Homemade matzo doesn’t sound like a challenging proposition. I’ve made plenty of homemade crackers in the last several years, and I’m pretty adept with a rolling pin. What could possibly be so different about making Passover matzo? It is just flour and water, right?
The answer? There’s a third ingredient in kosher matzo—time. According to the kosher rules during Passover, matzo dough must not sit out for longer than 18 minutes before being cooked. After 18 minutes, it is said that the dough will begin to ferment and thus leaven, making the crackers unsuitable for the holiday. This time limit doesn’t leave much wiggle room. But homemade matzo in 18 minutes can be done, even if you’re not the quickest cook in the kitchen. The secret is to scale down the recipe to a workable volume.
But before even thinking about mixing the dough, turn on your oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the lowest rack available. If not, use an overturned baking sheet, placing it on the lowest rack. Turn the oven up as high as it will go—mine gets up to about 525ºF. Let the oven heat up for 30 to 45 minutes to ensure that it and the pizza stone is ripping hot.
While the oven heats, measure out the ingredients. Traditionally, matzo is made from nothing more than flour and water. If you’d like to go this route, you can certainly make the crackers using only these two ingredients. I like to add just a bit of flavor to my matzo by adding a little salt and olive oil. It also should go without saying that if you need your matzo to be kosher for Passover, you will need to use kosher flour, salt and olive oil in the recipe.
The ratio of flour to water is the biggest variable when making matzo. Recipes for matzo call for anything from a 2:1 ratio of flour to water to a 4:1 ratio. Recipes with the most flour produce the stiffest dough, making crackers that are hard to roll but very fast (think 3 minutes, max) to cook. The more water introduced into the dough, the easier it is to roll. However, matzo with too much water takes a long time to dry out and crisp in the oven. I decided to make my matzo with a dough that is somewhere in the middle (Goldilocks matzo, if you will), using 2 cups flour and 2/3 of a cup of liquid. Since I use a little olive oil, I lower the amount of water needed to 1/3 cup plus a few tablespoons, and then make up the rest of the volume with extra-virgin olive oil.
I measure the flour and salt into a large bowl, and mix with my fingers until the salt is evenly incorporated. In a small measuring cup, I measure the liquids. Then I wait until the oven is ready.
The 18-minute clock starts ticking as soon as the liquid mixture is added to the flour, so it is imperative to move quickly. I also like to make the matzo in fairly small batches so that I don’t run out of time when rolling the dough. If you’d like to make more matzo than is made by following the recipe below, I’d recommend baking through the entire recipe once before beginning again.
Once the oven is hot, set a timer for 18 minutes, and pour the liquid mixture into the large bowl with the flour. I use my hands to mix the liquid into the flour. Once the mixture begins to come together, you will need to more forcefully knead the dough together. Turn the mixture out onto the counter if you need to. However, keep in mind that matzo is not bread, so don’t worry too much about kneading here. You simply want to bring the flour and water together to form a rollable dough. If you find that the mixture is either too dry or too wet to successfully come together, add a little more flour or water (about 1 teaspoon at a time), until you’re happy with the dough. Be mindful of the timer; mixing and kneading usually takes me about 4 minutes.
Now divide the dough into four pieces that are approximately the same size. Set two pieces aside for a moment. Take one piece of dough and flatten it out into a rectangle. Roll it out as thin as you can on a lightly floured counter. Shape is not terribly important, and is a matter of personal preference. I like to roll the matzo into a long rectangle because they fit the best on my pizza stone. If you’d like to square off the edges, you can.
Next, take a fork and prick holes across the entire surface of the dough. The holes will keep the matzo from puffing up too much in the heat of the oven. (Although matzo isn’t leavened, it does contain gluten. The gluten networks in the dough will trap the water that quickly turns to steam in the oven. If there are no vent holes in the cracker, this steam will create a gigantic bubble in the cracker. It is very difficult to spread butter on gigantic cracker bubbles.) Set this pricked dough aside and roll out a second piece of dough in the same manner.
Very carefully transfer both of these dough sheets directly to the hot pizza stone in the oven. I like to pull the oven rack out a bit to make it easier to lay the dough down flat. As quickly as you can, shut the oven door and cook the matzo for about 2 1/2 minutes on the first side. Using tongs, a potholder, or your fingers (if you’re brave), reach in and flip the crackers. They should be stiff and speckled with golden brown spots. Continue to bake the matzo for 2 to 2 1/2 more minutes, until the second side is golden brown. Remove the matzo from the oven and let them cool on a cooling rack.
While you’ve got the first batch in the oven, roll out the second two pieces of dough. It should take 5 to 6 minutes, which means that you should be able to stick this second batch in the oven right after you remove the first. Provided you’ve been working fairly quickly, you should get everything in the oven well under the 18-minute mark. If not, and if you’re concerned about following the kosher rules, you will need to toss out the offending dough and begin again.
All of this said, if you aren’t concerned about keeping the matzo kosher, you’ve got a lot more flexibility. Letting the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling it out will improve its texture and will make it easier to roll. You can also experiment with different toppings for the crackers. An egg white wash (egg whites whisked until frothy) will hold most toppings on to the crackers; I am a big fan of za’atar-covered matzo. You can also try sprinkling the rolled dough with coarse sea salt.
Either way, matzo is best served with a thick smear of room temperature butter.
Recipe: DIY Matzo
Makes 4 large cracker sheets
Note: In order for the matzo to be kosher for Passover, the dough needs to be mixed and place in the oven in under 18 minutes to prevent any leavening from occurring. The flour and salt should also be certified kosher for Passover. If you would like to increase the recipe, wait to mix subsequent batches until you are finished baking the first round. If you are not worried about keeping the matzo kosher, you can ignore the time and flour constraints. Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes after mixing to make it easier to roll.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, plus extra as needed
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Place a pizza stone or overturned baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to at least 500°F.
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl or measuring cup, combine the water and olive oil.
Once the oven is preheated, set a timer for 18 minutes.
Working quickly, pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and start the timer. Mix the flour and water together until they begin to come together. Continue to knead until the dough turns soft and supple. If the dough is too dry, add additional water one tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too wet, add additional flour one tablespoon at a time. Mixing should take 4-5 minutes.
Continuing to work quickly, divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured counter, roll two pieces into very thin rectangles. Trim the edges if you want to have perfect rectangles. Using a fork, prick holes in the surface of the dough.
Carefully transfer these rolled pieces of dough onto the pizza stone. They can fit snugly, as the matzo should not expand. Bake until the surface of the matzo pieces are golden brown and bubbly, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Using tongs, carefully flip the matzo pieces and continue to bake until the second side is golden brown, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.
While the first matzo are cooking, roll the remaining two pieces of dough into rectangles and prick with a fork. Bake as with the first batch. If the timer goes off before all of the mixed dough is baked, you will need to discard that batch and begin again.