Moses had the burning bush which talked to him and told him to free the Jews from slavery and to lead them out of Egypt; I had a burning piece of matzoh. My burning piece of matzoh didn’t talk to me or tell me to do anything, but it did fill my apartment with so much smoke I had to open all of the windows during a rainstorm. If I were superstitious, I might wonder if this burning matzoh was punishment for my non-seder at Five Guys Burgers the night before where, instead of dipping bitter herbs into salted water, I dipped French fries into ketchup. Regardless, this was my first attempt at making matzoh and it all happened because of a mysterious package that arrived earlier in the day.
I get mysterious packages every so often because P.R. people sometimes want to send me stuff and usually I say “no” but if it’s something that I think my readers will want to know about I say “yes,” forget all about it, and weeks later the package arrives. Such was the case with this package: inside were two cookbooks from Clarkson Potter–Alice Waters’s “In The Green Kitchen” and The Bromberg Bros.’ “Blue Ribbon Cookbook.”
I’m a big fan of Blue Ribbon. I go there every so often for their market salad which, though steeply priced, is served with a very generous basket of bread. The book itself is beautiful–lots of pictures throughout, and writing from the talented Melissa Clark–and, wouldn’t you know, as I flipped through it, I landed on page 41: a recipe for Matzoh.
My guilty Jewish conscience, the one that felt sorry for missing Passover, instantly perked up. “This’ll redeem me! This’ll save my Jewish soul!”
The recipe sounded insanely easy. First: preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Then, in the bowl of an electric mixer with a hook attachment, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 cup water:
Mix on medium speed until the dough comes together in a ball, about 10 minutes. (I had to add a little more flour to make that happen.)
Then you turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface (I used a big cutting board) and divide it into 12 even pieces:
You roll each piece into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, prick with a fork, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with more kosher salt. I did all that on a pizza peel so I could easily get the dough into the oven:
The next part is where things grew sketchy. The book says to bake the matzoh “on the floor of the oven until golden brown and very crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.”
Let’s go to the tape:
That’s the matzoh dough on the floor of my oven. I closed the door and within seconds my kitchen filled up with smoke! And when I lifted the matzoh out, after only a minute, here’s how it looked:
That’s the Sodom & Gomorroh of matzoh, crackers turned to ash. My kitchen, as stated earlier, was so smoky I had to open every window; even then Craig came out of the bedroom and said: “What’s going on in here?”
“I’m making matzoh!” I yelled. “Leave me alone.”
I decided to try again, despite the mess in the oven:
This effort, unfortunately, didn’t fare any better:
What was going on? Was I being punished for something? Was this oven cursed by an evil Jewish spirit? The spirit of Shlomo the Wicked?
Then I figured something out: in many ovens, the heat comes from above. But in my oven? The heat comes from below: the broiler is underneath. So perhaps that’s why this matzoh was smoldering so severely, it was sitting right on top of fire as opposed to being on a very hot surface heated from far above.
So: what to do? What would Moses do? Did he give up when those frogs didn’t convince the Pharaoh to let his people go? No! He wrote a screenplay and called it “Magnolia.”
I decided to get out my cast iron skillet and to heat it on high heat for a few minutes. In the Bromberg’s intro, they say they were inspired in Israel by “people cooking their own matzoh in little cast-iron ovens set over a fire.” This would be my attempt to do the same.
Hey, not bad. Once I got away from the charred bits, this was pretty decent matzoh. Let’s try one more time now that the skillet’s hot, ok?
Hey! That’s some sexy matzoh! Like the bottom of a great pizza, this matzoh was charred in spots, deeply caramelized, crunchy and terrific. Plus flavorful from the olive oil and salt.
Would I make it again? Heck no! What a mess. Plus I live blocks away from the real Blue Ribbon bakery and I can buy my matzoh directly from them. But now I know what my ancestors had to go through when, fleeing through the desert, they had no leavener and were forced to set off their smoke detectors with burning matzoh in their ovens. It’s enough to make you say “oy vey!” Oh, and Happy Passover.