The older I get, the more I find myself reminiscing about my younger days, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. I haven't yet reached the stage where every young person I come across gets treated to "Back when I was your age…blah blah blah…and WE NEVER COMPLAINED!" You know, the sort of yapping about The Good Old Days that makes you want to be mean to the old people who won't shut up about it. No, most of my reminiscing is about how cheap things were (although probably not, when adjusted for inflation, but why quibble?), concerts I went to (talk about cheap, New York's Schaeffer Festival? Two bucks, top ticket price, people. Two.), and, not surprisingly and most importantly, FOOD.
Now granted, some of the food of my youth isn't memorable because it was GOOD, more like weird—Space Sticks? Shake-a-Pudd'n'? But a lot of it really was good, especially the breads. Clearly, I'm a bread fan going waaaay back. The breads of yore are actually a major conversation point for my dad and me, especially the ones we remember from our neighborhood "appetizing" store—more than a deli, sort of a little shop of Jewish gourmet goodies. Aside from a bread slicing machine that I still covet to this day, they also had a wall of freshly baked breads of every variety—bagels, challah, all kinds of ryes including the corn rye that my dad's been bugging me about ever since I started baking again, sweet breads and this…pletzl, otherwise known as Jewish onion bread.
The pletzl I grew up with was called onion BOARD, not onion bread, probably because traditionally, it does kind of look like a board covered with poppy seeds and golden onions, rolled flat and thin so that it's like a somewhat crisp but doughy cracker. And when I wanted to recreate it, that's the route I took, the one that respects tradition. (Cue the music and let's all sing "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof!). But I say, tradition, schmadition. I mean, even Tevye reluctantly embraced change. Not that the traditional pletzl isn't good—the ones I made didn't let me down in the nostalgic memories department—but I was up for something a little different. So when I stumbled on this pletzl recipe, tradition went out the window. This is not your bubbe's pletzl.
Jewish focaccia is more like it. Instead of the flat, cracker-like pletzl I remember, this one is thick and light and pillowy, although the dough seems to be a bit drier than the usual focaccia. It's still topped with the traditional pletzl's sweet-savory onions—carmelized in this case—but deviates from tradition once again by sprinkling the mix with peppery, onion-y, slightly bitter nigella seeds instead of poppy. The result still does the pletzl proud—a new twist on an old tradition.
Major props to Karen at Karen's Kitchen Stories for July's #TwelveLoaves theme—Jewish breads—and my trip down Memory Lane. Aside from the breads I remembered, when I looked through my ever-growing library of bread books, I found I had not one but three all about Jewish baking (plus two books on challah baking alone) and looking through them, I discovered many more breads that I never knew about. My original pletzl bakes came from one of them, Secrets of Jewish Baker. Two others are Inside the Jewish Bakery and A Blessing of Bread and all are interesting reading.
P.S. I finally got around to making my dad his corn rye. For me, the memory was better than the bread but he LOVED it. Score some most-favorite daughter points for me!
Pletzl – Jewish Onion Bread
- 1 cup warm water (105–115°F)
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon nigella or poppy seeds
- In a small bowl, mix warm water, yeast and sugar then set aside until mixture is foamy.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together 2-1/2 cups of the flour (set the rest aside) and 1-1/2 tsp salt.
- With the flat beater attachment and the mixer on the lowest speed, add in the yeast mixture and 2 Tbsp of the oil and mix until the dough just comes together.
- Switch to the dough hook and continue mixing on medium speed for about 6–8 minutes, adding remaining flour only as needed to make a smooth, elastic dough that isn't sticky.
- Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled large bowl, cover and set aside until doubled.
- While the dough is rising, add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and 1 tsp salt to a skillet and cook the onions over medium-low heat until soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
- Once the dough has risen, place it in a lightly oiled baking sheet (approx. 15x10x1), stretching and pressing the dough to fill the pan. Leaving a 1" border, prick the dough all over with a fork, then cover with oiled plastic wrap and set aside to rise until slightly puffy, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F while the dough is rising.
- When the dough is ready, brush it lightly all over with the egg wash, then cover the dough evenly with the onions and sprinkle with the nigella or poppy seeds.
- Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool a bit, then cut into squares for serving. Best eaten still warm from the oven.
Adapted from Epicurious
- Bialys from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Boulou from girlichef
- Challah Braid from The Redhead Baker
- Land of Milk and Honey Muffins from NinjaBaker.com
- Marble Rye Bread from The Bread She Bakes
- Montreal Bagels from Cheap Ethnic Eatz
- Passover Popovers from Hostess At Heart
If you'd like to bake along with us this month, share your Jewish bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!