The glazed look

Keep smiling and happy Purim.

Shoshanat Yaakov halla (photo credit: LES SAIDEL)
Shoshanat Yaakov halla
(photo credit: LES SAIDEL)
‘With the commencement of the month of Adar, one should indulge in merriment!” Join me now as I provide you a welcome break from your otherwise dreary lives and engage you in some baking-related banter and frivolity.
A lot of people have asked me what it is like to be a professional baker. For the uninitiated, the baker’s life must seem incurably romantic, but that’s not the reason I love it. It is the almost endless string of opportunities it affords even an experienced baker to make a complete schmuck of himself.
Take for instance a few weeks ago. My wife (and baking partner) calls down to our office, where I am totally engrossed in penning my next “In the Grain” article.
“Les, why is there smoke coming from the oven?” World-record holding Jamaican 100-meter sprinter Usain Bolt could only have fantasized over my lightning-quick stride as I raced upstairs to retrieve the smoldering, petrified remains of the once-delicious cookies my beloved had spent two painstaking hours preparing and foolishly asked me to help her bake in the oven. When you bake cookies for one and a half hours (instead of 12 minutes), fossilization tends to set in. The famous sprinter could learn a training technique or two from a baker. Nothing generates speed and motivates a runner better than being chased by a rolling- pin-wielding, irate female pastry chef.
Then there was the Friday morning when a customer phoned to place an order, probably expecting the familiar “Saidel’s Bakery, good morning!” greeting, but instead, getting a extremely sleep-deprived baker on the line with “, can I help you?” Mark Zuckerberg, eat your heart out! It is like mature, sweet, sparkling wine when a customer calls to sing your praises and wax lyrical about the perfect hallot you baked last week. From time to time, for balance, one also needs a sobering, bubble-bursting phone call like the following: “Is this the bakery? Do you make apple pies?” the gruff sound of an older voice.
“Yes it is!” I reply, in anticipation of a sale.
“Are your apple pies like American apple pies, handmade with real apples?” “They sure are, we use only fresh Granny Smiths.”
“Well I’m not going to buy from you because my wife makes the best apple pie I have ever tasted … (sound of customer hanging up the phone).”
The glazed look must be contagious, because sometimes our clients get it too.
In a small mom-and-pop bakery, customers are like extended family and we have been blessed to connect with many wonderful and delightful people – even if some are slightly geographically challenged. For example, a hopeful customer from over the ocean who could not find his city on the list of cities on our online order form wrote – “1720 Motor Parkway, Long Island, Ra’anana.”
I am not a big fan of Waze (I call it Oy Veyz), but it is undoubtedly a boon to someone delivering bread who is unfamiliar with every street in the city. Sometimes, however, even the legendary app cannot get you where you need to be and a healthy dose “street smarts” is required, as in the case of this delivery instruction from a customer: “Henkin 25/7, I will not be home. Go down the stairs on the right. Turn left at the second landing. Follow the path until you get to the house with the hedge. In the tool shed just past the gate is a box with piece of red carpet on top. Leave the bag on the carpet.”
Some customers have such total faith in our skills they even think we are telepathic. Like this guy who emailed us asking to deliver a vegetable quiche, but provided no identifying details other than this fishy email address “”
Most of the products we deliver are fresh and warm out of the oven, except for our quiches which we deliver frozen.
One Sunday morning we got a fuming email complaint from someone who ordered our mushroom and onion quiche, complaining that she served it to her guests on Friday night and it was ice cold! Thankfully, most of the time, people get to see the “wow” and the “pizzazz” of an old-fashioned artisan bakery.
Luckily for us, they miss the less glamorous, almost Olympic moments, like when the baker skates the length of the room, skidding on a jar of spilled egg wash. Or when that same baker trips over the dough mixer, doing a triple flick-flack and launching a tray of braided hallot doughs into the air with such grace and poise that the judges awarded the baker 7.8 sesame seeds.
At least it keeps one fit.
To wrap up, Friday is a rough day for me. After being up most of Thursday night baking, I still have to do deliveries the following day. One particularly stressful Friday I ticked the next address off my list and knocked on the door of one of our regular customers (and good friend) to find her with a befuddled expression on her face.
“Les, we didn’t order this week!” she said, surprised.
I then realized that although I had taken my pouch of small change with me, I had forgotten her bag with the order in the van. I returned to retrieve the bag, but after five minutes of fruitless searching, I called my wife back at the bakery to ask what they had ordered. My wife loves her scatterbrained baker husband, so in a patient voice, cultivated after many years of practice, she replied, “They didn’t order this week, dear, I just asked you to give them our son’s bar-mitzva invitation. It’s in the glove compartment.”
Keep smiling and happy Purim.
Shoshanat Ya’acov (Rose of Jacob) Halla
(An east European bread customarily eaten on Purim)
4 cups white flour
½ cup whole grain flour
1¹⁄3 cups water
2 eggs
4 Tbsp. instant powdered yeast
3 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. oil
4 cups raisins
Mix dough ingredients and knead for 10 minutes. Leave to rise covered for two hours. On a well-floured surface, roll dough into a flat rectangular shape. Baste (or spray) surface of dough lightly with water. Sprinkle cinnamon over entire dough surface.
Spread raisins uniformly over dough surface.
Starting on a long end of the rectangle, roll dough spirally into a long cylinder. Cut the cylinder and shape the halla on a tray according to the pattern in the link below (and see photo above for finished product): Leave to rise for two hours. Baste with egg wash (50% egg/50% water) and bake at 180º for 20 to 25 minutes.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.