Happy Passover, everybody! So, we once again celebrate the Jews’ continued survival with a week of not eating leavened products. For the way most people — and food magazines and newspaper columns — go on, you’d think this was a greater hardship than the Jews’ slavery in Egypt and subsequent 40 years of wandering through the desert. It’s only eight days long, guys. It’s like the Atkins diet, for a week. Plus, you get matzoh!
Glorious, glorious matzoh. I have to say, I really like the stuff, however you choose to spell it. I really only eat it during Passover, though I suppose it could very well be eaten year round. And since I started making this recipe last year, matzoh has only gotten more appealing to me. Nothing else would work as well in this recipe; the matzoh’s crisp texture and general lack of flavor make the perfect base for the toffee and chocolate topping. Last year, I used this recipe, from Marcy Goldman in A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, called “My Trademark, Most Requested, Absolutely Magnificent Caramel Matzoh Crunch.” And, surprisingly, it actually lived up to that title!
This year, when I was googling for the recipe again, I stumbled upon the pastry chef and cookbook writer David Lebovitz’s recipe for matzoh crunch, which is actually his adaptation of Goldman’s original recipe. Won over by the mouthwatering photos, I decided to give his (very similar) take a try. He really looks at them like they are pieces of candy, not a substitute for a real dessert but a pleasure in themselves. I liked his idea to add vanilla to the caramel, but what I really loved was his suggestion to sprinkle salt over the top of the chocolate. There is nothing better, to my mind, than the sweet/salty combo, and the addition of salt to these beauties nails it perfectly.
Even I was a little nervous about this recipe and the idea of making the caramel, but it was surprisingly easy and not messy in the slightest (my other big concern). You’ll need to make these at least a day ahead of when you want them because it takes a while for the chocolate to cool (or you could put them in the freezer and speed the whole thing up). I imagine they keep for a long time, though last year I never really got the chance to test that theory out, they proved so popular.
I made two batches: one with Lebovitz’s recommended 1/2 tsp. of vanilla in the caramel and a small amount of sea salt sprinkled over the chocolate and one with a whole tbsp. of vanilla in the caramel and a lot of kosher salt sprinkled over the chocolate. I didn’t have fleur de sel, which I think was a mistake — the bigger salt crystals would have worked better here, and then I could have sprinkled them more sparsely, as they would pack a bigger punch, but still not appear in every bite. The ideal amount of vanilla, I think is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 – 1/2 tsp., but I haven’t tried that ratio out myself.
Adapted from David Lebovitz, adapted from Marcy Goldman
4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp. (or a little more, depending on your taste) vanilla extract
1 c. (or a little more) semisweet chocolate chips
Optional: fleur de sel
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, making sure the foil goes over the edges. (I left it at that, and it was fine, but Lebovitz also recommends covering the foil with parchment paper.) Cover the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.
3. In a small pot, melt the butter and sugar together over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the butter has melted, let the mixture boil for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the pinch of sea salt and the vanilla (the caramel will seize up for a second, don’t worry about it, just stir it). Pour over matzoh, spreading with a spatula if necessary (I found it easier to just shake the pan slightly) so the caramel is evenly distributed and fully covers matzoh.
4. Put pan in the oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 15 minutes — the caramel should be bubbling, but not burning. I didn’t have any problems, but Lebovitz says that if it begins to burn in spots, you should remove the pan from the oven, reduce the heat to 325, and replace the pan after the oven has had a minute to cool down.
5. Remove pan from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips, sprinkling the one cup as evenly as possible over the caramel. Let sit for 5 minutes. Spread the melted chips over the caramel (I used a rubber spatula). Drop more chocolate chips onto any spots that didn’t get chocolate. Wait a few more minutes so they can melt, then use that chocolate to fill in any holes
6. Optional: Sprinkle with fleur de sel. (Lebovitz also recommends sliced, toasted almonds or another nut, toasted and coarsely chopped, or roasted cocoa nibs.)
Let cool completely (I just picked up the foil overhang and transfered the whole thing to my kitchen table). Break into small pieces and refrigerate in an air-tight container (refrigeration will harden up the chocolate if it’s still a little soft). Lebovitz says it will keep well for up to a week, but I think it could probably last longer.
Oh, the suffering.