More Rockin’ Challah from the Bakehouse

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

A great way to start the New Year with a taste of North Africa

In the world of food I’m writing about above, I have had many amazing teachers of whom I will now also include Simone Weil. Someone I’ve been learning from since our first days at the Deli has been Joan Nathan. Her 1979 book The Jewish Holiday Kitchen was a great, go-to source for us when we were doing our original recipe work back in the first few months of 1982. One of the many things Joan has taught us about is this Moroccan challah (in French, pain petri, meaning “kneaded dough”), or More Rockin’ Challah, as the Bakehouse calls it. Back when I first learned of this ancient bread, we had no way to make it. The bakeries we were buying from weren’t interested. All these years later, the Bakehouse—led by Amy, Frank (before he retired a few years ago), and now Jaison—is exactly the kind of place that loves to find these sorts of traditional foods and bring them to life in a wonderfully full flavored way in our current Ann Arbor context.

Morocco’s Jewish community goes back nearly 2,000 years, predating the arrival of Islam by about six centuries. The size of the Jewish community increased significantly 1,500 years later when, in 1492, Jews were formally and forcibly expelled from Spain and Portugal by the Inquisition. There are long, strong traditions of cooking, music, writing, and art. Moroccan challah is called pain petri because the women who made it traditionally spent a lot of time kneading the dough to achieve a smooth, light loaf. They prepared the bread at home and then baked it in public ovens—a practice that lived on in Morocco until recent years.

The Bakehouse’s More Rockin’ Challah is a lovely way to grace your New Year table, to savor as you eat your last meal before Yom Kippur, or to break the fast the following evening. Really, it’s just a great thing to eat! This traditional loaf is brushed with honey and then sprinkled with a generous topping of poppy, anise, and sesame seeds. Its complex flavors are a fine place to start practicing the Four Steps to Tasting Great Food. The More Rockin’ Challah is terrific if you use it for dipping into a plate of great olive oil—like the lovely Noor Fès we get from Morocco—and honey. Makes really nice toast brushed with olive oil. Lovely for fried egg sandwiches. Same goes for chopped liver. As my work with food has taught me countless times over the years, the More Rockin’ Challah offers all of us a lovely way to experience another culture and eat well in the process.