My roommates are generous girls. Not only do they not seem to mind my near-constant presence in the kitchen, but on days like today, when I transform the apartment into a near-facsimile (at least, olfactorily speaking) of a Jewish bakehouse, there's nary a peep of protest to be heard. I am grateful, to say the least. While I realize that baking leavened bread on Passover is about as blasphemous as it gets (well, okay, I exaggerate, I know), I just couldn't help myself. I wanted to bake something and pletzlach it would be.
Pletzlach are flattened rolls of bread strewn with poppy seeds and chopped onion and kosher salt. The recipe came from a lovely article about a Polish Holocaust survivor in the New York Times two years ago who made them for Hannukah. Pletzlach is the plural for one pletzel, which sounds adorable to my ears (a pretzel? a pletzel!). The dough is simple and barely sweetened, and provides a gentle background for the more straightforward topping. I thought about eating my pletzlach with a cup of lentil soup for lunch, but settled for a simple salad instead. You know spring is springing when the tomatoes in your store-bought salad actually taste like something found in nature. It's enough to make me sprout wings with joy.
The instructions for the pletzlach left a bit to be desired (was I supposed to make a well in the flour and let the yeast and water dissolve for half an hour without stirring in the flour? or was I supposed to stir it all together into an awkwardly stiff and shaggy dough?), but for someone not afraid of yeast doughs it wasn't too difficult to figure out. I slapped the dough around a bit until it came together as I thought it should. I let mine proof overnight because I'd started on the dough too late last night, but it's a quick dough to make and could easily be done straight after work in time for dinner, too.
When the dough was fully risen (and punched down, kneaded, and risen again), I divided it into equal balls and flattened each slightly before topping them with the raw onion mixture. Using the rolling pin and a careful hand, I rolled out each ball, squashing the onions and poppyseeds into the surface of the rolls. Plopped on an ungreased sheet, pricked and sprinkled with salt, the pletzlach baked in the oven until golden brown and fragrant. I don't like savory breakfasts, but it was all I could do to not eat one as a snack this morning.
I was hoping for a slightly chewier bread - something more akin to a bagel or pizza crust. This dough was crisper, more snappy. But the flavor was homey and delicious - savory onions, barely sweet bread, and black poppyseeds providing crunch and sparkle. It was an Old World treat that made me think of my Jewish grandmother, long gone now. She would have never baked these pletzlach, but she would have eaten them with relish.