Fall, Dinner, Holiday

Matzoh Diaries #2

You’ve read the prequel,
now onto the main event.

Matzoh Making!

After I cleared the flour hurdles, I had one more rule to consider:
Matzoh must be made in under 18 minutes. According to the Talmud, the leavening process begins after water and flour have been in contact for 18 minutes, and leavened bread is exactly what we’re trying to avoid on Passover.

I knew that my mix would have to include some oat flour, much to my chagrin. In order to fulfill the commandment in the Torah, matzoh must be made from one of these five grains: wheat, spelt, rye, barley or oat. Knowing oat flour’s penchant for dusty textures and its preference for the crumbly over the crisp, I decided to use it for only half of my flour blend. I had hoped this would mitigate its more unfortunate character flaws.

I was wrong. The first batch was 50% oat flour and 50% quinoa flour-it had an irritatingly sour taste. I obviously poured scorn onto the oat flour, blaming it for the poor taste and thoroughly un-crisp texture, but I was mistaken. Well, partially mistaken. There were, in fact, two villains in this culinary caper. As a firm believer in tasting all ingredients, I pinched some quinoa flour into my mouth and discovered the source of the unfortunate bitterness.

I apologized to the oat flour for my quick condemnation and scurried the quinoa flour away for another day (perhaps it would lend a good flavor to my sourdough…).

After round one, the flour blends became distinctly more complex. I found that there were several features of matzoh I was trying to mimic, and each time I conquered one, I lost another to the abyss. I wanted my matzoh to be easily rolled out, crisp, and relatively neutral in taste. I also knew that what I’d be producing would have much more in common with shmura matzo than with its angular, commercially produced brother we see on most grocery store shelves. It would, of course, not be white.

The amount of oat flour in my blend began to drop as I realized its only redeeming quality was a name drop in the bible. Buckwheat stepped in when I wanted to use sorghum, providing some backbone and crunch to the cracker. Then, as I rounded the bend of blend #5, things got sticky. Literally. The dough was incredibly difficult to roll out, partially due to excess water, but mostly the fault of tapioca flour. I was getting nostalgic (a potential kitchen chemistry killer) and tried to lighten the color of the matzoh by adding in more tapioca flour.

And it was a mistake.

I liked the taste of the un-rollable cracker #5, but knew it was terribly impractical to release a recipe that was more mess than success. On a whim I began using potato flour, a staple in the “kosher for Passover” kitchen. What a joy it was to roll batch #6! It was springy and didn’t stick to the table or the rolling pin. I could roll it so very thinly without much trouble and then slide it into the oven without it splitting and tearing. A true joy.

And then it came out of the oven. Ugh.

I had certainly solved the rolling issue, but in the course of tackling that beast, I lost control of the flavor wagon. This new batch tasted distinctly of potato flour, not terribly unpleasant in and of itself, but far to un-neutral. It would simply stand out too much, everyone invited to dinner would wonder about its ingredients. To get the flavor under control without losing the supreme rollability of batch #6 I began incrementally cutting back the potato flour.

And then another thought struck me (bluntly as they usually do)-what about using an additional potato product to improve the texture? My love affair with tapioca dashed to pieces, I felt no hesitation adding another starch into the blend (tapioca is a jealous lover, very absorbent in baking). I tossed some potato starch into my mix and rolled out batch #8. When it came out of the oven I knew I was on the right track. One more batch to finalize the proportions and I was finished!

Now, as you look through the recipe you will notice there are five different flours in this final blend. Do not distress! If you don’t already have them on hand, these are all ingredients you will use for other gluten free baking adventures. And trust me-I would not have needlessly made a complicated blend. If I could make matzoh that was easy to roll out, crisp and distinctly flavor neutral with only two flours I would have. But I am chasing perfection (more dangerous than Chasing Amy), and that has led me to this point.

As for the baking, do it on a pizza stone and you are guaranteed the scorched flavor of traditionalshmura matzoh. Spending only 4-5 minutes in the oven, the baking is the easiest part of this journey.

Stick around for the next installation of The Matzoh Diaries: Matzoh Balls!

No joke. 
I really make them.
And so will you.

Fall, Holiday

Matzoh Diaries #1

 will not be satisfied until I master gluten free matzoh.

I’ve had a list of hurdles in the back of my recipe box for years, and with Prince on the radio and a clean apron around my waist I’ve been able to fly past a number of those gates. Biscotti, an easy win. Almond Genoise Cake? Significantly more challenging. As I shaved down the list, one contender remained brooding and defiant in the corner.

Gluten Free Matzoh.

This journey began four months ago. I knew I’d need some help in the biblical department so I called upon my favorite rabbi (don’t we all have one?), Rabbi Deborah Bronstein. While we discussed the challenge she dropped this rabbinical gem: “The gluten free matzoh on the market that is kosher for Passover is oat-I’ve tasted it and if anything is the “bread of affliction” described in the bible, this is it.”

Growing up with the commercially available gluten free oat matzoh, I knew exactly what Rabbi Bronstein meant when she referred to it as the “bread of affliction.” Chalky barely hints at the dessicated texture, but the real offense comes at the checkout line. Gluten free oat moatzoh regularly prices in at $20-25 per box. Passover is all about retelling the story of suffering in exodus, but this seems to take the idea a little too far.

Since I was bouncing between New York and Boulder, Rabbi Bronstein and I conversed through email to hammer out all the rules. Here’s what I knew: All bean and rice flours would be off limits. Sephardic Jews (mostly of Mediterranean ancestry) eat legumes and rice during Pesach, but Ashkenazi Jews (mostly of Easter European descent) do not. I wanted this recipe to work for as many people as possible, so I planed to make something Ashkenazi Kosher.

I ran my list of potential flours by Rabbi Bronstein and she gave most of the alternatives a thumbs-up. The few flours that made the no-no list, however, were devastating. Sorghum and Millet were off limits. I needed some explanation, so Rabbi Bronstein brought in a heavy hitter-Reb. Zalman (even rabbis have favorite rabbis). Here’s what Reb. Zalman had to say about Sorghum: “Sorghum remains in doubt to me since it is a grass, thus related to wheat. Yet what is rice if not a grass? So the question remains, is oneyotze with rice? I think not with Sorghum Matzoh.”

I wanted some clarification on the meaning of yotze from Rabbi Bronstein, so she helped me out with this: “Reb. Zalman asks: Can one be yotze, that is, has one fulfilled the mitzvah of eating matzoh at the seder by eating matzoh made of something unclear which may be related to rice? Reb. Zalman rules no.”

With Sorghum out of bounds I knew I’d be up against a wall when it came to texture. Still, Buckwheat, Tapioca, Arrowroot, Potato Starch, Potato Flour and Quinoa were all safe, so I had plenty of room to play. I thought I was ready to strap on an apron and get in the kitchen when I received one more cryptic rule from Reb. Zalman: “For matzoh to be yotze you will need a grain in the mix…”

I did some research and learned that fulfilling the biblical commandment of eating matzoh during Passover meant that the cracker had to be made from one of five grains: Wheat, Barley, Spelt, Rye or Oat. On that list only one flour is gluten free, and it happens to be my least favorite baking alternative. Oat.

The very thought of oat matzoh conjures a dry mouth and a heavy stomach. But the matzoh didn’t have to be all oat flour, it just needed some in the mix to fulfill the commandment.

I like challenges.
Game. On.