First things first, this matzo is not kosher for Passover, and honestly not even kosher at all. I know this because, for starters, I am not Jewish and I don’t keep a kosher kitchen. After that, there are probably at least a dozen other reasons that my matzo is not kosher, but none of that is important right now because I have big news.
Passover starts on Wednesday, and I have finally done my DIY matzo challenge, moving it to the done column of my culinary bucket list. To me, this is worth celebrating!
When I first met my now-husband, Les, I had a lot of questions about his Jewish heritage and especially the foods. Though Les has never kept the dietary kosher rules, he does avoid leavened bread during the eight days of Passover. That first year we were together, he shared some of his matzo with me and, well, what can I say— blah. The standard boxed matzo— unleavened bread— is like the worst, most bland, boring cracker you can imagine. But, you know, tradition!
The Jewish tradition around matzo is a remembrance of the enslaved Hebrew people, who had a moment’s notice to pack for the Promised Land when Moses was called to lead them out of Egypt. They didn’t have time to make their usual bread, so they mixed the flour and water, rolled it out and baked it on the spot without fermentation or leavening. By kosher rules, it all has to happen in under 18 minutes, start to finish. No wonder it tastes so bland— and does such a negative number on the digestive system (it ain’t pretty).
But Les chokes down this dry stuff every Passover, subbing it in for his usual morning half bagel, using it as a canvas for his tuna salad, and sometimes just laying a schmear of butter on it as a snack. Anything to use up the box! I’ve been threatening for at least five years to make matzo from scratch, and between the internet and my Jewish recipe books, I had done a lot of research. I was confident about getting it done, so I set up my matzo-making station with all my ingredients, tools and even my iPad to keep me on track for the 18-minute limit. How hard could it be? Turns out, I still had a lot to learn, and no “Bubbie” (Jewish grandmother) to walk me through it.
Making matzo is a full 180 from my usual sourdough bread baking, which relies on long, slow fermentations and higher hydration doughs. My breads bake up light and airy, not flat and dry. Matzo is nothing but flour and water in its most traditional state (in other words, boring). But we have already established that my version would not be kosher, and I wanted to bend the rules a little further, adding a sprinkle of sea salt and maybe even some everything bagel seasoning to jazz it up a bit.
I found a recipe on NYT Cooking that included salt for flavor, olive oil to make the dough more workable and a swap-in of some whole wheat flour, so I was on board for the ingredients, but I ditched the rest of the recipe. It called for rolling out the matzo dough with a rolling pin (a challenge with such a hard dough) and would have produced four dense, tortilla-like flatbreads— nothing like the thin sheets of matzo we usually pick up from the store. I set up my trusty pasta machine to roll the dough out thin, like the matzo we are used to, and kept a close eye on the oven because they baked quickly on my preheated baking stone— so quickly, in fact, that my first batch was burnt to a crisp. I was not deterred!
Moving forward, I rolled the dough a little bit thicker and called out to Les to find out which Yiddish word for “crazy” was appropriate for my situation (it’s meshuggeneh). I put him in charge of the oven, and the subsequent batches turned out great. We ended up with enough matzo to fill a large Rubbermaid container, and, of course, we still have a box of the grocery store matzo, just in case. 🙂
My matzo challenge is complete, and I will probably change things up a bit next time— less salt on top for sure, and I might play around with different types of flour.
Eighteen minutes is a tough time goal, though, and probably best accomplished in a kosher kitchen full of Jewish bubbies who actually know what they’re doing. I gave up on beating the buzzer when I was pulling the burnt ones from the oven.
With Passover right around the corner, I'm finally able to move homemade matzo into the 'done' column of my culinary bucket list!
- 1 3/4 cups (about 235 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (about 50 g) white whole wheat flour
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm water
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Flaky sea salt and everything bagel seasoning, optional
- Preheat oven and baking stone at 500F for at least 30 minutes from the time it reaches temperature. Prepare a pizza peel or back of a baking sheet by dusting lightly wtih flour. This will be an aid for easy transfer of the matzo dough into and out of the oven.
- Combine flours and salt in a large bowl. Add warm water and olive oil all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture resembles a shaggy dough.
- Turn dough out on to a counter and knead by hand for a few minutes until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide dough into four equal quarters. Use plastic wrap to cover three of the dough sections.
- Use your hand or a rolling pin to flatten the first dough section into a disc. Cut the disc into two pieces and flatten each into an even thinner disc. Run the dough through a pasta roller, reducing the thickness after each pass until you get to the second-to-last notch on the machine. You will need to cut the dough in half at some point, as smaller pieces are easier to work with.
- Arrange two pieces of matzo dough on the pizza peel or reversed cookie sheet. Sprinkle each with sea salt or everything bagel seasoning and lightly roll with a rolling pin to adhere the seasonings. Prick each piece of dough all over with a fork.
- Slide matzo onto the preheated baking stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes (watch the clock closely). Matzo is ready when it has air bubbles and is lightly golden brown all over. Use tongs to pull the baked matzo from the oven. Cool on a baking rack. Repeat with remaining dough.
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