

3. Break matzah into squares. Top with a marshmallow, some chopped chocolate and bake at 375 for 3-5 minutes. Add a second matzah square and drizzle with melted chocolate. Passover S’mores! For a treat, use Matza Crunch instead of plain matzah.

4. Mix finely crushed matzah, light brown sugar, coconut, ground almonds and melted butter. Mix until it’s like wet sand. Layer with ice cream or yogurt, and fresh berries, or use to top fresh fruit.

5. Take your favorite peanut brittle recipe, substitute matzah farfel and sliced almonds for the peanuts. Yum.

6. Take broken pieces of matzah, top with shredded cheddar and home-made salsa. Microwave till the cheese is melted. Add hot peppers, sliced olives, sour cream, etc. Matzah Nachos

7. Matzah Bark: Take 3 pieces of matzah. Melt some dark, white and milk chocolate in separate bowls. Spread one kind of chocolate on each matzah. Top with any candy, fruit or nuts, snipped marshmallows, etc you like. Add some sea salt, if you like and dust with some cocoa powder. Chill, break up and mix pieces of all colors. Be creative!

8. Melt 12 ounces of white chocolate and divide into four bowls. Put about half in one bowl and divide the rest among the other 3. Color the small bowls with 3 different colors of food coloring. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Cover the pieces of matzah completely with white chocolate and then drizzle with the colors. Let set or ue a toothpick to drag the colors into designs. Top with any toppings you like. Great kids’ project.

9. Melt some chocolate. Add matzah farfel, raisins and chopped nuts. Spoon into a clean ice cube tray and chill. Makes old fashioned Chunky candy bars!

10. Crush some matzah farfel into smaller pieces. Heat some heavy cream to bubbling. Remove from heat and add an equal amount of chopped dark chocolate. Stir to melt and let cool. Add the matzah and maybe some chopped almonds and cherries. Refrigerate for an hour, scoop and form into balls and roll in cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Matzah Truffles!

11. Mix farfel with olive oil or melted butter. Spread on cookie sheet. Toast at 350. Sprinkle with kosher salt and some sugar. Mix well. Kettle Matzah!

12. Take 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil and cook until golden. Pour over 5 sheets of broken matzah pieces that are on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet. Ot, pour over 3 to 5 cups of matzah farfel, spread evenly over parchment on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet Let cool, or top while hot, to melt chocolate pieces, white, dark, or milk. Add all kinds of toppings on the chocolate and let cool. Matzah brittle!

13. Make Marcie Goldman’s Matzah Crunch recipe and, instead of chocolate, top with:

•White chocolate and chopped pistachios

•White chocolate, chopped macadamia nuts and dried cranberries

•No chocolate, just chopped toasted walnuts or other nuts

•Pieces of Passover candy, ice cream topping like sprinkles or other candies

•Pieces of chopped apricots, dried cherries, or other dried fruit

Add nothing at all; the toffee is sublime!

Matzah Crunch Ice Cream Cake (Dairy)

This is a simple dessert that makes a delicious, chocolate Toffee treat!

2/3 cup heavy cream

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

4 pieces Matzah Crunch, cooled, I like plain, but you can top with chocolate

2 pints ice cream, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, chocolate chip -almost any flavor will work, softened

Heat the cream until steaming and slight bubbles form on the side. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir, cover, and set aside for 5 minutes. Mix until the chocolate is melted. Set aside.

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 pieces of parchment so they cross and overhang on all sides.

Set a piece of matzah crunch, toffee side down, spread some chocolate over the top and chill for 5 minutes. Spread half of the softened ice cream over the matzah. Top with another piece of matzah, toffee side down. Spread with chocolate and chill for 5 minutes. Add a piece of matzah, toffee side down and repeat. Top with a piece of matzah, toffee side up and gently press down. drizzle remaining chocolate over the matzah and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Let soften at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving. Use the paper and remove from the pan, slide onto a serving plate and cut into 2x4-inch pieces. Serves 6 to 10.