There are many great foods that have been born, or, at least, popularized in America, from Jewish tradition- taglach, charoset, potato latkes, and those chocolate covered marshmallow things you eat on Passover. Some might even argue that gefilte fish is one of Judaism’s great gifts to the world, though I’d argue otherwise. But, there are few traditionally Jewish foods as revered as the matzo ball.
I love a good matzo ball more than just about anything. Unfortunately, if you ask me, it’s hard to find a great one. Most Kosher-style deli’s in New York don’t pass muster; their matzo balls have the wrong mouth feel (not fluffy enough) and are way too big. And if you’re one of those people who likes your matzo balls dense, then remind me never to take you to a steak house—I’m sure you like your filet well done too.
I’ve probably made hundreds if not thousands of matzo balls in my lifetime and think I’ve perfected the method for getting them to be the perfect texture. In fact, my oldest son, Jamie, recently proclaimed that “everybody is good at something” and making the perfect matzo ball is “what Daddy’s good at.”
Making the perfect “traditional” matzo ball isn’t what this post is about, but before I get to the good stuff, let me start with a primer on making great fluffy matzo balls.
Basic Matzo Ball Recipe:
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil
- 1/2 cup matzo meal
- Combine the oil and eggs in a bowl until well combined
- Mix in the matzo meal until the mixture comes together
- DO NOT over mix. The secret to the fluffy matzo ball is handling the mixture as little as possible and keeping it as “loose” as possible
- Refrigerate mixture for at least 20 minutes. If you do not properly refrigerate the mixture, then you’ll end up having to over-mix and over-press the ball to keep it together when cooking
- Remove from fridge and LOOSELY form into 8 or 9 balls about 1 inch in diameter. When forming these balls DO NOT compress them as you might a snowball. Again, the secret to a fluffy matzo ball is handling the mixture as little as possible and keeping it as loose as possible.
- Drop into rapidly boiling liquid (e.g. soup) and cook at least until it doubles in size
- Test one by cutting it in half with a fork and, if it looks the same in the center as it does outside, the matzo balls are done
I’ve spent many a moment pondering why the matzo ball is such a comforting food and if it’s even possible to improve upon it. In this quest for matzo ball perfection, I’ve come up with two insights:
Insight 1: Matzo balls don’t have to be savory
Matzo balls are generally served as a savory dish, usually in chicken soup. If you think about it, that fact is actually an odd phenomenon. The actual ingredients and flavor profile are rather neutral, like a piece of bread which can cater to savory items (e.g. cheese) or sweet items (e.g. peanut butter and jelly).
Similar to many dumpling-like foods of varying cultures, what makes a matzo ball so scrumptious is primarily the mouth feel, not the flavor. With that in mind, I decided to create what I think is the world’s first dessert matzo ball soup—a crème anglaise “soup” with a vanilla matzo ball topped with crushed candy cane for texture and irony.
Dessert Matzo Ball Soup:
For the Matzo Ball:
- Follow basic matzo ball recipe above, adding the scrapings of ½ vanilla bean and ½ tsp of vanilla extract to the mixture
- Cook mixture in boiling sugar water—use a ratio of about ¾ cup sugar to 64 ounces of water
For the Crème Anglaise:
I decided to try using my Polyscience immersion circulator for a foolproof crème anglaise. If you don’t have an immersion circulator, you can use the traditional method.
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp sugar
- pinch salt
- ½ vanilla bean, scraped
- Combine the above ingredients (sans the pod from the vanilla bean) in a blender.
- Seal the mixture and the vanilla bean pod in a vacuum pouch
- Cook sous vide at 179.5 for 20 minutes
- Remove from water bath and vigorously shake or agitate mixture
- Cool in ice water to desired temperature
- Pour the warm crème anglaise in a shallow bowl
- Place Matzoh ball in the soup
- Top with crushed candy cane
You can also try serving with chocolate sauce instead of crème anglaise. I found in my tests that the matzo ball tastes quite “eggy” without a savory liquid so if the “eggy” taste is too much for you, a more robust liquid (such as chocolate) will help soften the edge.
Insight 2: Almost everything tastes better when fried
Though matzo balls are all about texture and, in my opinion, are close to perfection as far as food texture goes, I decided to see what happens when you toss one in the deep fryer. The result is the amazing fluffiness of the matzo ball in the inside with an outside crust that closely resembles my second favorite Jewish food, potato latkes. This method turns the matzo ball from a “soup accessory” to a starchy side that can be served with just about any protein. As you can see in the picture, my personal favorite is to serve it with pork belly glazed in a Manischewitz wine reduction and Jerusalem artichoke purée.