Scrumptious bread

There’s no substitute for homemade bread. And although it looks complicated, making bread is actually quite simple.

Home made bread (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Home made bread
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Every time I make bread, I find that it turns into an exciting, emotional and challenging experience. I’m not really sure why, since the raw materials involved are pretty basic: flour, water, salt and yeast. And yet it is absolutely incredible what you can make out of these seemingly simple ingredients when you use different techniques and types of raising agents.
Over time, I’ve learned that to bake great bread, you need to have lots of patience to let the dough rise. Sometimes, if you’re tight on time, you can let it rest in the fridge. This is a fantastic solution when you have a long day of cooking ahead of you. Another option is to prepare the dough ahead of time and then freeze it. This is perfect for people who have time during the week and want to cut down on their Friday Shabbat preparations.
In my opinion, there’s no substitute for homemade bread. And although it looks complicated, making bread is actually quite simple.
You engage all of your senses when you prepare bread. It starts with smell; the incredible aroma that spreads through the house when bread is baking is out of this world. Then there’s sight; when bread comes out of the oven you can see the crispy brown crust. Sound; with your first bite you hear that crunch, and then your taste buds explode from the great flavor.
This week, I will teach you how to make bread with walnuts and thyme. To make this special bread, you need to let the dough rise for a really long time and bake it at a very high temperature. But the result is well worth the wait.
Next, I will explain how to prepare homemade pita, for which the dough is a little more moist than usual. This is what creates the pocket.
And finally, I’ve included a recipe for bread sticks with herbs and kosher salt.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Pita has a nice pocket that can be filled with lots of tasty additions. You can bake pitot in your home oven, and they also come out amazingly when cooked in a special pot that’s sold in markets for just NIS 100.
Makes 14-16 pita pockets
■ 1 kg. white flour, sifted (you can also substitute whole-wheat flour, bread flour or spelt flour) ■ 1 Tbsp. salt ■ 1½ Tbsp. instant yeast ■ 1-2 Tbsp. white sugar (or golden or brown sugar) ■ 3 Tbsp. oil (can substitute olive oil if desired) ■ 3½ cups water, at room temperature
Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the salt and mix. Add the yeast and mix with your hands. Add the sugar and mix again thoroughly.
Add the oil and half of the water and knead the dough until mixed well. Continue kneading the dough and gradually add all the water. Knead until dough is very wet and sticky.
Stick one hand in water and twist the dough half a turn with the other hand. Hold the bowl with the other hand to turn the bowl the other way. This is the best way to knead the dough. Every once in a while, you should wet your hand again to keep the dough sticky. Knead the dough for eight to 10 minutes until it’s very soft.
You can also prepare the dough in an electric mixer. Mix the dough on low speed for 10 minutes until it forms a ball around the mixer attachment and separates from the sides of the bowl. If needed, you can add a few drops of water into the dough as it’s mixing.
With a damp towel, cover the dough that you’ve mixed by hand or in an electric mixer and place in a warm spot to let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes until the dough doubles its volume.
Place a baking stone in the oven and heat to 250° about 90 minutes before you place the dough inside it.
Place the dough on a well-floured surface. Cut it into 14 to 16 pieces, depending on how large you want the pita pockets to be. Form each piece into a ball and place it on a floured tray. Cover with a damp towel and let them rest for 10 minutes. Roll out each ball into a thin circle to form a pita shape.
Place the circle on the hot stone. Wait 30 seconds until the pita inflates and then remove from oven. Continue baking the rest of the pita pockets in the same fashion.
If you’re using an electric pot, place two or three circles of dough on the metal rack inside the pot. Cover and wait 30 seconds. If the dough inflates and turns golden with brown spots, then carefully flip it over. If not, then wait another 15 seconds and check again.
After you flip the dough, wait 20 seconds and then check. When the pita pocket is golden brown on both sides, remove it from the pot and lay it down on a towel until it cools.
Continue the same method with all the dough circles. After the pita pockets cool down, they will soften, and that is why they should not be served until 30 minutes after they’ve been baked.
This recipe is very quick and simple and is perfect for preparing as a fun activity with kids. They can each pick their own seasonings and have fun being creative. They can make long logs, round rolls or any shape they desire.
Makes 3 or 4 loaves
■ 500 gr. (3½ cups) flour, sifted (you can incorporate other types of flour) ■ 25 gr. fresh yeast ■ 1 tsp. salt ■ 1 Tbsp. sugar ■ 3 Tbsp. oil ■ 1½ cups water Eggwash: ■ 1 egg ■ 1 Tbsp water
Kosher salt, za’atar, ground black pepper, ground red pepper, sesame, nigella, chopped rosemary, herbal mix or oregano.
In an electric mixer with a bread attachment, mix flour with yeast. Sprinkle in salt, sugar and oil.
While dough is mixing, add water gradually until dough separates from sides of bowl. The amount of water will depend on what type of dough you’re using, so it is very important that you add the water gradually. Mix until smooth. Cover and let dough rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.
Separate dough into three to four sections. Knead more and then roll out into a cylinder that is 3 cm. thick and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Beat the egg with the water and spread on dough. Sprinkle whichever toppings you desire on top of the dough and let it rise another 20 minutes. If you prefer, you can use olive oil instead of eggwash on the dough.
Bake for 25 minutes in an oven that was preheated to 180° until a toothpick comes out clean and dry.
Makes one round loaf
■ 2½ cups white flour, sifted ■ ²⁄3 cup rye flour, sifted ■ ½ cup whole wheat flour, sifted ■ 1 heaping Tbsp. instant yeast ■ ½ cup walnuts, crushed ■ 1 Tbsp. thyme, chopped ■ 1 Tbsp. salt ■ 2 cups water
Extra flour: ■ ¹⁄3 to ½ cup flour, sifted
In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, walnuts, and thyme.  Add salt and water and mix lightly until dough is moist. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in room temperature for five hours.
Line a basket with a smooth kitchen towel and dust it heavily with flour. Put the dough on a well-floured work surface. The dough should be very moist. Take the ball of dough and place it in the basket so that the smooth side is facing down. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise for another 90 minutes.
Place a baking stone in an oven and heat oven to 250° for 60 minutes before baking will begin. Sprinkle flour on the dough and turn it over and place it on the baking stone so that the smooth side is facing up. Lower the temperature to 230° and bake for 40 minutes. Then lower the temperature again to 200° and bake for another 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.