Pletzel (A mission to bring this fabulous bread back from near extinction!)

pletzel

This is a flat bread made with an enriched dough, topped with sautéed onions, sprinkled with poppy seeds and drizzled in olive oil. Okay, so many many years ago when the pletztel was in the height of fashion, it was done with dough slightly less decadent than brioche and the oil used was less exotic than extra virgin olive oil, but it was still superb. It was a bread brought to the states from Eastern Europe and was easily found in Jewish bakeries all across the country, until about 25+ years ago. I blame the rise and global domination of the bagel for the demise of this fabulous bread, along with its cousin the bialy. Once again people are craving great bread, demanding it in fact and they need to know about the pletzel. I, along with Jeff are on a mission to introduce (re-introduce to some) this rich flavorful savory treat and we hope you will help us spread the word! Here is how:

Some of you who have skimmed through the book may have seen this recipe.  It is titled John Barrymore Onion Pletzel on page 185. Why, you might ask, is it named after the actor John Barrymore? Well, no one quite knows the answer to that. It is what Jeff’s grandfather used to call this style of pletzel. Unfortunately no one ever thought to ask him why, so it remains a complete mystery. Jeff wanted to keep the name for the book. He said it was nostalgia, but I suspect the real reason is he hopes Drew Barrymore might catch wind of the recipe and contact Jeff to find out why he named a bread after her grandfather. As of the time this post was written Drew Barrymore still had not contacted him, but Jeff remains hopeful! ;)

John Barrymore Onion Pletzel

1 pound Challah (see page 180 in the book) or Brioche dough

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil or melted butter (plus more for drizzling over the top)

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment.

pletzel

Take your 1 pound ball of dough and sprinkle it with flour, along with the work surface.

pletzel

Roll it out to a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. (There are many variations of the pletzel and some are much thinner than this. If you remember the pletzel of your youth being more the thickness of lavash rather than focaccia, then you will want to roll it out 1/4 inch thick.) Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet and let it rise for about 20 minutes while you prepare the onions.

pletzel

Sauté the onions in the oil over medium heat until

pletzel

very lightly browned (a cast-iron pan works beautifully). If they are overbrown they will burn in the oven.

pletzel

Cover the dough evenly with the onions. Sprinkle the poppy seeds over the onions, then the salt and drizzle with more oil or butter.

pletzel

Bake the pletzel for 15-25 minutes, depending on the thickness you have chosen. It is great alone or with a nice hot bowl of soup. Enjoy!

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with others using one of the social sharing buttons above. Thanks, Jeff and Zoë

69 thoughts on “Pletzel (A mission to bring this fabulous bread back from near extinction!)

  1. I was just talking to my sister about making something with Brioche dough, clicked on your page and there is the solution! Thanks so much this sounds divine. Can’t wait to try it.

  2. Yes, I remain disappointed that Drew did not contact me based on the book’s mention of her grandfather. I looked high and low for a connection between John Barrymore and any Jewish bread (I can’t believe I did not ask my grandfather), but alas, found nothing except Barrymore’s role in the 1933 movie “Counsellor-at-Law,” where he played a Jewish attorney who does not even eat on camera, let alone munch on pletzel.

    If that little tidbit doesn’t impress Drew, nothing will. Jeff

  3. Hi Linda,

    Please do make this recipe and enjoy it and share it with all your friends! Thanks for stopping by! Zoë

    Jeff, you must never give up, she will find you and explain the mystery away. Seriously, much stranger things have happened! ;)

  4. I made the John Barrymore Onion Pletzel from the book last week for my husband and me for a Saturday light lunch. We both like onions and poppy seeds. It turned out ok. I used brioche dough that was already in the fridge. We both didn’t care for the added oil on top. I added the oil that the onions cooked in and I probably over did it a little with the oil.

    I was also thinking that that the next time I serve this to my husband that I would like to use all the same ingredients; but roll it all up like you would do when you are making sweet rolls and use the onions and poppy seeds as you would for the filling with maybe some Parmesan or Asiago cheese added to the filling and sprinkled on top of the cut slices. Just a thought, I love your book, Julia

  5. Hi Julia,

    You definitely want to keep the oil to a light drizzle. A sprinkle of course salt at the end really perks up all the flavors too.

    I’ve done this as a rolled up bun with Manchego cheese and it is seriously to die for!

    Enjoy! Zoë

  6. Having visited Dehillerin to buy some Brioche pans in Paris I was just planning to make a brioche, how opportune that the Pletzel reappeared… now a project to look forward to.

    Good luck Jeff with Drew – don’t lose hope.

    Best from us,

    S & S

  7. Thanks Zoë
    I am glad to see that I am not so far off on the added cheese and rolling it all up idea. A filled bun is another great idea to try out too. I will try to find some Manchego cheese around here?

    I am defiantly going to try this again as it is suppose to be made. Thanks for the point about the coarse salt. I think I used some pretzel salt that I had and I think that flavor was lacking. Thinking about the ingredients in this recipe it is really a “salty and sweet” with the sweet coming from the onions of coarse.

  8. I wasn’t aware of the plight of the Pletzel until now.

    Why the need for extinction, indeed! How great would a soft, warm piece of that be, bundled inside a paper bag?

  9. This sounds like a little experiment I did with my mother’s challah recipe a few weeks ago -and it was delicious! I love the combination of the butter rich bread with the onions! This sounds great.

  10. Graeme: Great idea for a school lunch, oil stains and all. Here’s to hoping that you can revive the Pletzel in London, or wherever you are in the U.K. (thanks for visiting).

    Jesse: What was your recipe?

    Katie: Let us know how yours turns out! Jeff

  11. Oh my gracious I am ADDICTED to making your breads. I bought your book. The fridge has never been empty of a batch of your bread dough. Thank you SO SO MUCH.

    Your new recipe looks DELISH and I am dying to try it.

    I thought you might like to check my blog – I’ve been making ‘flatbreads’ from the basic dough recipe and they are turning out INCREDIBLE. I blogged the last ones I made. I have turned these into both ‘flatbread tacos’ and sort of folded them too to make a great lunch. I cooked them in a non stick fry pan with NO oil, so much healthier.

    I have blogged, with photos –

    http://www.lalalime.blogspot.com

    Thanks for looking!

    Oh, I have a batch of Caraway Seed Pumpernickel rising now. My Grandmother used to make a killer bread like this, with sunflower seeds in it… I loved it toasted! I can still taste it in my mind even after all these years she’s been gone.

  12. Hi Jeff – not to be a pest, but I made the pumpernickel bread – only I did not add the caramel flavoring, because honestly – I don’t know what this is? Perhaps its a USA thing?

    Help?

    The bread is a nice colour without, though I suspect not as dark as it should be.

    I’ll be blogging it too, probably in the next day or so!

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    ~ Barb

  13. Barb– you are NOT a pest! We are learning a ton from doing this website, so check in whenever you have a question.

    My guess is that caramel color was not traditional in Eastern Europe and Russia, which is where this style comes from. But in the US, there’s usually a slightly bitter edge to pumpernickel bread, and it comes from caramel color, which isn’t just for color– there’s that flavor that it imparts.

    So I’ve done a post for people to make their own: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=413 See what you think; the alternative is to buy it from King Arthur Flour. Jeff

  14. This pletzel looks great: something on my list to make!

    Jeff, thank you for dropping in and answering my questions on our blog.

    (1) Crusty: thick and hard. I think our old oven (before the move) was not giving me the correct temperature (too high).

    (1b) I tried doing one batch of deli-style rye in our new oven and the crust does turn out better. It’s quite thin, but I’m having some problems with the crispiness. Seems like the whole bread is softer and springier? Any tips? Anyways, I’ll be trying it again very soon with other breads.

    (2) The alcohol smell. Few weeks ago, I did a brioche dough that I kept for 3 or 4 days. On the last day, I baked the brioche off and was surprised to taste the alcohol. I don’t know what happened but there was a period of time when my stored dough smelled too strongly of alcohol (and not sourdough-like). What was I doing wrong?

    Recently, I stored a deli-style rye dough for about a week and it didn’t get alcohol-y at all, just had a nice sourdough smell.

    After getting alcohol-y dough and bread, I dispensed with letting the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature and just put the dough in the fridge. Is this okay?

    (3) I’m still wrestling with loaf size, but I will try letting it rise for longer than 40 minutes.

    Thanks!

  15. Are you venting the storage vessel? Most people who detected the alcohol smell found that it wasn’t a problem if they let the gases dissipate by leaving the vessel open a crack (or get one that’s vented for steam in the microwave).

    As for the crisper crust, first thing to try is a longer bake time and see what happens.

    And yes, if you want a higher rise and a more open texture, try a 90 minute rise rather than 40 minutes if you have the time.

    And you can definitely put the dough into the fridge before the rise and let it happen in there at lower temperature (it’s going to take a lot longer to maximally rise and collapse). This is a great overnight technique.

    Thanks for stopping in! Jeff

  16. Dear Jeff,

    I was referred to your wonderful website and I am requesting your book from my family for Chanukah. Your PLETZEL recipe was enough to sell me! (I am Jewish and I will use my 100% whole wheat Challah dough for the base.)

    I am very interested in trying your techniques with 100% whole grain flours, no white flour.

    Any words of wisdom to help me make your recipes 100% whole grain?

    Thanks,
    Vickilynn
    http://www.realfoodliving.com

  17. Vickilynn: Thanks for visiting, and welcome to the site.

    Zoe and I are hard at work on “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” the followup to our first book. It will focus on whole grains, nuts, seeds, and even have a gluten-free chapter. The book won’t be out till 12/09, so the recipes aren’t ready to appear here on our website, and we’ll wait until we’ve fully refined our approach before we start advising people here. Once you get familiar with our method, you’ll probably see ways to convert to a more whole-grain approach, but the result will be heavier. Especially for things like pletzel. Delicious, but not quite the same.

    Thanks for visiting! Jeff

  18. This looks delicious! I’ve never made bread before, but I think I’d like to try this. By any chance, do you have a recipe for olive bread?

  19. Hi! I am a Jew from Argentina. We still have and eat PRETZELS a lot there! I could have NEVER identified the challah batter as a good one to make pretzels. Or maybe the challah batter I use has more eggs and it is more yellowish than the pretzel, which is very white, not very sweet, etc.
    I will give your recipe a try really soon because I ALWAYS wanted to make some! Although I am still doubious about the “challah” starter, I promise to give it a try!
    BTW, someone I know went to look for his Eastern European family roots and found pretzels galore in a city in Lithuania. Sorry I didn’t catch its name!

  20. Mercina: Olive bread is on page 51 of the book– it’s not one of the ones we’ve released to the web at this point.

    Marga: Are we talking about pletzels (with an “L”), or pretzels (with an “R”)? Agree that pretzels would never be made with enriched dough, while pletzels would be. Jeff

  21. Dear Jeff and Zoe,

    I live in Australia and I have stumbled on your website. I love the idea of baking your own bread and if you can do it very quickly, all the better. I know that the United States is a very large place with hundreds of cities and millions of citizens, but can you find the time for yourself and Zoe to come out here and give us a lesson or two on how to make your bread? In addition, can you produce an overseas edition for your book ‘Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day’ written in metric units, as Australia and the rest of the world are substantially countries with SI units of measure? You really lead a busy life; how do you find the time to do what you do? You are both amazing! Thank you.

    Sincerely and respectfully yours, John Candido.

  22. Hi John,

    So glad you found us! We will find the time the second someone finds the means to get us to Australia! We would love to come and have been talking to many people there who are baking our bread.

    As of now there is no plan to do a metric version of the book, but with enough demand, perhaps the publisher will reconsider! ;)

    Thank you so much for your kind note!

    Zoë

  23. Sorry for my mistake, yes, I am definitely talking about pletzels – or as my grandma calls them- pletzalaj.

    Being that you are so nice- and fast- in keeping with us posters, can I be sure that your Challah batter turned into pletzels will NOT yeld a weird one? I really thought it was flour/water/yeast/ and almost no egg, being that I always saw them as so white, as oppossed to the very yellow challah- could you comment on that? thanks! Marga

  24. Hi Marga,

    There seem to be many recipes for pletzel, probably depending on the town the person making it came from. This enriched dough is one of the many styles, it is both traditional and delicious! You can certainly experiment with some of the other non-enriched doughs to see if you prefer that flavor. If you do please write back and let us know how it came out!

    Thanks, Zoë

  25. This look so good! I made a half batch of Brioche the other day and it came out really wet, even after the rise and refrigeration. I made the Challah Raisin Turban the next day and the dough was super hard to work with. The turban looked a little funny, but it still tasted great. Any ideas? I know I got all the measurements halved correctly. Sometimes I wonder if my scoop & sweep method of measuring flour sometimes leaves me with too little flour (that was my guess). Also, is there any way to fix really wet dough once it has already risen and chilled?

  26. Stephanie: If the brioche is coming out too “loose” even after being fully refrigerated, a couple of questions:

    1. Did you try to substitute oil for the butter? The brioche recipe is really too loose with oil, which doesn’t solidify as much as butter under refrigeration.

    2. Measurement of flour: if you think you’re underestimating the flour, you could try a quarter cup more. This can be done even after the dough has risen and chilled, but then let it sit at room temp for 2 hours to let the new flour ferment with the yeast and re-rise… mixing a second time knocks all the gas out of the bread.

    3. Are you using unbleached all-purpose flour? Bleached has too little protein and you end up with a too-loose brioche dough.

    Jeff

  27. Hey there Zoe & Jeff.
    This is just to say how much I love your book and your method. Though I haven’t completely given up on traditional baking (I still bake Challa, sourdough breads and more the “old” way) I almost always have a container of one of your doughs in the fridge. In my humble opinion it yields absolutely delicious breads, no less so than any other way, and I have to say – they’re everybody’s favorites. As I don’t have a baking stone, I lay the dough to rest on a silicone mat and heat the oven up with a baking sheet inside (and one more for steam). It works out beautifully. I love everything I’ve tried so far (light whole wheat, European peasant, olive oil, Italian semolina, deli-style rye and of course boule. Also the 100% whole wheat but it came out crumbly and couldn’t serve as a sandwhich loaf, any ideas why?)
    May I share a small suggestion for your upcoming book (or new editions of this one)? it would be great if you include an index or a reference in the body of each recipe that would show all the different breads that can be made with a specific recipe. I have made myself such a list for the boule, light whole wheat (which is the one I use most of all) and European peasnat so I can quickly see what I can make out of those when I have them.

    Best of luck with your new book,

    Shimrit

  28. Hi Shimrit,

    Thank you so much for the lovely note, we are so happy you are enjoying so many of the recipes. It is great that you work with so many methods of baking, what fun! We are hoping that people new to baking will gain your confidence and start baking all kinds of bread.

    Sometime you should try out baking with the stone, it gives the thinnest, crispest crust!

    Enjoy, Zoë

  29. Hey Jeff, thanks for the response. I think it must be too little flour, because I did indeed use butter and unbleached all-purpose flour. So, thanks for the tip!

  30. I made this pletzel recipe awhile ago and it was great. Thanks for all the great recipes.

    With Thanksgiving so near, do you have any stuffing recipes that use your breads?

  31. Any of the lean breads work, I usually use some version of the European Peasant Bread (page 46). But many people like a cornbread stuffing and I’d think the Broa would be great there (page 82). I’ll be posting on that dough in a few days, in the Yeasted Thanksgiving Cornbread. Jeff

  32. Marion: The lowest carb breads we have are the ones with the most whole grain. So the 100% Whole Wheat and the other one on page 78 are lower in whole wheat are lower in carbs than the rest of the book. Our second book (Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, in 12/09) will have more whole grain recipes.

    But I’d have to say that they probably wouldn’t qualify as a low carb food, though I don’t have a specific nutritional analysis to show you. Jeff

  33. My book finally arrived right after Thanksgiving. I made the pletzel using the light wheat dough and it was awesome! As a variation, near the end of the baking time, I now sometimes add chopped chicken or ham or sundried tomatoes with some chunks of various cheeses to go with my weekly homemade soup meal. I usually use older dough for these. My family loves ‘em.
    I had some older dough this morning to use up, so tried an apple, raisin, lemon zest and cinnamon “pocketbook” breakfast bread. I rolled the dough as for the pletzel, put the fillings on half the dough and folded the other half over the fillings, then let it rest as usual and baked on a stone. For a finishing touch I dusted with powdered sugar. It was a big hit, too.
    I’m giving these breads and jars of your homemade granola as holiday gifts along with the link to this website.
    Thanks bunches for the info in this book!

  34. Nancy had a great time at Adath Jeshurun learning to make bread! Thanks.
    I made some today while visiting in Ann Arbor. (I gave my sister and her partner a copy of your book for Chanukah.)–Here’s the problem: The bread looked and tasted great, very brown and crisp crust, but the bottom was soft. We did use a pizza stone. Can you provide any assistance.

  35. Thanks for coming to the class, it was great fun! If you want a great bottom (and top crust), use the shelf switcheroo technique (page 21 near the bottom). You’ll see what I mean; also try pre-heating the stone for longer (30-45 minutus rather than 20). Have you checked oven temp? If too cool, you get crust problems. Jeff

  36. I made the pletzel the other day using the master recipe dough. it came out fabulous. i seem to be having a problem with my crusts getting too hard and crunchy.i have not been adding the extra water to create the steam, that just seems to make them harder. the difficulty seems to be when I use the older or frozen doughs that have more moisture. no problems with 1-2 day old doughs. Any suggestions?

  37. Hmm. Sounds like you’d prefer your breads with a little tenderization. Two ideas:

    1. A little sugar. A tablespoon in the batch won’t change the taste, but it tenderizes the bread.

    2. Milk or non-fat dry milk: Swap out some milk for water in the recipes, or add a quarter-cup of non-fat dry milk. Same deal– tenderizes.

    3. If it’s related to moisture in the dough, you can work in a little flour as it ages to keep the consistency the same over the life of the dough. Keep it on the counter for a couple hours after adding flour to allow the new dry ingredient to add water and start a little fermentation action.

    Let us know if this helps… Jeff

  38. Jeff,

    I would like to have the same flaky, but solid crust I found in France. Mine are wonderful, but a bit tough. Would one of these hints make a better crust on my baguettes? The crust seems a bit hard to me.

    Pat

  39. Are you using:

    – steam in the oven?
    – a baking stone?
    – a thermometer to test your oven temperature?

    If those are set, try these:

    1. Allow to rest while covered with plastic wrap or any other method that allows you to keep a humid environment next to the dough (eg., rise in the oven (turned off) with a pan of hot water in there. In the book we skipped this traditional step because most people can’t tell the difference. Especially if you extend the rest time, it can be nice.

    2. A longer pre-heat, say 30 to 40 minutes. Jeff

  40. I’ll try a longer rest time, since the others are covered. I’m using a convection over setting, maybe try it without? I thought it would make a better crust, but maybe not?

    I’ll report in after experimentation.

    Thanks,

  41. Hi,

    I bought a big batch of instant yeast at Sam’s Club, to use with my bread machine. Fleishman’s said it’s the same as their bread machine yeast.

    Could I use this instant yeast in these recipes? I’d hate to have to go out and buy more yeast of a second kind. I still have an unopened pound left.

    Thanks!

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