Matzah: Bread of Affliction
There was a strange moment Saturday morning when I realized that today’s post would fall on the morning before the first Passover seder. For those of you who do not know, Passover (or Pesach) is a Jewish holiday which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt. The story goes that when leaving Egypt they had to be quick, and as a result they didn’t have time to wait around for their bread to rise. So they mixed up the dough, packed it onto their backs, and let the blazing desert sun take care of the rest (I opted to not use this cooking method). Passover lasts just over a week and during that time observant Jews clean out their kitchens and do not eat any leavened bread (or chametz). So, you can see why I felt a bit strange about posting about a big loaf of bread today.
So then if you can’t eat bread on Passover, what do you eat? Matzah! This unleavened cracker, which is about as tasty as a piece of cardboard, is just plain ‘ol flour and water. You can treat it just like bread if you like, and growing up I was fond of matzah pizzas for lunch and peanut butter on matzah for breakfast. In researching the details of making matzah I discovered some (I think) really interesting particulars about the process. Even though it doesn’t taste too great, I couldn’t pass over (HA!) the opportunity to give it a try.
Jewish law states that in order to be kosher for Passover no more than 18 minutes can pass from the time the flour and water are mixed until the matzah is finished baking. I suspected this was rooted in the idea that after too much time the dough would acquire natural leavening agents (that’s how you get a sourdough starter); it turns out this is indeed the case. But this is not the end of the discussion, because it actually matters how the flour was milled.
Remember a few months ago when I detailed the commercial milling process? I’ll refresh your memory. Commercial flour milling separates the three parts of a grain of wheat (germ, endosperm, bran) to achieve a desired mix. During this process the grain can be exposed to moisture to help soften it and make the separation process easier. If so, this immediately rules out the resulting flour as acceptable for making matzah per the 18 minute rule discussed above. So flour that is kosher for Passover (not something you can buy easily to my knowledge) is flour where the milling process (or even the growing process) has been overseen and approved by a Rabbi. So if you’re serious about your matzah, best to just buy it.
But even if it is milled properly, you have to question the authenticity, right? If we are to assume that the Jews rush rush rushed to the Red Sea over 3,000 years ago, it’s unlikely they had the equipment to separate out the bran in the milling process. At best, they were working with heavily sifted whole wheat flour. So lesson learned: if you’re looking to make authentic kosher for passover matzah…don’t. But if you’re interesting in giving the process and whirl and making some unleavened crackers that leave everything to be desired, give it a try! And please enjoy a special Passover edition photoshop, which I made last year.
- 1½ cups AP flour
- ¾ cup water
- Additional flour for dusting
- Preheat oven to 475 F.
- Measure out flour and water separately, then combine in a large bowl. Knead by hand until the dough comes together and there are no dry bits of flour.
- If the dough is too wet add a bit of extra flour until it clears the sides of the bowl. In total this process should take no more than 4-5 minutes.
- Divide the dough into four pieces. Take two pieces and roll each out on a lightly flour surface until they are as thin as you can get them.
- Poke each piece thoroughly with a fork to create small holes. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 4-5 minutes, just until they start to brown.
- While the first two pieces are baking repeat the rolling/aerating process with the remaining dough. Place in oven on a separate baking sheet or wait until the first batch is ready and reuse the baking sheet.