Tag Archives: matzo brei

Matzo Caffee a la Dad

ON  PASSOVER, WHEN WE’RE FORBIDDEN to eat any of the five grains–wheat, oats spelt, rye, barley — except in the form of matzo,  naturally a number of specific recipes involving matzo developed. I’ve been thinking about all the food traditions I grew up with on this holiday, realizing that I make an effort to keep some of them, fail to keep others and toss some away without regret.

For example, I do make kneidlach (matzo balls) for a chicken or vegetarian soup and matzo brei for a special breakfast, but I don’t make a roasted turkey with my mother’s wonderful matzo-mushroom stuffing. I fail to make an authentic fermented beet borscht as my Baba (my mother’s mother) did — but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mother making this either. Perhaps she made it before I was of an age to remember, and gave it up.  She let Manischewitz handle the borscht-making and served the ruby-colored soup hot or cold, pouring it into bowls in which we’d crumbled matzo pieces and topping it with a dollop of sour cream, great for a Passover lunch.

And despite my fond memories of making sponge cake with my mother for the Seder dinner — besides the matzo meal, nine eggs were required, with silky-beaten yolks and whipped egg whites in the batter, and a frosting of egg whites and honey — I prefer my own custom of making flourless chocolate walnut torte.

One of my favorite Passover matzo traditions  is one that my father introduced,  a simple European treat that he would make nearly every day of the eight-day holiday, starting on the first morning: Matzo Coffee. We knew by its German name, Matzo Kaffee. Or, in a more personal rendition, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

Matzah Kaffee 1

Passover in Chicago, April 2000. Dad was 89 then.

Dad would break most of a sheet of matzo into his coffee cup, crunching it into small pieces, then adding sugar and milk to the cup.

Matzah Kaffee 2

Finally, he poured hot coffee into the cup, right to the brim.

The result was softened, sweetened matzo floating about in some milky coffee. We made a similar children’s version, Matzo Cocoa, which was simply broken-up matzo pieces covered with hot chocolate. Both Matzo Kaffee and Matzo Cocoa are hybrids of food-and-beverage: you take sips of the coffee or cocoa and spoon out the softened bits of flavored matzo. Mmmmm.

I admit, it’s not for everyone. It has very little nutritional value, and doesn’t hold a candle to a good coffee and buttered toast or a croissant. Most people who didn’t grow up with it look upon it with disdain, as if you had torn up a piece of toast into little pieces and tossed them into a cup of cappuccino.

It’s certainly not an essential food for Passover, but rather a minor tradition, probably born of the monotony of eating dry, unsalted matzo day after day. Whatever others thought, we  loved it and had it (or the cocoa version) often, either for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. Still today, for me the taste and messy consumption of Matzo Caffee ala Dad  carries so many pleasurable associations.

My father — in a play on the word Seder, which means order — insisted there was a also a certain order to be observed when making Matzo Kaffee. On the last Passover of his life, when he was 93, he wrote the instructions for each of us four children in his inimitable handwriting.

Matzah Kaffee order

I love the “WOW!! What a TREAT!!” which captures my Dad’s vitality and almost childlike enthusiasm, while the instruction “Do NOT change order to do it o.k.”  reminds me of the authoritarian side of his character.

Twelve years after he wrote it, this little card is one of my most treasured documents from my father. And, yes, of course, I’m still enjoying that special Passover treat, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.



Filed under breakfast, Praise for other cooks, spring, Uncategorized

Whatcha got cookin’?


Well, since I moved, now nearly two weeks ago, I’ve been getting used to my new kitchen. It looks pretty spacious in this photo, but really it’s a pretty small galley-style kitchen from the mid-1970s, and it took me awhile to get it organized.  There’s a microwave oven, which I’ve never had (or wanted) in my life. I am mainly using it to store my skillets, but I did use it the other day to liquefy some honey, and I’ve heard it’s good at reheating a cup of tea.


It’s nice to have a pineapple in one’s kitchen


The pantry has lots of shelves. How thoughtful.

Fortunately, there’s a separate pantry I can use for storing canned goods, beans, Mason jars, coffeepots and such.


One of my favorite parts of arranging the kitchen was putting up the block prints my daughter Aviva made in her Country Cookin’ series. It’s a great inspiration for me to look over from the stove at Aviva’s “How about cooking something up with me?” rendition of Hank Williams with a spatula.


Another pleasure was putting up one of my lovely vintage aprons on the wall — useful pockets too!

passthruThe kitchen is kind of isolated from the rest of the place except for a little pass-through to the dining room. It’s an old fashioned idea….and I wasn’t too fond of it until I found the cow-bell that my mom used to summon us to dinner. Now I ring the bell and Steve takes the food and dishes and silverware to the table.  Sometimes I pretend it’s a diner by ringing the bell and yelling “Order up!”

I'm feeling happy in this kitchen

I’m feeling happy in this kitchen

So, after all this arranging — what have I been cooking?

Well, as today is the last day of the eight-day holiday of Passover (and it was very appropriate to clean up and move just before), I’ve been making food without bread or leavening. No pasta, rice, beans, polenta, pizza or most of the other things I usually eat. We’ve had potatoes many different ways, asparagus and eggs, a roast chicken… For treats I made a chocolate walnut torte (flourless, of course) that I wrote about in a post last year and meringue cookies.

And this morning, I made some matzo brei for breakfast, with almost-the-last of the Passover matzo.


Matzo brei is easy. For two people, take three matzo and break them up into chunks in a colander. Run tap water over them for half a minute just to moisten. Beat three eggs in a bowl, add the moistened matzo, crumbs and all, and a dash of salt, and mix it all up with a fork. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in your frying pan and when it sizzles, tip in the matzo-egg mixture and scramble it up, breaking up the pieces, and adding more butter for crispier pieces if you wish.

If you are two hungrier people, use four matzos and four eggs (and more butter). You get the idea.


We always served it with some generous squeezes of lemon juice, topped by a shower of cinnamon sugar. You can have it with jam too. Some fruit and yogurt on the side would be quite welcome to round out the breakfast.

I apologize for waiting until the end of the holiday to put up a Passover recipe, but some people eat it during the rest of the year — Ruth Reichl says her family eats matzo brei on Christmas morning!

For me, matzo is the very taste of this great celebration of freedom,  and I never eat it except on Passover, waiting till that first day of the holiday, just as in my childhood, to taste the once-a-year specialty.

But if you know someone who’s been observing Passover and has half a box of matzo left over that they’d like to get rid of, well, matzo brei may be just the ticket.  Most of us are tired of matzo by the end of eight days, and you don’t have to be Jewish to love matzo brei!


Filed under dessert, musings, spring