Not a pain at all

Pain Petri: a challah infused with fennel seed and topped with sesame seed.


Tonight is the first night of Hannuka. I haven’t yet planned on when I’ll make my latkes and brisket, but you can bet it will be before the week is out. I did bake a batch of fennel infused challah bread, though. As good a way to kick of the holiday as any.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been back in touch with a couple of my Cohen cousins via the internet. Sandra has been sharing recipes along with the family updates.

Knowing my fondness for fennel she recently sent along a recipe for Pain Petri: a challah seasoned with fennel seeds. Sandra said her daughter, Elysa, makes it and it’s quite good and she thought I might enjoy the “mixture of {my} two heritages.” She forwarded me the recipe below from noted cookbook writer Joan Nathan. The best part is, the bread can be made in an hour. Quick as it is, the aroma wafting from the oven while the bread bakes will make you wish the clock would run faster.


Pain Petri  (Anise-Flavored Challah with Sesame Seeds)


Makes 4 challahs (16 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
  • 7 to 8 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 heaping teaspoons anise seeds (note, I had fennel seeds on hand and substituted them for the anise seed)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 11/2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375º, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, and pour in the water. Stir; when the yeast has dissolved, whisk in the two whole eggs, then add the oil.

Add 7 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar and anise seeds to the bowl, and beat for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary. Form into a round loaf, then poke a 1-inch hole all the way through the center. Let the dough rest uncovered on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.

Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into four equal pieces.

If needed, re-flour the work surface. Flour your hands.

Roll one of the pieces of dough into a cylinder about 20 inches long. Use the palms of your hands to flatten it, then roll it into a rope about 2 feet long, making sure there are no seams in the dough. Bring the two ends next to each other and twist to form a loose spiral.

Place on one of two lined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough, placing two on each baking sheet.

Beat the two egg yolks in a bowl, then add the water. Stir well, and brush all of the mixture over the loaves. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350º and bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped.

Cool before serving.

Note: Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring or shaking them frequently, just until fragrant and lightly browned.

Invest an hour in this recipe. You’ll light up at the results.

Happy Hannuka!




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