PASCALE'S KITCHEN: Fresh bread for Shavuot

What could be more appropriate than preparing high-quality, fresh bread to eat with all the special cheeses we’ve bought especially for the upcoming holiday?

(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Because cheese features so prominently in Shavuot cuisine, what could be more appropriate than preparing high-quality, fresh bread to eat with all the special cheeses we’ve bought especially for the upcoming holiday?
I’ve noticed that many people put great emphasis on cakes, quiches and salads when preparing their festive Shavuot meals. Some people buy tasty artisanal breads at specialty stores, but with a little extra effort, we can be prepare these unique breads at home. And so this year, I would like to offer you three different recipes to make artisanal bread at home for Shavuot. You can make them round or elliptical, and you’ll no doubt feel ebullient about the resulting crispy brown crust that hides a soft, airy interior.
Anyone who has prepared bread at home knows that there are two types yeast that can be used to bake bread: regular and sourdough. Preparing sourdough bread requires that you have sourdough yeast starter, and also lots of time and patience. In theory, preparing the starter is simple: You mix together flour and water and let it sit for several days. It will naturally start bubbling and fermenting. Another option is to prepare a “poolish” (wet sponge) bread starter.

: If you decide to use a poolish starter, prepare it a day ahead. To make it, add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to a bowl. Add 2 grams of yeast, mix well, and then cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl on your counter and let it sit for 3-4 hours, and then put the bowl in the fridge. The poolish will begin fermenting, although it won’t be as sour as sourdough starter.)
I know that many of my readers are not willing to deal with making complex bread starters, and therefore I’m only going to include here recipes that do not require preparing yeast or poolish starters. I’ve done countless trials without them, and found that great bread can be baked inside a pot.
At first, I tried making bread in a heavy iron pot, which allows for even cooking and a tight seal throughout the baking process. But I soon found that I was also successful even when I didn’t bake the bread in a heavy iron pot that closed tightly.
Another factor that affects a bread’s texture is the amount of time the bread is left to rise. The longer dough is left to rest and rise, the better the bread turns out.

: You can use a mixture of different types of flour, or swap with whole wheat or spelt flour.
You can add extras such as dried tomatoes, cranberries, walnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. You can use a mixture of yogurt and water.)
In my opinion, there’s something very special about serving our friends and loved ones fresh bread that was baked at home. First of all, there’s the intense aroma that wafts through your entire home when you bake bread in your oven. And when you slice a piece of home-made bread from a loaf with a crunchy outer crust, everyone’s mouth begins to water upon hearing that sound.
And after slicing the bread, you can spread on top your favorite cream cheese, butter, jam or pesto. When you take your first bite, it’s as if a symphony of flavors has begun playing inside your mouth.
Below, I will take you step by step in order to teach you how to reach these perfect flavors.
Bread is the most nutritious and simple food, a staple throughout the world, and its ingredients can be found in the pantry of every home: flour, water, salt and yeast or rising agents. A wide variety of breads can be created with these few basic materials. Bread has a touch of holiness. We say a blessing over challot on Friday nights and we welcome guests by offering them bread and salt.
Whole-grain bread
Prepare the dough the day before in order to allow it time to rise over many hours. Bake in an oval iron pot.
Makes 1 loaf.
450 g. (2½ cups) white flour, sifted
100 g. (²⁄3 cup) whole spelt flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. fresh yeast
¼ cup ground flax seeds
¼ cup ground sesame seeds
15 g. salt
480 ml. (2 cups) water
For work surface:
About ¹⁄3 cup flour, any type
In a large bowl, mix together flours, yeast, flax and sesame seeds. Add the salt and water. Mix until soft and moist. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12-15 hours.
Line a basket or colander (so that the dough can breathe) with a smooth kitchen towel. Sprinkle towel with flour.
Flip dough onto work surface (dough will be wet). Wet your hands a little and then pull the dough in all directions so that it forms a type of package. Place dough in the floured basket and set a damp towel on top and let dough rise another hour.
Heat an iron pot and its lid in an oven at 250°C (480°F) for 30 minutes.
Remove the hot pot from the oven. Lift up the top and drop a little piece of dough into the pot. Then, pour the rest of the dough into the pot so that the smooth side is facing up. Put the lid on the pot and put back in the oven. Lower the temperature to 230°C (445°F) and bake for 40 minutes.
Remove the cover from the pot and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Carefully take the bread out of the pot and let cool on a wire rack.
(TiPascale: The dough will be wet after rising for so many hours. It will almost be too slippery to grab with your hands. It will become more manageable after it rises for the second time.
You can swap different kinds of flours and toppings to alter texture and flavor of bread. )
Quick and easy olive bread
Makes 1 loaf.
1 tsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1¾ cups (380 ml.) lukewarm water
3½ cups (500 g.) white flour, sifted
1 tsp. salt
1 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tbsp. dry oregano
1 tsp. caraway, cumin or chia seeds
In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the sugar and ¹⁄3 cup (80 ml.) lukewarm water. Set aside for 7 to 10 minutes to let it ferment. In a large bowl, mix flour with salt. Add the yeast mixture and mix well. Add the rest of the water (300 ml.) and mix only until flour is mixed in. Add the olives and spices and mix them in. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours.
Preheat your oven to 230°C (445°F) and put the covered pot in the middle of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Place the dough on a generously floured work surface and knead it well by stretching it out and then forming it into a ball.
Take the hot pot out of the oven and sprinkle the inside with a little flour. Put dough inside the pot, cover it and place back in the oven for 40 minutes. Take the lid off and bake for another 7-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip over so that the bread rests upside down on a wire rack. Let cool completely before serving.
Combo bread
I came up with this recipe one day when I ran out of flour, and so I used a combination of regular and gluten-free flour. I was so pleasantly surprised with the results that I decided to share the recipe with my readers.
Makes 1 loaf.
400 g. white flour, sifted
300 ml. water
4 heaping Tbsp. gluten-free flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dry yeast
For greasing pan:
Oil spray
¼ cup gluten-free flour
¼ cup oats
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, water, salt and gluten-free flour. The dough should be soft and light. Spray dough with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature for four hours.
Line a small basket or colander with a smooth wet kitchen towel. Sprinkle a generous amount of gluten-free flour and a little bit of oats on the towel and then place dough inside of it. Let dough rise another 90 minutes.
Heat an iron pot with a diameter of 16 to 17cm. with a lid in the oven at 250°C (480°F) for 30 minutes.
Carefully take the pot out of the oven and remove the lid. Sprinkle a little flour inside the pot and then flip the dough into the pot so that the soft side is facing up. Sprinkle oats and a little flour on top of dough and then cover with the lid. Lower oven temperature to 230°C (445°F) and bake for 40 minutes.
Remove the lid of the pot and bake another 15 minutes. Remove bread carefully and let cool on a wire rack.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
For more recipes from Pascale's kitchen, visit her website.