Sweet Sesame Matzah Bars

Matzah bars (8)

You don’t have to be Jewish or even to have participated in a Passover seder to be familiar with matzah. Also spelled matzoh, mazto, or matza, it’s technically bread, despite its similarity to crackers (which I can’t help calling them). Matzos are crisp and dry and plain on the palate — put simply, they’re much like a giant water cracker.  Growing up, we’d sometimes end up with extra boxes of them around the house in the spring, and I have vivid memories of making matzah-crust pizzas, matzah-speckled omelets, and peanut butter and jelly matzah-wiches (crunch!).

Matzah bars (1)But it wasn’t until this year that I decided to transform the ceremonial bread into a decadent treat. Something about its blank-canvas quality and its distinctive browned edges had finally lured me in. Together with a heap of toasted sesame seeds, my broken matzos would meld with sweet almond paste and honey, bits of citrus zest and a splash of vanilla. The result was a delicious and decadent treat, reminiscent of baklava with its light-weight crunch, honey, and citrus : a perfect new spring tradition.

Sesame Matzah Bars (makes a 9 x 13″ pan; 32 bars)

  • 1.5 cups (8.3 oz or 235 g) sesame seedsMatzah bars
  • 10 ounces plain matzah crackers (about 8 cups once broken, loosely packed)
  • 14 ounces almond paste, OR 7 ounces almond paste plus 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter (see note**)
  • 2 medium oranges
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Place sesame seeds in a 9 x 13” cake pan and bake for 20 minutes, stopping halfway through to stir and turn seeds.  Remove from oven and let seeds cool in pan.  Meanwhile, break matzah crackers into roughly 1.5 inch pieces in a large bowl.  Grate almond paste with a standard sized grater; set aside.  Zest oranges with a fine grater; set zest aside. Juice oranges over a sieve until you have 1/3 cup strained juice (one orange may be enough). When sesame seed pan is cool enough to handle, pour the toasted seeds into the matzah. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with foil; grease the foil, set pan aside nearby, then grease a wooden spoon for easy mixing.  Measure out the peanut butter (if using), honey and vanilla so they are ready to quickly add to the pot.

Matzah bars (5)In a large pot over low-medium heat, melt the butter or coconut oil.  Add the honey and salt, stirring gently.  Add the grated almond paste and peanut butter if using, and constantly stir for a few full minutes, until mixture is smooth and bubbling.  Turn off heat and carefully add strained juice and the vanilla (mixture is very hot and will spatter).  Mix until just even in consistency.  Quickly add matzah, sesame seeds and zest to the pot. Mix vigorously from the bottom of the pan so that all crackers and seeds get coated with honey mixture.  Transfer to lined pan and push down on it very firmly, letting matzah break as you create an even, well-packed bar. This process can take several minutes, and using the back of a wooden spoon or large offset spatula can be easiest. Smooth the top of bars with a heatproof spatula, applying plenty of pressure.

Chill the pan until bars are Matzah bars (7)cool and firm, then use the tin foil to remove the bars from pan. Transfer to cutting board and carefully remove foil.  Using a sharp knife and plenty of pressure, cut the cold slab into quarters; cut each quarter into 8 slices to make 32 bars.  For best results, transfer cut bars to paper cupcake liners; this makes for easy serving and eating.  Store in a sealed container in the fridge, eating within 3 days.  These taste best chilled but are still scrumptious at room temperature.

Fragrant with nutty sesame flavor, these sweet, crisp bars offer the moist richness of almond paste and the tart tang of fresh orange peel.  Alongside the light crunch of seeds and crackers, the rich almond paste and sticky honey makes their texture sing; some have called this “matzah baklava”.  A legendary symbolic bread in the form of a rich, complex, delightful dessert — this signals celebration!

Maybe next time…  While the flavors are already complex and complementary, an added handful of chewy, tart fruit such as dried cherries or cranberries would be delicious in this recipe, as would a bit of toasted coconut or cocao nibs.  It’s best to choose something not too sweet and add it when adding the matzah.  Chocoholics might enjoy a drizzle of bittersweet or semi-sweet atop the sliced bars.  Depending on your side on the honey debate, these bars could be considered vegan by choosing egg-free matzah and using coconut oil instead of butter.

Matzah bars (4)

**If you have marzipan on hand, it will work in place of the almond paste. (I prefer the latter for its higher nut-to-sugar ratio, always choosing the block or tube variety, such as Odense brand, over the canned type. As a bonus, Odense comes in convenient 7 ounce containers and is widely available).  Swapping half the almond paste for peanut butter will make for a more frugal, less sweet recipe with a familiar and delicate peanutty essence.

Matzah bars (2)

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15 Responses to Sweet Sesame Matzah Bars

  1. Pingback: 12 Delicious Passover Recipes ~ Simply Darelina

  2. Pingback: Modern Passover Recipes – indigo jones eats

  3. Anastasia says:

    These look so yummy!

  4. Father Bill says:

    Yum!! I am fortunate to have actually tasted some of babies 🙂

  5. Lilly Sue says:

    Wow, these looks all fabulous and gooey 🙂 YUM!

  6. What a beautiful idea! I love the warm spring color too. Eric and I bought a big three-pack of matzoh last spring and were eating it for moths! Our favorite: slathered with Nutella:)

    • Oh my goodness — Nutella slathered matzo sounds delicious! That’s a great idea — perhaps even a dessert idea for the future! Thanks for your always kind and inspiring words 🙂

  7. That looks really good. I’m trying to think of what it reminds me of but for the life of me I’m drawing a blank (I know it didn’t have matzah in it). You always have such unique ideas.

    • Thanks, Diane! These reminded me a little of those little rectangular sesame crunch candies (have you had them?), and they are a little like granola bars. But the process of making them is like a rice crispy treat. Maybe they reminded you of one of those things? I just hope whatever they reminded you of was something yummy. 🙂

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