In my family, the Passover celebration begins long before the Seder. Preparing for our festive meal is a big part of the fun. One of my favorite traditions is our annual matza baking party. My husband Howard designs and builds a temporary cinder-block tabun (Biblical oven) especially for the occasion. I aspire to bake a matza with a really authentic flavor. In order to get that, I look for flour milled from heirloom seeds that were native to Ancient Egypt.
How does Howard build the tabun? He uses dry, fireproof cinderblocks, aluminum sheets, and ceramic tiles. His design protects the surface beneath the oven.
Oven-building and matza-baking instructions after the jump.
- 17 regular cinderblocks
- 6 skinny cinderblocks
- Four 15″ ceramic tiles
- Two 3’x3′ aluminum sheets
- One 3’x3′ perforated aluminum sheet (we used a radiator cover)
- One 3’x1′ aluminum sheet
1. Select a flat surface to construct on.
Arrange six cinder-blocks in a rectangular shape, with one cinder-block in the center.
2. Place an aluminum sheet over these cinder-blocks. This will hold the charcoal for the oven.
3. Arrange five cinder-blocks on top of the aluminum sheet, leaving gaps for ventilation.
4. Place a perforated aluminum sheet over the cinder-blocks. This allows the heat to rise to the upper chamber of the oven.
5. Create the baking chamber with five cinderblocks arranged closely together, to keep in the heat.
6. Cover the baking chamber with a solid aluminum sheet.
7. Secure this aluminum sheet with flat cinderblocks.
8. Cover the aluminum sheet with ceramic tiles for insulation.
9. Use a chimney to start up your charcoal.
We used natural wood charcoal. The Ancient Israelites used dry dung for fuel. Place some crumpled newspapers in the bottom chamber of the chimney, and charcoal in the top. Light the newspapers. The fire will rise to the charcoal. It takes about fifteen minutes for your charcoal to be ready to be placed in the bottom chamber of the tabun. Rap the back of the chimney with a heavy stick to get the charcoals in to the oven. Use the stick to concentrate the charcoals in the center of the fire chamber. We needed two chimneys full of charcoal to get the tabun hot enough to bake our matza. Once you have placed the matza in the baking chamber, prop the 3’x1′ aluminum sheet against the opening with a stick to create a door. This will help keep in the heat.
In Deuteronomy 16:3, matza is described as lechem oni, or “bread of poverty.” What was the bread of poverty in Ancient Egypt? According to the Karaites, barley was the grain of the poor. They bake their matza from the flour of this Ancient Egyptian staple. I wanted to try it this year, so we baked barley matza. I bought whole grain barley flour at Weaver’s Way Coop near my house.
Karaite Barley Matza
- 2 cups of barley flour
- 1 cup of water
- Set a timer for eighteen minutes. From the moment the water touches the flour, that is the total time permitted for the preparation of kosher for Passover matza.
- Place the flour in a bowl.
- Pour the water into the flour, and knead it quickly.
- Pinch off an olive-sized piece of dough.
- Say the blessing for taking challah:
Baruch Ata A-Do-Nay Elo-haynu Melech HaOlam Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav V’Tziyvanu L’Hafrish Challah, Harei Zeh Challah. (Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate Challah, this is Challah).
- You must burn this piece of dough completely, in a fire that is separate from the one you are using to bake the matza.
- Pull off plum-sized balls of dough.
- Flatten them with your hands.
- Pierce the flattened dough all over with a fork.
- Place in the hot tabun.
- The matza is ready when it is crisp, and slightly browned.
As we pulled the rustic, golden-brown flat breads out of the oven, their delicious aroma wafted around our yard. The tabun-baked barley matza was softer than the store-bought wheat type. We ate our matza hot, right as it emerged from the charcoals. There was a satisfying crunch around the edges as we bit into it. It had a hearty, slightly nutty flavor. For me, this “bread of poverty” is a delicacy!