Just as Marcel Proust had his madeleines, I have Passover rolls. The sense memories that come flooding back as the aroma of freshly cooked rolls wafts through the house take me into Passover as no other food, preparation, or ritual can do.
I no longer have my grandmother’s copy of the recipe, but still use the handwritten (pre-computer) version that I took to college back in the Pleistocene Age. I don’t have videos of my grandmother, but if I close my eyes when the rolls are in the oven, I can see her moving from countertop to oven to table, smiling.
When Passover comes, I make dozens of Passover rolls for the Seder, we give some to Seder guests to take home, and we eat them throughout the week of Passover. I think my record was 12 dozen one year. This year I have only made six dozen so far.
It seems counter-intuitive, that during a holiday when you are not supposed to eat any leavened bread, you can eat a roll. But these Passover rolls are special. No yeast, baking soda, or baking powder helps them to rise. BTW – Long after this post went up and after many years of believing otherwise, I found out that baking soda and baking powder are actually kosher for Passover. No kidding.
Passover rolls are really Passover popovers – just eggs and air puff them up. Why we called them rolls is a mystery to me. In that vein, I think of them as little miracles. They transform matzo meal into something edible and even wonderful. Indeed, the most important part of the miracle is that they save us from the tedium and negative characteristics of matzo.
Normally, I wouldn’t make a point of showing the brand of an ingredient such as matzo meal. But in this case, I made an exception. I’m partial to Streit’s because of the humorous and helpful experience I had when I called the company for advice on how long you can keep matzo meal.
Normally I wouldn’t badmouth food, but it’s hard for me not to see matzo as a plague. We are required to substitute it for great sourdough bread, it tastes like cardboard or building material, and it tends to break when you try to put something like peanut butter or jam on it to make it edible. That’s a pretty damning set of characteristics.
Passover rolls come to the rescue. They are simple to make, taste delicious, and freeze well. Moreover, unlike “regular” rolls and bread, which get mushy if you microwave them, Passover rolls can be re-heated in the microwave. You don’t have to be Jewish, or celebrate Passover, to enjoy them.
I prefer my Passover rolls warm and a bit soft in the middle. I don’t understand the food chemistry reasons, but they maintain their shape, texture and taste if you microwave them for 30 seconds at medium-high.
You can re-heat them in a toaster oven too (on the oven setting), but I’m usually too impatient to do that. I’ve been known to eat them just as they are, but they are also great with butter or jam, with a bit of cheddar or other “hard” cheese, and they are wonderful with anything that has gravy they can soak up.
Speaking of butter, I tried an experiment, substituting butter for margarine in the recipe. Neither my favorite taste tester nor I could tell the difference between the batch made with margarine and the one made with butter. Maybe I should re-think my “butter always, no margarine” baking policy?
Passover rolls are easy to make, however the batter has to rest and they take about 45 minutes to bake. Compare that timing to the requirement that matzo cannot take longer than 18 minutes to make as a reminder of the Jews’ hasty departure from Egypt. All of which makes Passover rolls a rather ironic food to use in celebrating the exodus from Egypt. Still, they are delicious and I don’t mind a bit of irony for the sake of better food.
- 2 cups matzo meal
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 stick margarine 8 tablespoons
- 4 in eggs at room temperature (After taking them from refrigerator you can leave them in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes to bring them to room temperature.)
- 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil (any kind – canola (corn, olive or any combination) – just enough to oil your hands when forming the rolls
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Stir the matzo meal, sugar and salt together into a medium size bowl.
- Bring the water and the margarine to a boil in a small pot under medium-high heat. (The margarine melts as water heats.) You may have to stir the last bit of margarine to dissolve it completely. Be careful not to let the water/melted margarine boil over the pot, as it is a mess to clean up if you are inattentive. Believe me, I know that from experience.
- Pour the water/margarine liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix them with a fork until they become a rather dry-looking batter.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each one. The mixture gets stickier with each egg. Once all four eggs are mixed in, let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes. The “rest time” is essential – do not rush it or skip this step.
- After the batter has rested, dip your hands into a small bowl containing a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, so the batter will not stick to them as you form the rolls.
- Take a handful of dough and form it into a ball, somewhere between golf and baseball-sized. Repeat for 12 rolls.
- Place them on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes in the middle rack of the oven, until they are golden brown and slightly puffed. Cool them for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove the rolls to a wire rack.
Although their color does not change dramatically, the rolls lose their shine after baking.
This post was substantially updated in April 2016. The update included revised text and all new photos.