Bread has always been sacred to my family. My grandmother never threw away bread. She used to kiss it before she crumbled and scattered it on the ground. As a kid I found her ritual bizarre, but I did the same because I feared that if I didn’t kiss it and respect it, something bad will happen. I did it discreetly though, so no one can see.
I was always fascinated by the process of bread making. I remember I couldn’t take my eyes away from my mother or grandmother’s hands, when they were stretching, flattening and punching the dough. I admired them when they rolled and braided it effortlessly into beautiful shapes. They rarely let me help but they always gave me a small piece of dough so I would leave them alone.
My grandmother used to tear twelve small pieces of the dough, mumble something, then combine all the pieces into a mini roll, which was forbidden to be eaten – truma, a small sacrifice to God. Later in life I learned that the mumblings were prayers for her family’s health, bliss, and abundance.
Making bread is a humiliating and meditating process. It’s something everyone should make at least once. The smell and taste of homemade bread is addictive. There’s nothing like a slice of bread that just came out of the oven with butter or olive oil.
Shabbat dinner at my mother’s home without homemade chala or buns is what’s-the-point-of-having-a-shabbat-dinner. In order to fully enjoy the countless Moroccan cooked salads – the famous Matbucha, spicy carrot salad, beet salad,Babaganoush, and eggplant salad with fire roasted green peppers and scallion – you have to have lechem bait home-bread.
- 2½ cups wholewheat flour
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (My mother hates the idea of using spelt but I do use spelt and it works out very well)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 1½ lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons sugar or honey
- 2 tablespoons Olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- some extra flour for dusting
- Egg to brush the rolls
- Sesame seeds or/and poppy seeds to sprinkle over rolls
- Put the flour into a big bowl, add the yeast, and stir with a big whisk or a wooden spoon until the flour and the yeast are well combined.
- In a big measuring cup stir together the warm water, sugar or honey, salt and olive oil.
- Pour half of the liquid onto the flour bowl. Using one hand, work the water into the flour. Add little at the time the rest of the water into the flour and keep working with one hand until the the flour and water turn into a slightly sticky dough. If the the feels too sticky, add a little more flour. If the dough is not moist and soft, add a little more warm water.
- kneading! Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, well-floured surface. Make sure it is at a height where you are comfortable working. If the dough is very moist or sticky, sprinkle additional flour over the top.
- Gather the dough into a pile and begin pressing it together. Press the heels of your palms firmly into the dough, pushing forward slightly. Fold the far edge of the dough upwards, towards you, and press it into the middle of the ball. Rotate it slightly. Repeat this press-fold-turn sequence for as long as your hands can go (about 10 minutes).
- shape the dough into a nice round ball, put it back in the the big bowl, and cover with a plastic wrap or a moist clean kitchen towel. Set the bowl in a warm place (not too warm - not on top of a radiator or in the sun, in the winter I use a folded table cloth over the plastic wrap to keep it warm - something my mom used to do) and let it rise until it doubles it's size - for about 1½ hours.
- When the dough has doubled in size, you need to knock the air out of it by pressing it down with your palm and knead it for a minute. Use a knife to cut the dough into 10 pieces (or to seven small rolls and two little chalas) and shape each piece into a roll or a braid, or any shape you like. Put the rolls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper - leave the rolls to rise for a second time until they double in size again, about 30 - 45 minutes. Second rising time will give it a great soft texture, so don't rush it.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Beat the egg and gently brush the rolls, sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds on top and very gently put the rolls into the preheated oven. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. You can tell if the rolls are baked well by tapping on the bottom of a roll, if it sounds hollow, it's baked. If not, put it back in the oven for a little longer. Let it cool on a wire rack.