written by Etan Basseri
A Persian Passover
In A Persian Passover, the new picture book by Etan Basseri with illustrations by Rashin Kheiriyeh (Kalaniot Books, March, 2022), Ezra and his sister, Roza have their matzah baked outside in the synagogue courtyard, but you can bake your own matzah right in your kitchen!
Publisher Description: Ezra and Roza are helping to prepare for their Passover celebration. Ezra is proud to be in charge of bringing his family’s flour to the synagogue to be baked into matzah in a traditional wood-burning oven. But when Ezra makes a mistake and the matzah is ruined, what will he and his sister Roza, do? Join the siblings as they experience the sights, smells, sounds, and unique traditions of a seder in Iran in the 1950s.
What is matzah, anyway?
Matzah is the bread that Jewish people eat during the springtime holiday of Passover. Passover is the holiday that celebrates the time, many years ago, when the Israelites, ancient ancestors of the Jewish people, escaped from slavery in Egypt. They didn’t have time to let their bread rise as they were rushing to leave. Today Jews eat an unrisen cracker called matzah to remember their ancestor’s journey.
Before we start making our matzah, let’s take a look at the science of bread.
Most breads have five basic ingredients:
Believe it or not, the first ingredient on the list, yeast, is actually alive. Yeast is a type of fungi (yes—like mushrooms!). Just like people, yeast needs food to live. Yeast’s favorite meal is sugar with a little warm water.
When yeast feeds on the sugar and water we put in our mixing bowl, it also breaks down parts of the flour and turns that into sugar too.
As the yeast eats its way through its delicious sugar dinner, it slowly begins to release a gas called carbon dioxide. This process is called fermentation. As the gas releases, it makes little air bubbles in dough, and so the bread puffs up and rises.
But wait! Passover matzah is flat and unrisen. How does that work?
Because the Israelites’ bread didn’t have time to rise before they needed to make their quick escape from Egypt, we make sure that the matzah we eat today doesn’t rise either. We don’t use yeast and we make sure that there is only 18 minutes between mixing the ingredients and taking it out of the oven.
Ready, set go! Get your adult helper–it’s an 18-minute baking race.
How to Make Passover Matzah
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup lukewarm water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Set a timer for 18 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425 °F and place an empty ungreased baking sheet inside.
- Mix flour and salt.
- Gradually add the lukewarm water.
- Knead the mixture on a flat surface with your hands for about 3 minutes or until you get a smooth dough. If the dough is sticky, add a little bit more flour to it.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal balls and roll them out with a rolling pin into very thin discs. As you are working with the dough make sure that your hands and your work surface are coated in a light dusting of flour to keep things from sticking.
- Prick the thin discs with a fork (5-6 times each) so that the holes go all the way through the dough. This will help your matzah bake more quickly.
- Place the discs on a piece of parchment baking paper on your pre-heated baking sheet.
- Bake for 3 minutes on one side.
- Flip the discs and bake for 3 more minutes until matzahs are brown and crisp.
Phew! Did you finish in time? Then you’re all set for your Passover seder.
As with any baking project, always ask an adult for help.
Art from A Persian Passover by Etan Basseri, published by Kalaniot Book, March 2022. Illustrations copyright Rashin Kheiriyeh