It started as male braggadocio. Ron Bachenheimer claimed his savory matzah brie with its onions and mushrooms was superior to Rabbi Shalom Lewis’ sweet variety with its sugar and cinnamon, and vice versa. After several competitive exchanges, the two men put their recipes to the test with their salivating friends from Congregation Etz Chaim.
“We both got our frying pans and he got his ingredients and I got my ingredients and we went head-to-head, mixing up batches and throwing them in the oven,” Lewis recalled. “It was hard work.” When their tasters finished sampling the entrees, the group agreed it was a toss-up, according to Lewis’ recollection.
In memory of Bachenheimer, who died about a year ago, and the legendary Passover competition, Etz Chaim is holding its first annual matzah brie cook-off April 16.
Matzah brie, for those unfamiliar with the classic Passover dish, is a cross between an omelet and French Toast, depending on the ingredients you add to the basic mixture of eggs, matzah and milk.
Among the contestants will be Bachenheimer’s widow, Iris, preparing her husband’s popular recipe. “I love the idea. It’s a wonderful tribute to Ron.”
She said her husband sometimes used salami in his recipe, and other times, onions and mushrooms.
Every year, the Bachenheimers would have 30 to 40 people to their home for “Passover Delights.” Iris enjoyed baking and Ron would help her decorate the cakes. “He loved to cook, and he loved to bake, a lot of German tortes and nut cakes, his mother’s recipes.”
If the Passover Delights gathering lasted ‘til the wee hours, he’d create his matzah brie for those gathered.
When Iris whips up his classic recipe for the Etz Chaim contest, she will add a new twist – gluten free for her daughter who will fly in from Chicago for the memorial event.
Rabbi Lewis will be in Israel at the time or he would have entered the contest, he said, but he shared his recipe with the AJT. It’s a blend of sugar, cinnamon, a little pepper and his secret ingredient – vanilla.
“I cook like my bubbe, not from a recipe. … I use instinct. If it looks dry, I add eggs. If it’s too wet, I add matzah. I get rave reviews from those who eat it.”
Lewis said the Etz Chaim contest is a fitting tribute to a “wonderful personality” who shared his talents and humor with the congregation.
The Bachenheimers were among the synagogue’s original members. They sang in the synagogue choir. “He had a wonderful tenor voice,” said Iris, who was also Etz Chaim’s first sisterhood president.
The Passover event is one of the ways Etz Chaim can honor a prominent member for his impact on the congregation, said Heather Blake, the synagogue’s director of engagement. “It’s a way to memorialize him in a fun way, to celebrate his life.”
To prepare for the competition, the synagogue will open its dairy kitchen 3 ½ hours prior and provide the basic ingredients of matzah, eggs, milk and salt, Blake said.
Cooks are responsible for bringing any added kosher and dairy ingredients, which might include vegetables and spices, and to make enough matzah brei to feed 10. Those in attendance will judge the competition, with prizes awarded for first and second place. Recipes will be distributed following the competition.
For more information, to participate or attend, www.etzchaim.net/event/matzahbrei.