“You won’t guess who lives down the street from us!” my son exclaimed as he burst into the house, backpack dropped to the floor, shoes abandoned at the entrance. He didn’t wait for my response.
“Pnina!” he answered.
“Pnina?” my mind resonated with nothing “Who’s Pnina?”
“Pnina! The jachnoon Pnina! right down the block”.
Of course I know her! She is part of our Saturday morning ritual when I am too lazy to prepare breakfast. I send my husband to buy Pnina’s Yemenite specialty- thinly stretched phyllo sheets oiled with either melted samneh (clarified butter) or margarine and rolled and layered to resemble a giant’s cigar. The thick rolls are arranged snugly in an aluminum pot, covered and placed in the in the oven to slow bake overnight. The scent lingers hesitantly near the oven, then, with increasing confidence radiates its warmth throughout the house.
My neighbor Evelyne taught me how to make them a few years ago in that easy, spontaneous way of hers. “You can feed an entire family with 1kg of flour” she said happily as she foraged her cupboards for the ingredients. Evelyne is Tunisian, her husband Persian so it was left to Rachel, our Yemenite neighbor, to share her secrets. Rachel was married at age 15 and was a grandmother at 38. “Kids are so much harder to raise today” she once commented to me “I had ten kids and just let them play outside, my daughter has to drag her two children from one activity to another”. There’s no room to make traditional foods with this modern schedule.
Even if I had the time, what’s the point of making my own jachnoon if Pnina makes it so much better? I’ve tried. Instead of a deep, rich mahogany, my jachnoon looks fake- like it needs a couple more hours in the sun tanning bed. My family is loyal to Pnina and hint gently at the consistency, the color and flavor of my inferior product (they call my version Ashkenazi jachnoon after the fair skin Jews of Eastern Europe).
For those who don’t live next to Pnina, here is Rachel’s recipe, but you’ll need to practice. It also needs to be left in the oven until it calls you on its own.
Jachnoon- slow baked Yemenite dough
Although clarified butter is traditionally used to prepare jachnoon, many Israeli Yemenites have switched to margerine. Margerine was once considered healthier (before trans fats were avoided) and is a cheaper alternative to butter.
1 kg flour
4 tablespoons fluid honey (dissolve the honey by heating gently if it is solid)
1 flat tablespoon salt
2 ½ cups water (since flour differs from region to region more or less water may be needed to get the desired consistency.
500 grams clarified butter or margarine
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl with a hook attachment and knead until smooth. The dough should be supple and slightly tacky but not goopy or stiff.
Melt the clarified butter in the microwave or small pot.
Using your fist to divide the portions, create 18-20 balls of dough and place them on a baking try. Grease the balls with clarified butter so they do not dry out and let them “rest” for about 30 minutes to relax the gluten.
Using a rolling pin and greased hands, roll out each ball of dough as thin as possible (it should be slightly transparent when held opposite a ligh)t. Take care to stretch out the edges which tend to be thicker than the center. If possible create a rectangular shape which is easier to handle. Using a brush or hands, grease the entire surface of the dough liberally with clarified butter and fold the two sides over on themselves. Take one side and roll snugly to form a large cigar shape.
In a small oven proof pot lined with parchment paper, place the jachnoon at the bottom. Continue with the rest of the balls, arranging them together in the pot. In another pot or even on top of the jachnoon place a couple of eggs to be slow baked together.
Place in the oven set at 100 ⁰C ( 212⁰ F) and bake overnight. They should be ready by breakfast. Eat with Yemenite hot sauce (schoog) and crushed fresh tomatoes.
Pnina’s Jachnoon Stand
Opposite Beit Oved on road 4303 near the junction with road 42 (Beit Oved Junction)