Oct 112014

image herb yeast bread

It’s Sukkot, and the weather has kindly cooled down. We’ve even had some early rain, the signal for me to go into a fine frenzy of baking. Sourdough bread.  Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins. And the easy yeasted herb bead I’m about to show you.

I speculate that the cool-weather hunger for carbs is a throwback to old times, when my ancestors, back in the frozen Ukraine, prepared to survive the winter. I imagine my great-great grandfather shaking snow off his big boots, humming in a bass voice and stacking the day’s supply of logs and kindling in a corner. His plump wife stands in the kitchen, hands on hips, surveying her rye and wheat flours in their big bags. A couple of braided onion ropes hang from the ceiling; jars of shmaltz and preserved fruit glimmer on the shelves. Her treasured sourdough froths comfortably in its jar. In the main room, the big ceramic stove is lit, and the comforting fragrance of baking bread wafts around the wooden house.

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Mar 092014

image onion roll

This is on of the goodies we’re going to pack into our Mishlochei Manot (Purim packages).  I recycle the junky snacks we receive into other packages, feeling a bit guilty. Not guilty because we’re not going to eat what our friends and neighbor planned, and spent money on, and took the trouble to deliver. No, guilty because all those little candies and snacks are going to contribute to Israel’s massive post-Purim sucrose hangover. I should just throw it all out. But I rationalize that someone should enjoy the junk…because in the end, our friends and neighbors did go to the trouble.

I love best the Mishlochei Manot that feature a few home-cooked things. Foods that were made by hand – cakes and cookies and specialties of the donors – I keep. Some go into the freezer right away to stay fresh for next Shabbat. Some we serve at our Purim feast. For our own Mishloche Manot, we’re thinking – and by we, I mean my son Eliezer, the Little One and I – of Hamentaschen,  filled with cherry jam.  And  small potato kugels.  Probably the chocolate fruit/nut clusters, because they’re excellent, and easy to make. And instead of the usual small challah, which looks good in the package but which I suspect never gets eaten, onion rolls.

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Oct 112012


Bialys were a specialty of Jewish bakeries in Bialystock, Poland, before WWII. I imagine that they came about the same way that pizza did in Italy. Excess bread dough was pressed into a convenient shape for eating out of hand and topped with the Ashkenazi favorite fruit, onions.

Jews immigrating to the States and settling in New York brought the flat rolls to America. Their bakeries sold bialys, pletzels, and goods that immigrants nostalgic for the pungent tastes of the old country craved. For while bialys are often eaten at breakfast, they are pungent indeed, with onions, sometimes garlic, and plenty of pepper.

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Jan 022012


On a rainy day like this, what better thing to do than stay in and bake bread?

I wanted a new bread, something I haven’t done before. So I turned to my cookbooks – too many cookbooks, some of which are dedicated to bread, and to bread alone. Lugging about five into the living room, I spread them out on the coffee table. Spent about 10 minutes leafing through them, rejecting all the recipes for one reason or another. You know how that is, when your fancy can’t seem to light on one thing. Sighing, I put the books away again.

But I did want to bake. I imagined the Little One coming home from school cold and wet and a little grouchy, then brightening up as she smelled warm, fresh bread. Domestic magic! Love, security, and fresh bread! (I have these fantasies. I call them Yiddisheh Mamma dreams.)

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Nov 132011


I once made friends with three Russian butchers in my neighborhood supermarket. For some reason, they took me to their collective hearts. It amused them, I think, to share their wisdom with this American-accented lady who was always asking things. Saturnine Serge gave me a great lesson in sharpening knives. Dark, quick Reuven showed me how to cut a pocket into a half-breast of turkey for stuffing. And the bear-like Avi gave me the recipe for a luscious, cheese-filled bread from his native Georgia. In return, I brought them a bottle of my fruit wine (and the story is here).

I’ve since moved out of that neighborhood, but still think of my three friends with affection. Especially when I bake khachpuri, the cheese bread Avi taught me. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 12:20 AM
Feb 232011

It happens when I pick up a slice of my own bread. I turn it around, inspect the crumb and color. Bite, and judge the yield of the crust to my teeth. The age-old smell of fermented flour. The mysterious workings of yeast upon sugars and starches. Bread, a miraculous thing. Gratitude and wonder fill my mind.

How wise and beautiful is the blessing over bread: Blessed be You, G-d, our Lord and King of the universe,Who brings forth bread from the earth. It amazes me that people ever learned to harvest, thresh, and winnow wheat, grind it into flour, and ferment that flour with water to bake into loaves. How did it happen, so long ago – how did people have the wisdom to go from  step to laborious step and in the end, produce bread to eat? In wonder, I can only believe that the wisdom was a divine gift.

Bread must have been the first product of human technology. When you think of it, the first convenience food too, as it’s edible for days after production, unlike vegetables and meat. But not easy to get, even if the wheat field extends right up to your doorstep.

In ancient societies, people grew and processed their own bread, but it was arduous work. In this article, I read that the ancient Israelite woman might have spent three hours on her knees every day, bent over a stone quern, grinding wheat into flour. To feed your curiosity, this article by Jane Howard describes bread in ancient Egypt, and this Wikipedia article talks about the history of bread (with an awesome photo of a petrified round loaf retrieved from the ruins of Pompeii).

In medieval Europe, getting bread was not only back-breaking but expensive.  Landowners demanded two-thirds of villagers’ wheat production and set overseers to make sure the tax was met. The physical work of milling was taken out of the people’s hands, but not with kindly intention. Grinding flour and baking at home became illegal, so that the humble were forced to carry their wheat to the miller and then carry the flour to the communal baker – and pay for the work. In kind, because they had no money.

No, bread wasn’t taken for granted. Many lived and died without ever having eaten their fill of bread at one time.

Bread will always be a moving force in history. To learn more about it, I recommend H.E. Jacob’s Six Thousand Years of Bread. Much in this book can be taken, like bread itself, with a grain of salt, but the author gives you a panoramic view of bread’s historic role, from neolithic times to modern days. It ends on a poignant reflection of what bread was to Jacobs as he struggled to keep his humanity in Hell:

“In the Buchenwald concentration camp we had no real bread at all; what was called bread was a mixture of potato flour, peas, and sawdust. The inside was the color of lead; the crust looked and tasted like iron. The thing sweated water like the brow of a tormented man… Nevertheless, we called it bread, in memoriam of the real bread we had formerly eaten. We loved it and could scarcely wait for it to be distributed among us.”

Bread is holy, Jacobs concludes. And bread is profane.

Yes, and yes. Nourishment to the body and to the soul, derived from G-d’s grace yet requiring bodily toil and sweat to have.

How wonderful, what a miraculous thing.

Bread recipes from Israeli Kitchen:

Basil Bread

Bruschetta (And How To Say It)

Herbed Cheese Swirl Bread

Honeyed Challah

Light, Sweet Challah

Cheese Rolls

Potato Bread

Purim Recipe: Prune & Chocolate Bread

Tomato and Pumpkin Seed Bread

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread with Walnuts


Sourdough Croissants

Plain White Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread with Cornmeal

Sourdough Walnut Herb Bread

Sourdough Onion Bread

Sourdough Oatmeal Bread

image-potato- bread

Nov 142010


I walked down the  narrow, sunlit, cobblestone streets of the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv. Running parallel to the noisy, crowded Carmel market, it’s a time-warp of a neighborhood where old-fashioned traditions still hold sway. Traditions like the everyday foods that grandparents brought from Yemen; like strong community ties.


I was looking for a tiny eatery where fresh lachuch flatbread is made every few minutes. The owner had said I could come to take photographs.  Although different from each other in texture and taste, everyday Yemenite breads are flat and flexible.They serve as a base for patut, which is  shredded seasoned bread scrambled with an egg, or as wraps for a fried egg or  salad. See my post about the Rosh Ha’ayin shuk, where I photographed several of these breads.

I found the place and slid the door open. Inside there were small tables and plastic chairs and a well-worn sofa where some tired-looking men were lounging.


At the tables , customers were eating patut. Others tore off chunks and dipped them into little dishes of olive oil or fiery s’chug relish, or pureed fresh tomatoes, before popping the pieces into their mouths. Dishes of hilbeh, a goopy paste of fenugreek seeds, garlic, and coriander leaves, were on the tables too, next to cigarette boxes and ashtrays. Nobody seemed to mind that people were smoking. They all seemed to know each other well.

At the rear stood Nechama, a thin dark woman in a pink blouse and jeans skirt hemmed at mid-calf. A close-fitting fabric hat modestly covered her hair.  Her glance was sharp and her manner reticent, but she welcomed me, and her smile, when it came, suddenly revealed a mature woman of considerable beauty.  She was ladling batter out of a plastic bucket and pouring it into shallow black Teflon frying pans.


The pans full of batter sat for several minutes on the flames while the lachuch baked. When the disks were well pockmarked with open bubbles and their bottom sides baked a golden brown, Nechama shook them out onto a table covered with a clean, thick towel. There they could cool off without sticking to each other or drying out. The whole process took about three  minutes.


Nechama cooled each frying pan down by running a little tap water over it, then dried it and used another pan to make the next lachuch. She explained that if you use a fresh pan each time, the bottom of the lachuch will stay smooth.

I’ve never seen such a fiercely clean kitchen.

image-frying pans

On one wall was a shelf with a charity box and an old-fashioned instant coffee can next to a can of instant chocolate.

One man with a white T-shirt stretched over a big paunch talked to me in jovial English. My accent had given me away immediately. All the men, once they took me in, talked to me in a natural, friendly way – just to exchange, as they say in Hebrew, a good word.

Even the kashrut inspector, dropping in to look over the place and say hello, made a point of greeting me.

“Shalom, madame,” he said loudly.

I turned around and saw a tiny old man with a white beard. He was wearing a rabbinical-looking black hat and jacket. His dark eyes, set in the deep wrinkles of old age, were young, and twinkled curiously at the sight of this tall Ashkenazic stranger in the little shop.

“Shalom aleichem,” I answered respectfully. Then I had to explain, for maybe the third time, what I was doing there and what a blog is.

“Nechama, give me some olive oil,” said the fat man from his table.

“I’m out of olive oil,” said Nechama dryly.

“I’ll go and get some.”

“Well, all right, but only if you let me pay you.” She turned away to poke at something behind her.

“Pay me, pay me – why are you always worrying about money?”  he grunted, heaving himself to his feet and exiting towards the grocery store.

Nechama sat down with me as the customers finished eating and went their ways. She told me that her husband, a neighborhood character and a great player of backgammon, had died suddenly of heart failure. They never had much money, but depended on no one. Now his friends gather for lunch at her place every day.

“They eat here to support me,” she said, her fine black eyes flicking to the opposite wall.

A large photograph of a stout, handsome man hung  there over the sofa: Nechama’s husband. He had been loved, but had never worked very hard. Nechama was now counting on her community’s appetite for fresh traditional breads to keep her little place going. I silently wondered how she would manage when the first wave of sympathy was spent, but she said that her breads are becoming known and that on Fridays,  she sells as much as she can make.

She wouldn’t allow me to photograph her. I didn’t even try asking for her recipe,  the source of  her income, but showed her the one below and she approved it.

I hope, for this brave and lonely woman, that her business succeeds greatly. And I hope that when the right time comes, she’ll know joy again.


about 20 lachuch flatbreads

recipe from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur


3 1/2 cups flour

1 oz – 25 grams fresh yeast

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon sugar

3 cups warm water

3 slices white bread



In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in all the water. Add the flour, salt, and sugar and mix to make a loose batter.

Soak the bread slices in warm water for 5 minutes. Squeeze the water out of them and put them in a blender to make a smooth paste. Stir this into the batter; mix.

Cover the bowl and allow the batter to rise till doubled – about 2 hours.

Stir the batter down and oil a frying pan lightly. Wipe away any excess oil. Place it over a medium flame.

Fill a ladle with batter and pour it onto the frying pan. When the top of the pancake-like bread is pocked with bubbles and the bottom is a dark-golden brown, ease the lachuch out onto a clean, dry towel.  Don’t fry the other side.

Keep the lachuch covered. Eat warm – I favor the rip-pieces-off method myself.


 Posted by at 11:50 PM
Nov 042010

Full loaf

Even Husband  liked this sourdough loaf. (I have hopes for that man.) A little baking soda in the dough cut some of the sourdough tang, that was the secret. The starter I used was based on whole wheat flour, so although I used ordinary white flour, the bread came out a warm beige color. I should have slashed the top to keep the sides from breaking away, but the pan kept it together and I cut sandwiches from the loaf till it was gone.

The Little One  spread pesto on slices of this bread and sandwiched slices of feta cheese in between. I liked it with chicken salad and lettuce. Husband opened a jar of peanut butter and spread it on, bless him… there’s no accounting for tastes.

Plain White Sourdough Bread


1/2 cup water

1/2 cup newly-refreshed sourdough starter

3 cups white flour

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon sugar

for the following day:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda


Put the water, starter, 3 cups flour, oil and sugar in a large bowl. Mix well.

Cover with plastic wrap and leave to ferment in a cool place overnight.

Next morning, deflate the sponge and to it add 2 cups flour, the salt, and the baking soda. If the dough seems too loose to handle, add the last 1/2 cup of flour, cautiously. For a loaf that’s lighter than the usual sourdough, keep the dough sticky.Oil your hands to knead (or stretch and fold, which is the method I favor).

If kneading, knead 10 minutes. If stretching and folding, do it 6 or 7 times, or until you’re sure that everything is well incorporated. Cover the dough again and leave it in a warm place to rise. This will take 2-3 hours.

Deflate the dough and shape your loaf. Cover the loaf and let it rise somewhere warm till it’s light. It may not rise to double in size, but you should be able to see gas blisters under the surface skin of the dough. This third rising takes anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours, depending on how warm a place the dough’s in.

Slash the top of the loaf to avoid “flying crown.” This is especially important if the loaf is to be free-form, not baked in a pan. Give it about 5 minutes to recover, then bake in a preheated 350°F -180° C oven for 1/2 hour.

When the top has a firm, golden crust, gently remove the loaf from its pan and turn it upside to finish baking – another 15 minutes. It’s always best to test the loaf with a toothpick before assuming its done baking. If it seems underdone, give it another 5 minutes, or turn the oven off and come back in 15 minutes.

cut loaf sideways

Oct 202010

Husband tells me that his late grandmother, who lived till 90, used to love whole wheat flour, vegetables, and wheat germ. She had all the right ideas, it seems. Husband himself, given the choice, will take white bread every time. This makes me sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy white bread too, sometimes. Especially sourdough. But a warm, fragrant, brown loaf stuffed with all those nutritional goodies…white bread doesn’t compare. I’m trying to convert Husband to whole wheat, but I have to come up with something pretty special to get him to eat it. The recipe below is part of my home whole-wheat campaign.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread with Walnuts and Raisins

printable version here

2 medium loaves or 6 rolls


For the sponge:

1/4 cup raisins

2-1/2 cups hot water

1 cube fresh yeast

2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup rolled oats (quick-cooking)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

3-1/4 cups flour


Put the raisins and the hot water in a large bowl. Let the raisins soak 15 minutes.

Dissolve the yeast in the raisin water; add salt, sugar, and oil.

Add the oatmeal and walnuts. Mix well.

Mix in 3-1/4 cups flour. This should make a loose dough that’s just starting to leave the sides of the bowl.

Cover the sponge with a damp towel or plastic wrap and put it aside at room temperature for one hour. Or leave it overnight in the fridge. In either case, it should rise till doubled.

Note: if the dough is refrigerated, let it come to room temperature when you take it out of the fridge, then proceed to the next step.

Mix 2 to 2-1/2 cups of flour into the dough, sprinkling it on by quarter-cups and kneading it to make a moist dough.

Knead 10 minutes or stretch and fold the dough.

Cover the dough and allow it rise till doubled.

Deflate the dough. Stretch and fold it a few times, then shape it into loaves. The dough should be sticky, so it helps to oil your hands. Let the loaves rise till they’re very light, showing a few blisters under the surface skin of the dough.

Bake at 350° – 180° for 30 minutes. Turn the loaves upside down and bake another 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick poked through comes out clean.

The photo below is to show you more or less what this bread looks like…although the Little One says it looks like The Chocolate Chip Cookie That Ate Petach Tikvah.


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