Q&A: At Cake Monkey, they’re making Passover Crack
It’s been called Matzo Brittle and Matzo Toffee Cracker and, according to the American Jewish online magazine Tablet, was invented by a freelance food writer named Marcy Goldman who, back in the mid-'80s, happened upon a recipe for saltines topped with chocolate chips and toffee, made it Passover-friendly and named it Caramel-covered Buttercrunch. Adapted throughout the country, it put Goldman on the map.
At Cake Monkey Bakery in the Fairfax district, they are currently selling something that feels like a distant Goldman relation. They refer to as Passover Crack and it might be the most perfectly crafted salty-sweet union of matzo, chocolate, toffee and nuts ever. It comes in 6-ounce cellophane bags and goes for $4.50. It is hard to imagine eating just one piece, but Passover Crack has a built-in cold turkey solution: After this Sunday, it goes off the menu until next year’s festival of spring.
Cake Monkey’s executive pastry chef, Elizabeth Belkind, explains how her spin on Matzo Brittle came into being.
How long ago did you start thinking about adding Passover Crack to your line of holiday desserts?
Months before Passover, Arleen Sorkin, the cousin of my business partner [Lisa J. Olin] planted the idea in my mind and even sent a recipe for Matzo Brittle. Probably Lisa had a conversation with her because we are always testing recipes way too close to the holidays. I’d never heard of it before — and I’d never tasted it. This recipe called for melting brown sugar and butter together which caused the brown sugar to crystallize. I ended up not being thrilled with [the end result], but it sent me on a mission to test and retest until I got it right. What I wanted was something super-crunchy, glossy and literally brittle.
Did you have a game plan?
I was thinking, “Brittle: It has to be super-thin and it has to crack when you just barely touch it with your teeth.” So I remembered that years ago, when we started Cake Monkey, my friend Max Lesser was starting his brittle company and we had lots of conversations about how to make brittle extra, extra, extra brittle. And I was like, “What if you just make it, pour it on the Silpat, then put it in the oven and let it just spread the width of the whole tray? It will be like a super-thin brittle.” So I had that filed that away from eight years ago.
What I ended up doing was laying matzo down on a Silpat, covering it with crushed Kokoa chocolate — it’s 78% cacao — and roasted pecans and pouring toffee on it, then the sea salt, and sticking it in the oven for about 20 minutes until it turned into thin sheets of crunchiness. Because the matzos are so wavy, the toffee just doesn’t stay on top, it seeps underneath and makes its own little shell on the bottom. So top and bottom are coated in toffee. I didn’t expect that to happen. It just did. And that was great.
In the early days of Cake Monkey you repeatedly timed yourself so you could shave as many minutes as possible off making and decorating beautiful, miniature four-layer cakes. How fast can you make Passover Crack?
The prepping of it is pretty simple. I just use a huge rondeau to make a big, big vat of toffee. It’s such a large quantity that it stays hot for a really long time — maybe by the 10th tray, it’s a bit sluggish — so you’re able to ladle the toffee onto a lot of trays. So I just load a baking rack with trays of matzo already prepped with nuts and chocolate on it, then one by one cover it with toffee, then stick all of them in the oven. It takes a while for all of it to cool. Then we crack it by hand.
How many tries did it take to perfect your Passover Crack?
Five or six tries.
Once you felt that you’d gotten it right, who got to taste test it?
I always give my partner the first taste so we can both agree on it. She loved it. Next came everyone in the kitchen. My staff is mostly Latino and they were very curious about what I was making. All week long it was, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” and “What are those huge boxes of crackers for?” So when I finally got it right, they all tried it and they loved it. Then I brought it home and my husband loved it. The girls at the bakery loved it too. So I got a big thumbs up across the board.
How much have you sold?
I would say maybe a hundred pounds in two days. It was a lot.
Well, the name sure helps.
I was so proud of myself. I thought I was really original calling it Passover Crack. Then my husband sent me a link to an article by David Lebovitz. In it, he wrote about how gazillions of people have made matzo with toffee and how everyone calls it Matzo Crack. But I swear I didn’t see this story until the day after I was done testing the recipe [laughs]. But I’ve never loved matzo so much as I do now. There’s endless possibilities with this stuff.
Cake Monkey Bakery, 7807 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-1142, www.cakemonkey.com.
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