Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bread Numbers 91 and 92: Breads of Affliction and Hope

I am an American who has spent much of the last few weeks in disbelief and sadness at the prospect of having a president who has unabashedly made racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted statements. So after six months of making only old breads and not adding one item to the 108 project, I decided to make matzo, the bread of affliction, of liberation, and of hope, a bread that symbolizes that life is cyclical. A bit of inspiration at a dark time.

Online sources too
For bread #91, I roughly tried the Peter Reinhardt recipe from Whole Grain Breads. For bread #92, I took direction from recipes at a few different websites, some Jewish, some not, some "alternative," which for matzo means using any ingredient beyond water, flour, and salt, and which doesn't care about the 18-minute rule (explained below).

I grew up on the standard Passover matzos of Streits and Horomitz Margareten. Like cardboard right out of a box, but I loved it anyway, especially the whole wheat matzo, which remains my favorite.

Warning: Hebrew and Yiddish words are interspersed because they are so central to preparation and enjoyment of Passover, of which matzo is a central part.

Matzo in Hebrew refers to unleavened bread, which is eaten during the eight-day holiday of Passover to commemorate each year the quick departure the Ancient Israelites made in getting out of Egypt. As the story goes, and the Biblical Hebrew raises as many questions as it answers, the Israelites took their dough, which had not yet been leavened or risen, and left. They baked the dough later (and I do not know whether it was a few hours or a day), producing what were called matzo cakes, though it is generally called, even in the original text, just matzo.

Now, in modern times, to get a kitchen - including the oven - ready for the holiday, one cleans out every cabinet and gets rid of all chametz, which is anything remotely bread-like or already opened prior to the holiday. Much, much more is involved, but a full explanation could - literally - take all day and full explanations can be debated endlessly.

Forget the 18 minutes - this time
I will not go into the laws of Passover, except for two. (1) According to rabbinic law, one of the key regulations governing the making of acceptable Passover matzo is that it must be made in 18 minutes, counting from the first second when water touches flour until putting the dough into the oven. This intimidated me no end. (2) You have to make the matzo in an oven that has been made ready - or kashered - for Passover.

Since it is not now Passover, I baked on my regular - or chametzdich - baking stone, which would definitely not be kosher for use during the holiday because I use it all year round for making bread. Don't ask questions; if you have observed this holiday for your entire life, you know that the special aspects of it are a fantastically clean house when the holiday begins and a week-long celebration of an alternate food reality that results in family bonding and merriment, if only for the matzo-haters to be screaming about how they cannot wait for the holiday to be over. I never had that problem.

Recipe for #91

113g whole wheat flour
2g salt
85g water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix and then divide dough into four small balls. Knead each ball for maybe one minute, until smooth, and let sit for three minutes. The clock is ticking. Knead each ball again for about 30 seconds. On a well-floured surface, roll out each ball separately. I put a little flour on each before rolling it out. The rolling out is easy and quick. Eighteen minutes for a small recipe should be no problem.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees when placing dough in the oven. One baking stone will hold four pieces of rolled-out dough, with the possibility of a bit of overlap, which did not affect the final product at all. The recipe called for a half hour of baking, but mine was totally done at 23 minutes and might have been fine at 20. It was fine without dusting the baking stone or putting little fork holes in the dough, something I justified on the grounds that the Ancient Israelites did not have forks and actually I neglected to read that part of the recipe.

The matzo tasted great; it was crunchy and tasty, though maybe I will try a rye/wheat combination next time. Nothing to be afraid of here.

And then there was #92
The big difference between Breads #91 and #92 is in the baking, with significant changes in temperature and time. And one more difference in a key ingredient that is critical when embarking on anything new - patience. I was patient with bread #91 and more like Lucy and Ethel on the chocolate factory assembly line with bread #92.

For bread #92, I tried whole rye, then half rye, and finally I ended up with 100 percent whole wheat. I used the same proportions and amounts of flour, water, and salt. The whole rye was so sticky that it would not roll out. So I mixed it to make it half whole wheat flour and I put in the right amounts of more water and salt. 

By this time, the clock was ticking and not the 18-minute clock so much as the have-to-make-dinner clock. I still wanted to do a 100 percent whole wheat matzo following the rye. This is exactly the point where the patience ran out and I threw lots more regular flour on the counter, the rolling pin, my hands, and the rye/whole wheat dough. It was looking good in the rollout at first. I believe that with some patience, there would have been a nice matzo produced; but when that stickiness started and the clock showing the late hour, I chucked the dough in the garbage and proceeded directly to do the completely whole wheat version.

I had preheated the oven and the baking stone for one hour in a 500-degree oven. 

I quickly rolled out the whole wheat dough. I made it thin, but probably not as thin as bread #91 - all awry with the patience ebbing. I baked the dough for three minutes and it appeared beautiful, but the taste not so much. It was like a cross between a cracker and pita bread, therefore not satisfying as either.

Virtues can be a challenge

Even with an 18-minute rule in the back or forefront of one's mind - patience is a necessary virtue and practice in making even a quick flat bread.

Two good results: I know I can make matzo (will probably try a half rye again), and I did not think about politics at all.

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