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Unleavened bread. Sometimes spelled matzo. So the story goes, when the Jewish people were being led out of Egypt by Moses, they didn't have time to sit around and wait for their bread to rise, so they left with the unleavened bread and ate it the way it was. Or something like that. In any case, matzoh is baked in flat sheets. It was originally round, but commercial matzoh is usually square. Matzoh meal is another matzoh product

I tried to explain what matzoh was to a non-Jewish friend. He replied, "Oh, kind of like crackers?"

Matzoh is nothing like a cracker except that they're both thin.

Matzoh can be eaten year round. It is good for a snack. However on Passover, Jews don't eat unleavened bread, they eat matzoh instead. Here are some tasty things to do with matzoh:

  • Make Matzoh ball soup
  • Make Matzoh brei
  • Make Latkes
  • Spread with butter and sprinkle on salt
  • Break in half, put peanut butter on one half and jelly on the other
  • Dip in soup

Translated as unleavened bread, matzah is actually more of a flat cracker. Unlike what you may have heard, they are not made from the blood of Christian babies. (blood libel) But there are specific regulations as to how to make them, which is why not even a Martha Stewart of Jewish mothers bakes her own. Instead we buy them at the grocery store from companies like Manischewitz. According to the narrative, the fleeing Jews were given such short notice when they were allowed to leave Egypt that they didn't have time to wait for their bread to rise, baking quick flat bread on the desert rocks instead. For the eight day festival (not just the seder), one is supposed to refrain from eating any chometz and eat matzah instead. Besides making good matzoh ball soup, it's also used to entertain children who get very bored by large family gatherings that involve talking at length about religion. Towards the end of the meal, as the adults ramble on, the kids search for the afikomen, or middle matzah. Finding it usually results in the winning of big prizes or just chocolate.

I thought I should point out, in response to CaptainSuperBoy's note, that spreading peanut butter and jelly on your matzo might not be such a good idea.

In addition to unleavened bread, there is another category of foods that Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) may not eat during Passover. This catogory is called kitniyot in Hebrew and translates approximately to legumes. So, during Passover, you may not eat beans, corn (including corn syrup, which is by far the hardest part of Passover to observe), or rice. Oh, and peanuts. So, peanut butter is out. I recommend cream cheese.

Another interesting note about matzo is that in order for it to be considered kosher for Passover, it must be prepared in under 18 minutes. That means that from the time to flour touches the water, there are only 18 minutes in which the matzo must be rolled, cut, and finished baking. After 18 minutes, the flour is considered to have risen, and the matzo is leavened, and therefore not to be eaten.

Matzah. Staple of the Jewish Passover dietary regimen. Square in shape. Flat in form. Taste of an unwieldy, unsalted, unseasoned, great big bloody dry cracker.

Matzah is an unleavened bread, baked up en masse for the first time when Jews had to skedaddle out of Egypt to get started on that 40 years of wandering through the desert--you may remember an episode involving the Red Sea and a guy in flowing robes who probably looked nothing at all like Charlton Heston. The bread is sometimes referred to by Jews as the 'bread of affliction,' an appellation based more on being chased around God's sand-filled, un-green Earth for a few generations than the bread's actual flavor.

The Jews were in such a hurry to get out (the Pharoah that let them go being of fickle mind) that they didn't even have time to let their bread rise, letting it bake on their shoulders in the sun as they moved. This they ate until they wound up in the Promised Land. Sometime later it was decided that the time spent and food eaten in the desert were so awful that it should be eaten again for one week every year for all eternity during Passover, thank you very much.

Modern matzah baking remains very much a race against the clock. The rabbis came to the conclusion that if any more than 18 minutes elapsed (the numerical value of chi, a symbol of high religious significance in Judaism--though this may be a coincidence), from when water met dough until bake-time, the risk of unacceptable rising was run. Hence, if you're making it in bulk, you have to move fairly quickly.

There is an additional role of honor for the hole-puncher, who stabs the dough so many times to ensure no air pockets exist that might cause untimely elevation.

Once mixed, kneaded, and stabbed, the matzah (or matzot, or matzoh, depending on which box you're reading) are cut to fit convenient square shaped boxes, a matzah fashion adjustment that just came into vogue during the last century. Originally, it was round. In any case, most of this process is automated, unless you're eating seriously kosher stuff, with which they don't mess around.

Matzah's symbolic value is maintained by the fact that it is indeed flavorless, dry, and unpleasant, much in the way that life was for Jewish people during the exodus. Passover makes a holiday of it, which produces in its celebrants the overwhelming desire to sink their teeth into anything else--just as their ancestors wished to do, praying to God until He supplied them with manna.

Nowadays,America being America, you can get matzah baked up with all sorts of nonsense--spiced, salted, garlicky, oniony, apple-cinnamon, even chocolate-coated, none of which really do anything to change the fact that at the end of the day, you're eating religiously sanctified somewhat edible cardboard.

Comford Food Central: Matza with chocolate spread.

A wonderfully crunchy, sweet and decadent snack which Israeli children tend to be indoctrinated into at an early age through the impossibility of making any other kind of matza sandwich (some mothers do try things like butter or jam, but that's just sick). Once you've spent a week eating those crumbly little punishments, you're hooked - no matter how much you hate the stuff in general, or how secular you become in later life, matza-im-shokolad is a Passover staple you'll never outgrow.

And it can't be just any old chocolate spread, either. If you're thinking creamy Nutella, think again! The stuff religiously adhered to by even the most progressive Israeli gourmet is Shokolad Hashachar: gloopy brown tank grease whose packaging and brand image are so antiquated as almost to predate the state of Israel itself.

The combination of these two, normally unappealing, substances is the ganstronomic equivalent of perfect synergy - the whole is just so much greater than its parts...

There are several schools of thought as to how matza-im-shokolad should be preapred and eaten. Some, in an attempt to cheat the calorie count (matza, despite its puritanically sparse appearance, is actually more fattening than bread, and you need more of it to feel full), take a whole square and smear it in the chocolate, eating it as an open sandwich. This is messy, however, and occasionally ends up as a chocolate flavoured frizbee landing gloop down on the carpet.

Some, with the same slimming view, break the matza square into two and use one to spread the chocolate on, and the other to cover. It is however a scientifically proven fact that, despite its helpful grooves, it's physically impossible to break a single matza into two symmetrical and even parts. Plus you send crumbs flying all over the kitchen.

For myself, and with the acknowledgement that denial is not just a river in north Africa, I say: boo to slimming! and have my matza sandwiches made from one full square to slather, one full square to cover. Yum.

Some antisemitic monster has tried to supplant our seasonal indulgence with pre-chocolated matza, but that is a travesty and should be banned on pain of pain.

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