This recipe is part of Crispianity: a column devoted to all foods crispy and crunchy, two of the most underappreciated attributes of a great dish. Author Adeena Sussman is a food writer and recipe developer, pairing here with her photographer friend Evan Sung. Sussman’s most recent cookbook, coauthored with Lee Brian Schrager, is America’s Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes From Coast to Coast.
Passover, the holiday where unleavened, cracker-like matzo figures prominently in many a meal, begins Friday night. According to tradition, we eat matzo to represent the bread that didn’t have time to rise when the Jews were released from slavery and had to hightail it out of ancient Egypt seemingly on a moment’s notice. Passover begins with seder, an evening of time-honored rituals that includes eating symbolic foods and reading the Passover story, followed by a festive meal (think of it as the original dinner theater). At my family’s seders, we’d always buy something called “chocolate matoa” that wasn’t really matzo at all, but rather a solid block of nut-studded chocolate perforated to resemble this symbolic food. There was also real-deal matzo covered in a thin layer of waxy, poor-quality chocolate, which seemed to get soggy before you even opened the package.
Matzo desserts remained frozen in an unfortunate holding pattern until the advent of matzo crack, about 20 years ago (for an in-depth history of the dessert phenomenon, see my friend Leah Koenig’s informative article here). Nowadays it isn’t really Passover unless you boil up a buttery caramel, pour it over some matzo boards, bake until bubbly, and top with chopped chocolate that melts before the whole affair cools into a toffee-like confection. It’s undeniably delicious, but I found it cloyingly sweet — and felt it could be crunchier. I began by replacing regular matzo boards with thinner “tea” matzos, which I discovered you can cut into uniform sizes by sawing gently with a serrated knife. Then, by deliberately overbaking the thin layer of caramel I spread atop the matzos, it burnt ever so slightly. The standard semisweet or milk chocolate chips were swapped for intense 85 percent chocolate. A scattering of deeply toasted hazelnuts, a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt, a chill in the fridge to firm things up, and you’ve got a crispy-crunchy, complex confection you may find yourself making long after Passover ends.
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
- 5 or 6 square matza boards, preferably thin "tea” matzos and preferably salted
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, coconut oil, or margarine (chill, judgers, it’s for the kosher people)
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 3.5-ounce extra-dark (at least 80 percent) chocolate bars, finely chopped (about 2 cups chopped)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon sea salt flakes
For the matzo toffee
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the hazelnuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast longer than you think you should, until the hazelnuts get pretty dark under their skins and the skin appears to flake off the hazelnuts a bit, about 15 minutes.
Transfer the hazelnuts to a large kitchen towel or, better yet, any sort of a laundered soft cloth bag with a drawstring. Rub the fabric against the hazelnuts until as many of the skins come off as possible. (Of course if you can find preblanched hazelnuts, which I’ve found virtually impossible, you’re ahead of the game here.)
Line the bottom and sides of a large (12- x 17-inch) baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the matzos on the sheet, using a serrated knife to gently saw off parts of each board so they fit into as uniform and flush a single layer as you can. (If you don’t feel like being a geek like me, just snap the matzos and be kind to yourself about the inevitably shattered matzos.)
In a 3-quart saucepan bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring, then cook, lowering the flame if the boiling gets out of control, until a smooth caramel forms, 3 minutes. Quickly pour the bubbling caramel over the matzo, smooth it out a little with an offset spatula, and bake it until browned and the edges burn slightly, 17-18 minutes (I’m purposely going for this slightly burnt thing, but if you’re not, take it out at 15 minutes). Some of the caramel may have slipped under the matzos; this is cool, too.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle the chocolate on top and return to the oven for 30 seconds to help it melt. Remove it from the oven and let the chocolate melt a little more on the counter, 1-2 minutes. Using that offset spatula again, spread the chocolate evenly all over, cool for a minute, sprinkle the surface of the chocolate with the salt, then sprinkle with the hazelnuts. Chill, uncovered, until solid, 40-45 minutes, then break with your hands or cut into even and symmetrical slices with the serrated knife. The finished product will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple of weeks (as if).