Breads of the World: ojos de Haman

It’s rare for me to be organized enough to produce a holiday dish sufficiently in advance of the actual holiday that you, my readers, could – gasp – make the dish for the holiday if you so desired. And yet here, for once, I’ve managed it. Purim is at the end of this week, an important holiday in the Jewish calendar, which celebrates the overthrow of the evil Haman. Royal advisor to the King of Persia, Haman planned to slaughter the Jews, and was thwarted by Esther, the queen, and her cousin Mordecai.

Purim is celebrated with feasting and can be, by all accounts, quite raucous. My friend M. relates childhood memories of delivering and receiving Purim baskets to and from family and friends, akin to an Easter basket, but more likely to be filled with hamantaschen and preserves than with chocolates and egg-shaped candies. In the Talmud, M. says, Jews are instructed to make themselves “so fragrant with wine” that they can’t tell the difference between “wicked is Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai.” This intensity of celebration sometimes produced dangerous results, as people would fall over at Temple (or right into the fire, per M). Other Purim traditions include retelling the whole story (the “Purim Spiel”), and using noisemakers to drown out Haman’s name every time it is uttered, which sounds like excellent fun.

The most common food related to the holiday is hamantaschen, the delicious triangular cookie with sweet filling, which I’ve seen translated both as “Haman’s pocket” and as “Haman’s ears.” Deb at Smitten Kitchen has a new one, and Jake Cohen has opinions about the filling. Kreplach, a savory dumpling, is another popular option.

Neither of these is bread, of course, but while I was poking around that weird neighborhood “the internet,” I came across two possibilities for this year’s project. Keylitsh, according to the blog Poppy and Prune, is an elaborately braided Eastern European challah served for numerous holidays. At Purim, the fancy braids are symbolic of the rope used to hang Haman. I am well versed in the three-strand challah I learned from my mom, and I’ve tried a six-strand once that went… poorly… so I kept going.

Poppy and Prune goes on to say:

If that’s not enough gore for your Purim table, I have just the thing for you: a traditional Moroccan bread known as boyoja ungola di Purim or ojos de Haman. This is a round, flattish loaf decorated with two hard boiled eggs in their shells, which are meant to represent Haman’s eyes. Each egg is held down with two thin strips of dough arranged in an x, and, once the bread is baked, it’s a traditional to rip them out of the loaf—you know, like ripping Haman’s eyes out. The dough for this bread is traditionally studded with anise and sesame seeds, as well as coarsely chopped almonds.

This sounded promising, and delightful, so I set about finding more information and a recipe that incorporated these flavorings. Kosher Cowboy offers a story about the symbolism of this bread, though I’m unclear on his source.

Some incarnations of this bread don’t stop at the eyes, but decorate the loaf to look like a magnificently evil head, complete with a long beard darkened by poppyseeds and round cheeks that puff up during baking. Mine, as you can see, were not that elaborate, although I appreciate that where the dough tore slightly below the eye crosses it left a pale stripe, then a darker, browned lower half that could, if you squint a bit, be seen as a thick beard.

Many of the recipes and traditions of this loaf come courtesy of Maggie Glezer’s A Blessing of Bread and Phyllis and Miriyam Glazer’s The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking,  both of which look like beautiful books that might end up on my already-overpacked cookbook shelves…

The best part about this bread, besides eating it, is the shaping. It’s a lovely dough to work with, as are most enriched doughs, elastic and puffy. After lightly flattening and scoring the main ball, you get to poke in two divots, insert a hard boiled egg* into each, and add two pieces of dough in an X shape across the eggs and pressed into the main loaf, where they hold the eggs in place during baking. If you’re going the fancy route, you can use additional pieces of dough to make Haman’s facial features or, if you’re keeping it comparatively simple, as I did, you can just snip around the edge of each loaf at one inch intervals with scissors, which makes a lovely pattern like sunflower petals or, I suppose, like thick locks of Haman’s beard and hair.

As expected, in addition to being a lovely dough and a gorgeous loaf – deeply golden brown, shiny from egg wash, and scattered with sliced almonds – it is also delicious. We found it slightly sweeter and also less eggy than the challah my family makes, and the nuts and seeds were a lovely addition. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about chopped almonds inside, but I found I loved the added texture. I tend to avoid anise and anise-flavored things, but here it’s such a small amount it isn’t overpowering, and I found it reminded me slightly of a good, traditional biscotti (in flavor alone, though – the texture of this bread is much lighter and softer). Oh, and peeling back the X of dough to gouge out the hard-boiled egg “eye” on either side is, as you can imagine, also a delight.

Because Purim involves exuberant eating and drinking, many of the recipes I found for this bread, which is essentially an unbraided challah with added flavoring agents, make a LOT. I’m talking, 8 cups of flour, 3-4 loaves a lot, or even more: some recipes offer the more modest quantities for 3-4 loaves, and then provide instructions for a full 5 pounds of flour. I scaled mine back a little bit to just 2 loaves, one of which, eyeballs already extracted, is sitting happily in our freezer waiting for a weekend when we want something more celebratory than my standard sourdough toast.

* thanks to careless proofreading on a recent Whole Foods order, I ended up with a package of medium – rather than the grocery standard large – sized eggs. I used these smaller ones to make Haman’s hard-boiled eyes and was pleased with the results. Large eggs would work too, but depending on the size of your loaf they might be a tight squeeze to fit in.


Ojos de Haman
Adapted from Phyllis Glazer’s recipe at The Times of Israel, and shaping instructions from STL Jewish Light
Makes 2 loaves
3½-4 hours
5 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB + 1tsp active dry yeast
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp anise or fennel seeds
2/3 cups coarsely chopped almonds
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups warm water
4 hard boiled eggs (I used medium eggs because I happened to have some and found they fit well. Large eggs would work too, but might be a tight squeeze on Haman’s face)
1 yolk + 1 tsp water, to glaze
2 TB sliced almonds


  • In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, sesame seeds, anise or fennel seeds, and chopped almonds. Whisk or mix to combine with the dough hook. Once well combined, add the salt and whisk in.
  • In a smaller bowl or a large glass measuring cup, stir together the eggs, oil, and warm water. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. If you’re working with a stand mixer, knead with the dough hook on medium speed into a soft, slightly sticky dough: about 7-8 minutes. If you aren’t using a stand mixer, first stir the wet ingredients into the dry with a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula, then turn out onto a floured board and knead by hand until soft and smooth: about 8-10 minutes.
  • Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel, until doubled: 1 – 1½ hours. Meanwhile, hard boil the eggs: bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil, then use a spoon to gently add the eggs. For large eggs, boil 10 minutes and then remove eggs and set aside to cool. For medium eggs, boil 8 minutes and then remove and set aside to cool. Remember: the eggs will bake along with the bread.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and remove a piece the size of a small fist. Cut this into four pieces, then roll each into a thin strand about 6 inches in length. Cut each thin strand in half: these are for your Xs to hold in the egg “eyes.”
  • Divide the remaining dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll into a ball, then use a rolling pin or floured hands to flatten into a disk 8-9 inches in diameter. With a razor blade or a sharp knife, slice a shallow crosshatch pattern into the surface of the dough.
  • Using your thumb or the knuckle of your index finger, firmly press two indentations into the dough about two inches apart in the top third of the disk. Place one cooled hard-boiled egg into each indentation. Use your reserved strips of dough to make an X shape across each “eyeball,” pressing firmly into the rest of the loaf to adhere, as in the photos above. Transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. With scissors or a sharp knife, snip around the edge of the loaf at 1-inch intervals to create a petal pattern. Repeat with remaining loaf.
  • Let the shaped loaves rise, covered with a clean kitchen towel, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
  • After 30 minutes, combine the egg yolk and 1 tsp water in a small bowl. Remove the kitchen towel and glaze the loaves with this egg wash, trying to avoid the hard-boiled eggs as much as possible. Scatter or press on the sliced almonds, then bake in the preheated 350F oven for 20-25 minutes, until they are deeply browned.
  • Cool at least 15-20 minutes before eating. We started by peeling off the X of dough to pluck out Haman’s eye, but you should proceed as desired. Enjoy!


Photo Friday

Challah photo-shoot.

Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3503I’m crazy about the way the dough stretched – it looks like you can see the chains of gluten! Let’s see a close-up or six…


Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3506 Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3507 How about from a new angle?  Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3509Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3508 Food Blog Photo Fridays 2014-3510Burnished and bronze and eggy and tender… it’s almost enough to make me run back to the kitchen and make another one. You?

Here’s a recipe, just in case.

Mom’s Challah

Friends, this is the motherlode.  Or, if you’ll forgive the terrible pun, the Mother loaf.*  In that same red binder of recipes I received as a wedding gift that contains my Nana’s sweet roll dough recipe, my mom included her “secret” recipe for challah (in my recipe collection, Mom promises that she’s only given this challah recipe to one other person.  This, as it turns out, has become a lie.  Both my Aunt Nancy and my cousin Julie have this recipe.  Who knows how many other people do too, by now!).  When she was much younger (read: before two children kept her waking hours a blur of busy), Mom baked bread a lot.  I don’t know where she got this recipe for challah, that wonderful, doughy, braided loaf of egg bread traditionally prepared for Jewish holidays and the sabbath, but even in our gentile household it became a holiday essential for us.
Food Blog March 2013-0971
For the past few years, my sister has taken up the challah mantle and has been preparing it, with Mom’s help, on Christmas Eve so we could slather it with apple butter or cinnamon sugar or honey to enjoy on Christmas morning.  It’s not an easy bread (are any of them, really?).  With an incredibly sticky dough, not one or two, but three rises, and a tendency to overbake, it has always intimidated me.  At any phase of the process, something could go wrong!  If I could master challah, I thought privately, I would really have a handle on this bread thing.
So, a number of loaves under my belt, with Easter coming up, and this month’s Twelve Loaves challenge of holiday breads, it seemed like the right time.  Friday morning, after quizzing my mom on a few details, I pushed my sleeves up, swallowed the disparaging warnings of that little gargoyle of doubt who often sits on my shoulder, and dove into Mom’s recipe.
Food Blog March 2013-0920Food Blog March 2013-0930Food Blog March 2013-0932
This is, as I mentioned above, a sticky dough.  After kneading it becomes elastic and smooth, but there is still a tackiness about it that leaves your bowl streaked with gummy strands and your hands, if not well floured, stringy with delicious remnants.  It takes a long time – with three rises averaging over an hour each, you aren’t starting this loaf in mid afternoon and expecting it to be ready for dinner.
Food Blog March 2013-0933Food Blog March 2013-0935
I’ve seen plenty of recipes suggesting overnight refrigeration time – Michael Ruhlman’s blog, in fact, has a guest post on challah by Marlene Newell that begins the night before it is baked – but Mom has never done it that way.  If you’ve scheduled a lazy day at home, or perhaps a day punctuated by laundry, tidying up, and the odd brief errand carefully placed during a rise, this could just become your best friend.  It’s soft, it’s rich and tasty, it looks impressive (even if, like me, you only do a three strand braid instead of the more traditional six strand), and it keeps fairly well, provided you wrap it well in aluminum foil.  I find plastic storage gives the crust an unpleasing texture.  Of course, it’s so tasty that I can’t imagine it needing to keep well – it will be gone within a day or two.  On that topic, I’ve never understood the comments that it makes wonderful french toast.  In our house, the full loaf has dwindled to half by lunch time, and as the afternoon wears on slice after slice seemingly evaporate, until the bread board contains only a lonely half heel and a small pile of crumbs.  This is the first time I can remember, with only N. and me indulging (Lucy asked with pleading eyes of liquid velvet, but it’s too good to share), that the loaf has made it to day three of existence.
Despite my lingering doubt, I had only a few moments of anxiety as I put together this loaf.  The stickiness of the dough stressed me out a little – even after adding the full amount of flour in the recipe (as I will note again below, you only incorporate part of the flour at first, adding in additional ¼ cups at a time as needed to work the dough), thick gobbets clung to the sides of my mixing bowl, my dough hook, and my fingers.  One rise down, however, and the stickiness diminished.
Food Blog March 2013-0937Food Blog March 2013-0940Food Blog March 2013-0943
Faced with three thick strands of dough, I forgot how to braid for a moment.  Heavy, stretchy worms of raw dough are a far cry from pigtails or Barbie hair, my braid targets in a past life.  But braid made and ends tucked under, I had something that actually looked like my mom’s longed for loaf.
Food Blog March 2013-0944Food Blog March 2013-0949
A quick glaze of egg wash and a generous sprinkle of poppy seeds, and I started getting excited.  A quick, almost half hour in the oven later (the loaf goes from moist and springy to overbaked in what feels like an instant), and I was staring at a near perfect replica of Mom’s bread.
Food Blog March 2013-0958
It’s hard to wait the requisite 15-20 minutes to let the bread cool and the internal structure solidify, but you should.  It makes slicing much more successful.  And once you have waited, you should cut thick slices, and garnish them with butter or jam or just your own teeth and tongue.  Happy Sunday, whatever you might be celebrating.
Food Blog March 2013-0966
Mom’s Challah
1 tsp + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
½ cup warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 package, which contains 2 ¼ tsp)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup warm water (again)
2 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 ¾ – 4 cups flour (I used bread flour, but Mom has always used all-purpose)
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for sprinkling
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 TB water


  • Dissolve the sugar in the first ½ cup warm water in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer, if you are using one).  Sprinkle yeast on top and let it stand to burble and breathe for about 10 minutes.
  • When your yeast has woken, and smells like bread and beer, use your paddle attachment (if you are using a stand mixer) to incorporate the oil, second ½ cup of warm water, sugar, salt, and beaten eggs.
Food Blog March 2013-0928
  • Add 3 cups of the flour and beat well.  The dough will be very sticky, but as Mom says, that’s okay.  Cover the sticky mass with a cloth and let it rest for 10-20 minutes.
  • If you are using a stand mixer, exchange your paddle attachment for the dough hook and begin kneading at low to medium speed.  As needed, add the additional flour by ¼ cups at a time.  Knead for 8-10 minutes or until the dough passes the windowpane test.  When I asked Mom about this, she looked at me like I was speaking a different language, then said “I always use the baby’s bottom test,” which got the same look back from me.  She was talking about smoothness and texture, but considering she often gives the dough a little smack when she’s done kneading it, I wondered about the ethics of this measuring device…
  • If you are kneading by hand, turn the sticky mass out onto a well floured board.  With equally well-floured hands, knead for 10 minutes, incorporating more flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and has a shiny surface (and feels, apparently, like a baby’s bottom).
  • In either case, now is the time to place the ball of dough into a lightly oiled bowl and stow it in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours.  I like to use my oven, letting it heat for 5 minutes and then turning it off for 5 minutes before putting the dough inside.
  • After the dough has risen to double in size, punch it down (Mom notes “this is fun!”), cover it with a clean cloth, and let it rise again until doubled again – about 45 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into three equal parts.  Shape each third into a long rope, place on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet and braid together loosely, pinching the ends firmly and tucking them under on each side.  Cover with a cloth or kitchen towel and, once again, let it rise for 45 minutes to an hour.  See why you need all day for this loaf?
Food Blog March 2013-0947
  • When the braid has swollen again, preheat the oven to 350F.  While you wait, beat an egg yolk with about a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash.  Brush the top and sides of the braid with your egg wash, then sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (we prefer poppy, in our house).
Food Blog March 2013-0951
  • Bake in your preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread is 180-190F.  The top will be golden brown and the bottom will feel delicately hollow when thumped.  Hot ovens tend to overbake this bread, so be sure to check at 30 minutes, or even just before.
  • When the bread tests done, take it out of the oven and let it cool on its baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, to allow the delicate internal crumb structure to firm up a bit.  This will make for easier slicing.
 Food Blog March 2013-0965
Thanks, Mom!


* still not as bad as N.’s pun: he keeps saying “holla for challah!” and even though he admits this is neither in good taste nor particularly funny, finds he can’t stop doing it…