Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jachnoon - Slow but Sure

     Well, I can finally sit down and write something after a few months of hectic activity and decision making! When I last posted I was in the throes of deciding whether to take the plunge and learn professional baking. So... I did it. I have registered for the baking program at Hadassah College and last week went for my first session. It is all very exciting but also a little nerve wracking. I have been very busy getting the required equipment (knives and whisks and other implements of construction) along with the uniform and safety clothes, especially shoes. All a little bit of a let down after months of agonizing... I had hoped for a quick plunge into the baking world.

    I have also been collecting recipes (some I found online and others donated by friends and colleagues) of 'Jewish Bread' from all around the world. You would think that 'Jewish Bread' is essentially the same as any other and that the kind of bread really depends on the locale of the Jewish community. If you think that you are only partly right. It seems that all major communities have developed their own traditional bread. Some are based on local ingredients and are typical of the surrounding culture, to be sure. But many others are adaptations that dietary laws require or 'get around' Shabbat restrictions.

     A classic example is the famous Yemenite 'Jachnoon' bread that is  usually eaten on Shabbat morning with grated raw tomatoes and schug (a fiery pepper sauce that comes in red and green versions - both like lighting a fire in your mouth - literally). The basic bread is called ajin - stress on the final syllable  - a-jin -. This flatbread is rolled up, covered in butter or other oil and slow baked at a low temperature overnight. Many times this bread accompanies Hamin (the Sephardic equivalent of the European Tschulent) and is used to sop up the wonderful sauce created in this slow baked equally famous dish. All of this acrobatics is necessary because of the prohibition of cooking or baking on Shabbat. And the way to 'get around it is to set up a long slow cooking and baking process before the Shabbat actually starts. Many, many dishes both European (Ashkenazi) and Middle Eastern (Sephardi) are the result of these acrobatics.

     All of this makes for interesting and sometimes very creative cooking and baking. And, of course, tasty!!
Here is a recipe for Jachnoon starting with the ajin. For completeness I have included the recipe for schug red and green versions but be careful, it is very hot!!!

These days, in supermarkets all over Israel, you can find ready-made Jachnoon and schug. If you have ever seen the movie 'My Cousin Vinnie' with Marissa Tomey and Joe Peschie, then you will remember the famous scene where, Vinnie questions the witness in court about whether he made regular or 'instant' grits for breakfast. The answer - "No self-respectin' Southerner would make instant grits" sums it up. It is truly more work to make your own Jachnoon but so worth it!!! Mix up the dough. Roll it out and place the eggs. You will not regret it I promise.

Ajin – Bread dough (Yemenite)

is the basic dough ball from which several types of Yemenite breads are prepared including Jachnoon and a fried flatbread called Malawach.


4 cups flour
2 tablespoons oil (or butter)
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups water, or enough to make a soft dough
¼ pound margarine, at room temperature


1.                  Mix everything together except the margarine, knead a bit for smoothness. Rest the dough covered for 3 hours.
2.                  Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Flatten out 1 piece to about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Incorporate about 2 teaspoons of margarine into the dough circle, pushing and kneading it but maintaining the circle.
3.                  Cut a line open from the center of the circle to the outside edge. Take one end and roll it around counterclockwise into a ball. This is the ajin. Prepare all pieces of dough in the same way. Bake as directed in individual recipe.

Jachnoon – Baked Bread with whole eggs

Jachnoon is Sabbath food since it is prepared ahead. Eggs baked in this fashion turn a rich amber and have a pronounced nutty flavor. Baked eggs are traditional  in both the Middle East and India.


4 Ajin (see above)
5 eggs in the shell
Butter or margarine


1.                  Take 4 rolled up ajin and place them in a well-buttered pan just big enough to contain them. Push 1 egg between each ajin plus 1 more in the center.
2.                  Bake at low heat, 250° F (120° C), all night, or about 6 to 8 hours during the daytime.
3.                  Remove from the oven and serve at room temperature.

BTW, in my research I have found some excellent books on Jewish cooking in general. A quick search on will give you a very comprehensive list in seconds. One of the best, IMHO, is Sephardic Cooking: 600 Recipes Created in Exotic Sephardic Kitchens from Morocco to India
I highly recommend it not just for the bread but for the variety and the fact it is so well researched and comprehensive.

That's it for today, I'm on my way out to buy safety shoes. Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for my first-ever attempt at homemade mushroom soup. That, along with seared eggplant in a yoghurt-lemon sauce made for a very tasty weekend!

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