I have fond memories of Easter. Not because of the Easter-egg hunting (which I don’t recall at all!) but because of the Matzot. I loved the prospect of the crispy bread topped with a thick layer of butter and then sprinkled with heaps of white sugar. The first bite almost immediately caused the matza to break into several tiny pieces and the sugar flew around the table and floor! It was a tradition that belonged to Easter, or so I thought.
Years later I had the privilege of being a guest at the Seder table at Passover in Israel. To my astonishment there were Matzot at the table. Soon I learned that Matzot are actually a Jewish tradition. The unleavened crispy bread is the only bread eaten at Pesach (Passover), one of the most important Jewish holidays. Coming weekend Pesach starts. A holiday in which the Jewish people remember the Exodus from Egypt led by Moses. A holiday were bread makes place for Matzot.
The Pesach holiday comes with even more ‘food laws’ than usual in the Jewish kitchen. The most important one being to refrain from consuming leavened and fermented products, also known as chametz* (pasta, bread, cookies, cakes and yes, beer too!). The story goes that there was no time to let the bread rise while fleeing into the desert. So instead they mixed wheat and water, kneaded shortly, flattened it and baked bread. All within 18 minutes, before the dough had time to rise. The result being Matzot. Flat, crispy ‘crackers’.
But not only the consumption of chametz is ‘forbidden’ during Pesach. One is also supposed to clean the house top to bottom to make sure there isn’t a crumb of chametz left in the house. A task that is taken quite seriously and is actually comparable to Spring-cleaning.
This ritual is not restricted to houses only. Supermarkets and shops that sell products with chametz are not allowed to sell these products during Pesach. Those of you who have visited Israel during this holiday probably noticed large sections of stores with sheets covering products, hiding them from the public, unable to purchase during Pesach.
So instead of bread Jewish people eat Matzot or products prepared with matzo flour during Pesach.
But like I said at the beginning, Matzot is not solely a Jewish tradition, it’s also a Christian one. They are a part of our Easter breakfast table. Obviously both holidays have nothing in common in their origin. The only thing they have in common is that they both occur in early spring, usually coinciding in the same weekend. So how come two different religions have the same tradition? Time for some research!
Let me begin by saying that I am not entirely sure if Matzot are an Easter tradition outside of the Netherlands. I do know that we have a Matzot bakery in the Netherlands which produces (non-kosher) Matzot all year round. Only during Pesach they also produce kosher ones. So in the Netherlands Matzot are available throughout the year. But around Easter they are displayed more prominently for sure. As to why it has become an Easter tradition there are no actual facts, only assumptions. One of them being that Matzot were part of Jesus’ ‘Last Supper’ where he made the Matza symbolize his body.
Another explanation according to the Dutch Matza bakery is the following;
“Dutch Jews were so integrated into the fabric of society. The Netherlands, a liberal nation that was home to one of Europe’s most illustrious Jewish communities before its near annihilation by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, has other examples of interfaith borrowings (take the oliebol, a deep-fried winter snack in Holland that many trace back to the Hanukkah doughnut called sufganiyah).” (source)
They both seem plausible explanations as to why we eat Matzot at Easter. Fact is that there is no real proof of the Exodus of the Jewish people. Meaning that we also do not know exactly why Matzot are being eaten at Pesach. I guess we will never know for sure why both religions have this tradition.
A tradition that nevertheless is worth continuing and means the world to me. Not only because it brings back fond childhood memories of Easter but also of the times I got to experience the joy of being at the Seder table. Of being invited to read a part of the Haggadah (the narrative of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt which is read before dinner), to feel the magic of Jewish culture and traditions. Eating Matzot brings me closer to the people I love and regard as my second family.
This tradition I lovingly passed on to my children, including the sugary toppings 😂! And since I am very much into baking our own bread lately, I thought maybe try baking our own Matzot. Creating new traditions and memories. And so I did!
Use spelt flour (1 cup) and 1/2 cup of water (other flour do will do as well). Mix quickly with a fork into a ball, knead shortly and form 8 small balls. Flatten them into thin circles. Pierce holes on both sides with a fork and place them on a steaming hot baking sheet. Preferably you bake at a 240-250 ℃ for two minutes each side. My oven does not go higher than 230℃, so I baked for 3 minutes each side.
They turned out crispy as they should. I replaced the butter and sugar with some homemade humus, and it was delightful. While writing this I think maybe I’ll add some Za’atar to the dough next time… There is plenty of time left to try before Easter!
Check out the instruction video below to bake your own Matzot.
Please share the result on Instagram or Facebook or leave a comment here below!
I’ll finish with wishing you a happy Pesach or Easter!
*should you want to know more about other products that contain chametz, the difference between the Askenazhi and Sepharadi kitchen (European Jews and Jews from the Middle East), check out the website of Tori Avey.