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 challahs and rolls. 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 humbling and meditative. It’s something everyone should make at least once in their lives. The aroma 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 can’t happen without Lechem Ba’it, home-bread. You really need it with the all the Moroccan cooked salads – the famous Matbucha, spicy carrot salad, beet salad,Babaganoush, and eggplant salad with fire roasted green peppers and scallion.
Bread rolls & challahs
- 4 cups spelt or all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 1 - 1½ cups lukewarm filtered water
- 2 teaspoons coconut sugar or honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 eggs - optional + 1 for brushing the rolls
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Sesame seeds or/and poppy seeds
- Put the flour into a big bowl, add the yeast, and stir with a big whisk or wooden spoon until well combined.
- In a big measuring cup stir together the warm water, sugar or honey, salt and olive oil.
- Pour the liquid into the flour bowl. Using one hand, mix it with flour. If you are using eggs, add them now. If you don’t use eggs, add ½ cup of water. The dough should be sticky. It would get less sticky as you knead it.
- Kneading. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, floured surface. Make sure it is at a height where you are comfortable working. If the dough is too stiff, add a little bit of warm water. If the dough is way too sticky, sprinkle additional flour over it.
- 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 big bowl, dust it with flour 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 tablecloth over the plastic wrap to keep it warm - something my mom used to do) and let it rise until it doubles its size - 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. Knead it for 1 minute into a ball. Using a knife, cut the dough into 12 pieces. Shape each piece into a roll or divide it into three and braid it into a mini challa, or divide the dough into two and make two big challas.
- Place the rolls or challas with a 2 inch gap between them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Dust them with flour and cover with a plastic wrap or moist clean kitchen towel. Let them proof 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/200°C. Beat the egg and gently brush the rolls with it, sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds over and gently put the rolls into the oven (middle rack). Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. You can tell if the rolls are fully baked by tapping them on the bottom, if the sound is hollow, it's baked. If not, put it back in the oven for a little longer in the lower rack.
- Let them cool on a wire rack.