I don’t even know where to begin with this one, there are so many sidebars and back stories I can distract myself with. I guess I’ll just ramble through them all and get to the baking when it suits me, this is MY blog after all.
Before anything I need to set the scene. Matzah, for those who don’t know, is the ‘bread’ eaten by Jews during Passover. Passover commemorates the Jewish escape from Egypt (see: Exodus, the bible book OR Prince of Egypt, the animated film) where they had been slaves. This is where Moses has his time to shine (let my people go!) and also where God delivers some serious plague action to show the Egyptians that he is not screwing around. When not-great-dude Pharoah finally relents and agrees to free the slaves the Jews had to pack up and leave ASAP and as a result their bread did not have time to rise. Passover is celebrated by retelling the story of this escape from slavery in Egypt and eating lots of things laden with symbolism. Matzah, as you may have guessed, symbolises the bread that had insufficient time to rise during the hasty escape.
I have to make it clear that this recipe does not contain yeast and therefore violates the only founding tenet of this entire blog. Does that mean I’ve opened the floodgates to a host of other yeastless goods? Probably not, but only time will tell.
That said, the lack of yeast has got me asking some questions. Specifically, why were the ancient Israelites surprised that their hasty bread-making efforts failed if they didn’t even include yeast in the recipe? I have only been doing this blog for 3 months, but one thing I’m across is the need for yeast in breaded goods. I don’t want to tell my ancient ancestors how to suck eggs, but I seriously think that excluding the rising agent meant the whole bread enterprise was fighting an uphill battle from the get-go.
Now that I’ve lectured ancient-breadmakers-fleeing-for-their-lives, almost certainly offended people with my crib notes version of the story of Passover and probably failed to understand the ways in which matzah is a representation and not a literal recipe passed down through generations I should clarify my credentials. As a family we are not the most Jewish Jews you’ll ever meet. My mother is flat out not Jewish which, for some people, rules my brother and I out immediately and altogether. My father is Jewish but I would not quiz him too closely on literally anything contained in the Old Testament. It’s more of a cultural thing…Despite this we consistently celebrate Passover every year, usually hosting people for the first night (the full festival runs eight days). Even as our enthusiasm for other events in the Jewish calendar has waned, Passover has remained a fixture, and who are we to complain if there are more Catholics than Jews in attendance? Please also be aware that we do not hesitate to bring Passover forwards or push it out if we find the God-ordained calendar dates are out of alignment with our schedules. So, I guess my point is that I’m on shaky religious ground here and wildly unqualified to either contextualise matzah or to attempt to make it.
In looking up recipes for this I discovered that there are A LOT of rules around correct matzah production. Naturally I disregarded lots of these, but by far my favourite thing I found was this recipe which includes ‘long wooden poles’ and ‘six or more people’ in the ingredients. A recurring theme is the need to get the matzah made super quickly – apparently 18 minutes is the golden number. Any longer and the flour/water combo will start leavening (not, it should be noted, in the way that YEAST would) and then the whole symbolism is ruined. If you want to have legit kosher-for-Passover matzah (not a priority for me) then you need to source kosher-for-Passover flour, get your water from a spring and avoid canola oil. Given that I have never baked in a kosher kitchen let alone a kosher-for-passover kitchen, I felt free to disregard basically all of the rules.
So, as part of the second night of Passover this year, which we were celebrating as if it was the first night (classic Singer family approach), I prepared home-made matzah, which was absolutely not kosher for anything, least of all Passover. This was undertaken in spite of there being plenty of packet matzah and very low enthusiasm from all the lucky matzah-eaters.
Per the recipe I was following, I set a timer for 16 minutes and got to work combining flour and water, frantically kneading, dividing the dough into 8 (extremely uneven) balls and then attempting to roll them out. Time was not on my side. I had to co-opt my mother’s help and even so we took around 25 minutes to get all our matzah made.
The end result:
– misshapen matzah of varying sizes
– a lot of flour all over my dress and hands
– repeated comments of ‘why are we making matzah, we have plenty’ and ‘oy’
– quite tasty flat breads
While I have no idea if I would ever bother to make these again for passover or just as some really easy crackers, I do think they make a pretty good vehicle for dips. We had to eat them with herring and gefilte fish, which are passover staples I could do without, but I did manage to sneak a taste with some taramasalata and I can assure you there was nothing wrong with that.
Matzah (or, the easiest & most rustic crackers of your life)
From this Allrecipes gem, but basically identical to the rest of the internet’s matzah suggestions
1C flour + extra for dusting
1/3C water (+ more if needed)
Olive oil for brushing
Salt for salting
First things first, preheat your oven to 250°C and pop a heavy oven tray onto a rack near the top of the oven to get nice and warm. Dust a workbench and rolling pin with flour. Make sure you’re flour and water are out and measured, the olive oil and salt can wait.
Now, if you’re keen for a challenge, set yourself a timer. You want the whole thing done in 18 minutes, and there’s a 4 minute cooking time…so, pick a time that makes sense to you. The linked recipe suggests 16 minutes, but I think 14 or 18 makes more sense. Good luck to you, it’s a real speed test.
Whether you’re being fierce or leisurely: put your flour in a bowl and add the water 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix the dough with a spoon until it comes together into a (shaggy) ball and then start kneading the dough until it forms a smooth-ish ball (30 seconds/1 minute). Use your judgement if it needs a spot more water or flour.
Turn the dough out onto your floured surface and then split your dough in half (2), in half again (4) and then in half again (8). Take each of your little dough blobs and start to stretch them into rounds – I found that rolling them was impossible because they were so sticky, so went for gently stretching the rounds out first and then rolling them wider. You are aiming for 20cm rounds, I got to more like 10cm. You want to stretch them, then let them rest a little, then roll them wider. The thinner the better – they’re only getting 4 minutes in the oven and we want crunch.
Take a fork and pierce each round repeatedly (25 times, apparently) and then turn it over and repeat.
Once you have 8 thin pierced ’rounds’ it’s time to cook. Pop them carefully onto your preheated tray and cook for 2 minutes, then turn them over and cook for another 2 minutes.
Remove from the oven and pop the matzah onto a tray to cool. ‘Anoint’ (best word from the Allrecipes recipe) the matzah with oil and season generously with salt.