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A Bread Tradition Carried 1,500 Miles to Israel

A Bread Tradition Carried 1,500 Miles to Israel

Shared by Rinat Tzadok
Recipe Roots: Yemen > Hadera, Israel > Tel Aviv

When we spoke to Rinat Tzadok this month, she paused for a moment to pull a fresh loaf of babka from the oven. We were tempted by the talk of babka naturally, but not surprised. As the creative director of Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv, she is one of the most avid and gifted bakers we know. Breads and sweet doughs of all sorts are kneaded into her Yemenite, Moroccan, and Israeli identity.

Growing up in Hadera, a town halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa on Israel’s coast, Rinat’s mother blended those identities cooking Moroccan dishes like fish simmered in a spicy sauce and golden turmeric chicken from her family. She also learned recipes like zom, or warm yogurt soup, and sabaya, a multi-layered cake of sorts with crispy edges, that Rinat’s father’s family carried with them when they made their way from Yemen to Israel by foot in 1949.

It wasn’t just Rinat’s father’s family who taught her mother to cook Yemeni cuisine and bake its many accompanying breads, it was the women who lived near them, who made kubaneh, jachnun, and sabaya for meals at the synagogue, particularly on Simchat Torah, she says.

Today in her home in Tel Aviv, Rinat makes the cake, which verges on a layered flat bread, periodically on Shabbat mornings. Served with grated tomato, Yemen’s hot sauce schug, and eggs, or with honey and smoky clarified butter samna, the dish does double duty, flirting equally well with sweet accompaniments as it does savory ones. Either way, it’s a showstopper at any hour.

Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz


Serves: 8-10
Time: 2 hours

8 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
½  teaspoon salt
¼  teaspoon dry yeast
room temperature water
2 sticks unsalted butter*
*When possible, Rinat recommends making this recipe with samna, a smoked clarified butter. It can be purchased at Kalustyan’s in Manhattan and at some Middle Eastern specialty shops.

Special equipment
1 13-inch metal baking dish or cake pan

1. Sift flour into large bowl. Add sugar, salt, yeast and mix to combine. Make a well in the center of the dough. Starting with 3 cups of water, pour ½ cup water into dough and start to mix by hand (or with electric mixer, 4-5 minutes at medium/high speed. Start on low for 2 minutes. Then 2 minutes medium speed). Continue adding water until dough comes together and is slightly sticky.
2. Transfer dough to clean bowl sprinkled with flour on bottom. Cover with clean kitchen towel. Let sit for 30 minutes in warm place.
3. Turn dough - drawing up from bottom and over and up. Cover and let rest for 30 more minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Melt butter until soft and spreadable but not separated (melt until there are still small chunks of butter remaining and then whisk until uniformly melted).
5. Oil hands and counter slightly with butter. Turn dough out onto counter and cut into quarters, then form into 80g (6-7 tablespoons) dough balls (should make about 19-20).
6. Butter a round metal baking dish 13” in size.
7. Take a small pat of room temperature butter and slather it on the counter (you’ll want a well coated surface). Then, roll (or stretch) out each ball carefully with more butter, into 12-13’’ circles and layer onto metal baking dish. Repeat with remaining dough balls, layering each on top of the next.
8. Spread layer of butter/samna on top of final layer.
9. Bake on middle rack at 350F until golden brown and flaky, about 55-60 minutes.

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