I like Passover and I like Matzah - especially the Yehudah brand whole wheat matzot that they sell at Whole Foods. I like matzah with butter. I like matzah with honey. I like it with brie or stilton on it. I like it in our kosher-for-Passover versions of Lasagna, Spanakopita and Nachos (which we call "Matzagna," "Matzakopita" and "Machos"). And for quite some time now, I've wanted to make my own matzah for Passover. I bake our own bread, make our tortillas - how much harder could this be?
Not much, it turns out.
The trick is to know what you're doing. I researched a lot before I got started. There's the obvious: no yeast or other leavening agents. But what else?
Well, the good news is that if you use whole wheat flour (particularly if you can get it somewhere where you can grind it yourself to watch it and be sure that no moisture is being added), you don't have to buy special Passover flour. Well, we switched from white flour to only whole grains a long time ago. So that part was taken care of.
I wondered if I could add olive oil to my dough, the way I do when I make tortillas. After all, that wouldn't add any kind of leavening. I was all set and ready to go with that - until I learned why Kosher for Passover matzah doesn't have oil in it. Turns out that the prohibition has nothing to do with leavening. It has to do with that concept of matzah being the "poor bread that our ancestors took out of the land of Egypt." If I were to add oil, it would make the matzot "too rich." Oil would have been a luxury that the Egyptian slaves probably didn't have in abundance. It's the same reason why egg matzot aren't strictly Kosher for Passover. So, okay, no olive oil.
Back to the plus side of things, I discovered no reason not to mix the dough in a food processor, as long as it was clean and dry to start with.
Then, there was that question of the 18 minutes. I saw lots of recipes online that made it unclear whether that would be the start-to-finish time or the start-to-oven time. Just to be clear, in order for it to be kosher for Passover matzah, it's 18 minutes, start-to-finish. So, okay - this was going to be a race.
My friend Kimberly came over to do this with me and one thing became immediately clear: this would be very hard to do as an individual effort - but it's relatively simple with a partner. We figured that it would be even easier if between three and six people worked together. And we agreed that the whole matzah-making experience was probably a female bonding/community-building thing when people didn't buy mass-produced matzot. Whether that was an intentional or accidental by-product, we weren't sure.
So, we preheated the oven to 500 degrees, mixed four cups of whole wheat flour and a little salt, started the timer and turned on the food processor. In went the water - about one and a third cups, maybe a touch more - just until the dough collected together into a ball. Kimberly divided the dough into neat little balls. I rolled them out (very, very thin) and put them on baking sheets (aluminum foil, actually). She poked at them with a fork (I don't have one of those cool rolling pins with spikes that they use to make pizza as well as matzah) and popped them into the oven to bake for about 3 minutes each. When the timer beeped, we had eight kosher for Passover matzot plus four that needed a little more time in the oven. We figured we could use those for taste testing and such. Then we looked at each other. That wasn't so hard. So, we cleaned everything off, scraped the dough scraps off the rolling pin and started again. This time, we did even better, making around 14 kosher for Passover matzot.
They didn't come out as perfectly flat as the ones from the store but they were nicely crispy - and became crispier as they cooled. But we were both pleased with the effort. And the taste - like any other bread, there is something about how it tastes when it's been freshly baked, as opposed to when it's been sitting on a box for a while that's just plain better. Yum. Really - yum.
My family goes through about four or five boxes of matzah every Passover. I don't know that I have it in me to make THAT many batches. But would I want to augment the store-bought stuff with a batch of home-made? Oh yeah. And that whole community building aspect of it appeals to me, too. After all, everyone knows my ethos about just about everything - as long as I can make it a social occasion, I'm good to go. It'll be a great part of the holiday preparations and we'll all get to take home some artisanal-looking matzot, too.
Anyone else want in on it for next year?