Like so many others, I, for years, drizzled chocolate over matzo for my children at Passover, so I was no stranger to matzo treats. But somehow, I missed the creation of caramel matzo crunch, also called “matzo buttercrunch” or “matzo brittle,” its many incarnations found in cookbooks, on blogs and on websites. Sometimes the provenance is recognized, but mostly not.
Being the food detective that I am, though, I thought I would set the record straight. The earliest recipe I could find comes from Marcy Goldman, author of “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking,” first published in 1998. In the book, she includes a recipe she calls “My Trademark, Most Requested, Absolutely Magnificent Caramel Matzoh Crunch.”
In 1986, Goldman was searching for a Passover dessert to pitch to newspapers in the United States and Canada and spotted a recipe for “Easy Toffee Bars” in a 1978 copy of “Farm Journal’s Choice Chocolate Recipes” by Elise W. Manning. In it, they used saltine crackers as a base for the treats.
“A light bulb went off,” Goldman, 67, said over Zoom from her home in Montreal. “If you could use saltines, why not swap them for matzo?”
She did just that, and the recipe took off from there.
Occasionally, guests have brought Goldman’s crunch to my Passover Seder, never straying too far from the original.
This year, though, I updated her recipe: I included a topping of peanuts and swapped the chocolate for protein-rich peanut butter. The crunchy peanuts and a sprinkle of fleur de sel counteract the sweetness of the caramel, which acts as a binder.
While many Sephardic Jews have long considered peanuts kosher for Passover, most Ashkenazi Jews have avoided them during the holiday. But the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the Conservative movement, has deemed them acceptable to consume during Passover. (This change has not been observed by the Orthodox.)
And if you can’t find a kosher-for-Passover peanut butter, such as Shneider’s, you could try this treat with other nut butters, like almond or cashew, or even tahini with a sprinkle of halvah. The recipe has many possibilities, and, wrapped and tucked into a tin, it makes a tasty gift for the Seder host. But just beware: This sweet is totally habit-forming.
I asked Goldman what she thinks about all the variations of her recipe.
“It’s been around so much that I am fine with it now,” she said. “I think for the person who can’t cook or bake, being the ‘one who brings the matzo buttercrunch’ rescues them.”
Recipe: Salted Peanut and Caramel Matzo Brittle
Recipe from Marcy Goldman
Adapted by Joan Nathan
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling
4 square matzos
1 cup/227 grams unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 cup/220 grams firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup/200 grams smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup/105 grams roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a rimmed 11-by-17 or 12-by-18-inch baking sheet with parchment paper, covering the pan and extending over the sides.
2. Lay 2 matzo squares in the pan, positioning the concave side up to best retain the caramel. Then, like a puzzle, fit the remaining matzo onto the baking sheet, carefully breaking pieces to fill the entire baking pan in one layer. (Don’t worry if they are not perfect; the brittle will be cut up later.)
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil, about 6 minutes. Boil just until very bubbly, another 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from heat and pour over the matzo, covering completely. Working quickly, spread the caramel using a heatproof spatula, then spoon it on top if it spills between the cracks in the matzo.
4. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, checking to make sure the edges and top are not burning.
5. Once the matzo is almost done baking, heat the peanut butter in a microwave until slightly warmed and easily pourable, about 20 to 30 seconds on high.
6. Remove the matzo from the oven and drizzle the warmed peanut butter on top, then sprinkle with the peanuts, then the salt. Cool, break into pieces, then transfer to a lidded container. Brittle is best — and at its snappiest — when chilled. Refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes until peanut butter firms up. Brittle will keep up to 1 month frozen; let it thaw for about 10 minutes before serving.