Friday, March 29, 2013

Gentile Goes to Seder -- Matzo Toffee

I grew up in a tiny, white, 90% Polish Catholic town in the farmlands of Massachusetts. Diversity was moreso economic than ethnic, and I didn't know any Jewish people my own age or even someone of a different ethnic background than myself until college. The one brush with Judaisim I had was when I was a flower girl for a Jewish wedding when I was 5 or 6, and I wanted to be able to sit on the chairs people were lifting into the air but my mom told me I couldn't. By age 10 I'd decided that Catholicism wasn't my ideal religion, and today my spirituality is kind of all over the place. However, religion has always fascinated me, and I love learning about them.

Fish and soup appetizer

This is why I was thrilled when my good friend Gilana--whom I know well through local theater--invited me to her Seder dinner last night. A holiday with a huge focus on food and WINE? Count me in. Using an electronic copy of a Passover comic book projected onto our friend Bart's big screen television, Gilana began the Seder. The very first Seder I have ever attended!

This was her first time officiating a Seder to a room full of Gentiles, and she was the only Jew in attendance. We were a very captive audience. It was fun to hear my Christian friends chime in with what they knew about the Passover stories through their own religious education. We made Gilana giggle with our interpretations of the symbols like the Haroset (a fruit and nut paste that is delicious) and Maror (spicy-hot horseradish) sandwich. Gilana told us that the Haroset is meant to symbolize compassion, while the Maror is meant to symbolize the suffering of the Jews. We were instructed to eat them separately, and then together on some Matzo. The idea that we were eating compassion and suffering tickled us, and for the rest of the night we would say "pass the compassion, please!" and "My Gefilte fish needs more suffering." Or, when my boyfriend arrived late to the party I explained what he'd missed as thus: "We drink wine after each part, Gilana is reading us the story of Passover, find a pillow to sit on, we had to dip parsley in salted water eat a sandwich of suffering and compassion and eat an egg."

Each section of Seder concluded with drinking a glass of wine. I joked that Seder must be God's First Drinking Game and made one of our friends spit out his wine from laughter. I worried the comment was a bit blasphemous but Gilana was nearly out of her seat with laughter as well. We wondered why the door is set open for Elijah (I suggested Elijah is clearly the life of the party), marveled at how the wine in the cup was gone without our knowing it, and Emily found the afikomen. I assume these traditions began to entertain the children, and that seasoned Jewish youths become disenchanted with them quickly, but as first-time Seder guests we had a lot of fun running around looking for the Matzo that Gilana hid, and trying to figure out when the wine was sipped without our knowing it.

My favorite part of the Seder table was the new tradition of the orange. The mythical reasoning is that at after a lecture by a famous Jewish feminist, a man stood up and angrily said that "a woman belongs on a bima the way an orange belongs on a Seder plate!" and so the feminist reaction was to put an orange on the Seder plate. I love this story, because for one, YAY GIRL POWER, and for two, it is a new addition to an old tradition that was made within our century. It's a symbol that we are forever growing, forever evolving, and bringing our traditions with us. While that story is mythical, I found the real story online, in a copy of an essay written by the feminist scholar who started the tradition.

Then we all played Cards Against Humanity, which probably isn't a tradition that will happen at many Seders but was a hilarious way to end ours!

Gilana, knowing I am "the chef" in our group of friends, asked me to provide a dessert. She fed us well with Matzo ball soup, Gifelte fish, and Matzo lasagna (maybe I'll make a version with the two boxes of Matzo I have left), but there still was a little room for dessert, so this was a good call on her part. I was going to try my hand at making a candy bar out of Matzo, but with my recent fails with cake pops I was a little hesitant to be working with tempered chocolate. Thankfully, I found a recipe for TOFFEE Matzo. Toffee is probably my weakness. Perfect!

Toffee Matzo Bark
(From Once Upon a Chef)
Makes about 25 pieces, or 20-25 servings. Recipe can be halved

  • Enough Matzos to cover 1 large baking sheet or 2 small ones -- I used whole wheat
  • 4 sticks butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 bags dark chocolate chips -- I used a combo of that and semisweet
  • 1 cup pecans (or whatever nuts you wish)
  • sea salt, a few pinches

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray baking sheets with non-stick spray. Cover with Matzos, using broken pieces to fill in any bare spots.

 Heat butter and brown sugar until they come to a rolling boil. Whisk vigorously until mixture is thick and bubbly. Pour over Matzos and put in oven for 10 minutes, until toffee is crackled.

Pour chocolate chips over Matzos and return to oven for 1 minute. Immediately spread with spatula and then sprinkle with pecans. Let chill in fridge.

Before serving, break into large chunks--I used a meat hammer--and serve.

PS. I've decided to pull the Giveaway winner on Tuesday. Two hand-picked-by-me gift baskets are being given away to say thank you for all of the love and support I've received this week with the Sign Me Sal/Do You Wanna Write a Cookbook contest. Seriously, I am absolutely FLOORED and I wish I could hug every last one of you! Please enter the contest for a chance to win some awesome goodies!


  1. My first seder was at my Catholic high school, but they skipped the wine. I don't remember if we had grape juice or not.

  2. This is so cool, love this post! Plus um delicious!

  3. I grew up in a very Jewish area in Western New York, so I had lots of experience with the foods as a kid. This Matzo bark looks a lot better than just the cracker! Love your take on the traditional!

  4. So fun!! I've been to two seders in my life and it's definitely quite an experience. :) A fun one, but also a good way to learn about judaism in a not-boring way. That matzo toffee sounds super tasty!!

  5. Your upbringing sounds a lot like mine! Love that you got to have such an awesome cultral experience...and that it ended w/ cards against humanity. Nice!

    1. Cards Against Humanity is the perfect end to any religious evening.

  6. This looks so good!! I love toffee. Great post!

  7. Toffee matzoh is the crack of passover dessert.

    1. Hehe, the recipe I got called it "crack" too!

  8. yum. i love when my step-mother-in-law makes that toffee with the saltines. i can imagine that the matzo toffee would be even better! i'll have to try it sometime. :)