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My little hometown has a relatively large Jewish population. So each year, as winter makes way for spring, the local supermarkets start growing matzo boxes, like weeds, spreading beyond their section, overtaking every display. My family always bought too many. We stocked extras in the kitchen, even basement—you know, just in case. After Passover, we swore we’d eat the surplus. Matzo brei in July: totally! But we never did.
Unlike challah, which I love to make, and bagels, which I like best from a Jewish deli or bakery, I never thought to source matzo anywhere besides a supermarket, let alone make it from scratch. Which is sort of ironic, considering the flatbread’s history hinges on ease and speed. Passover celebrates the story of Exodus, when Hebrew slaves liberated themselves from Egypt. During their escape, they didn’t even have time for bread to rise, hence the unleavened flatbread, matzo.
In other words, matzo—or matzoh or matzah, depending on who you ask—is a cracker. Square, large, and docked with holes. And bland. And that’s sort of the point. Matzo, like other traditional Passover foods, symbolizes the struggle of our ancestors. We eat bitter herbs, maror, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery, and dip them in salt water, to remember all the fallen tears.
When I was chatting with relatives and friends and coworkers about making matzo, two questions arose: You can make matzo? and Are you going to make it in less than 18 minutes? This timing, mandated by rabbinic law, determines if matzo is kosher for Passover, eliminating the possibility of any fermentation or rising. Mix, roll, and bake, no dilly-dallying. The number 18, which correlates with the Hebrew word chai, or life, is deeply symbolic in Judaism. Often, monetary gifts are given in multiples of 18.
This matzo was not developed with 18 minutes in mind, though you could pull off the recipe in under that time, if you hustle. I'd advise halving the yield, rolling some matzos while baking others, and baking multiple matzos at a time (maybe 2, depending on the size of your pizza stone). In any case, it’s unleavened, which, in a reform family like mine, is enough. When developing, I focused on flavor and texture, what matzo might look like outside of the commercial norm. The timing reaches a fork in the road right after the dough is mixed (it comes together almost instantly in a food processor): To rest or not rest?
After you mix any wheat-based dough, the gluten structure is all wound up. Sort of like your muscles after a workout. Letting the dough rest—you’ll see this recommendation everywhere from pie dough to crêpe recipes—allows the gluten to relaaaaax. If the dough doesn’t have the opportunity to do so, it’s significantly more difficult to roll out—there’s more bounce-back under the pin, more shrinking in the oven. It will also yield a tougher, less delicate cracker. So, from a culinary perspective, resting is preferable. But, from a strictly religious perspective, it’s not.
My matzo dough rests, for 10 or so minutes, even though the original matzo never had the chance to. It’s also made with some whole-wheat flour and covered, generously, with everything seasoning, like my go-to bagel. You can find this blend in some supermarkets and Jewish delis. Or, you could make your own by combining poppy and sesame seeds, dried onion and garlic, plus a fair amount of coarse salt, all to taste. I started by brushing the matzo with olive oil, then sprinkling the seasoning on top. Some of it stuck, most of it didn’t. Then I tried egg white, which not only adhered the seasoning beautifully, but created a crispy, crackly crust. Because the seasonings are chunky—and you press them into the dough, and not shyly—there’s no need to dock, or prick holes.
I like this best served with green olive cream cheese, which was something my nana—my great-grandmother—adored. It’s saltier and punchier than the more standard scallion cream cheese, but that’s nana. I don’t know what she would have thought about this matzo update, but I know that she’d be happy that I’m having matzo for Passover. Even if it did take more than 18 minutes to make.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
- 1 egg white, beaten with a fork
- 1 cup everything seasoning, to sprinkle
Have you ever made matzo—or any other unleavened flatbread or cracker—before? Tell us about it in the comments!