Jachnun is a traditional Yemenite Jewish dish with a rich history that spans several centuries. This dish holds a significant cultural importance and has been cherished for generations within the Yemenite community. The name “jachnun” likely originates from the Arabic word “jahannam,” which could be associated with the slow cooking process used to prepare it.
Originating in Yemen, jachnun was initially created as a special breakfast for the Jewish Sabbath, allowing observant Jews to comply with the religious prohibition on cooking during this sacred day. The slow-cooking method involved burying rolled dough in the ground and letting it cook overnight, resulting in a warm and nourishing meal ready to be enjoyed the following morning.
Over time, as Yemenite Jewish communities migrated to different parts of the world, they carried this treasured culinary tradition with them. Today, jachnun has transcended its cultural boundaries and has become a beloved dish among various communities. It is often served alongside grated tomato, z’hug (a spicy yemenite chili sauce), and hard-boiled eggs, enhancing its flavors and making it an iconic delicacy in Jewish cuisine.
If I were to try and explain what jachnun tastes like to someone that has never tried it before, I would probably say it tastes like a heavier, caramelized croissant. But that doesn’t do it justice. So, do go ahead and make it. You won’t regret it!
Slow Baked Jachnun
Jachnun is a traditional Yemenite-Israeli Jewish laminated bread pastry that’s baked low and slow for 10 to 12 hours. The end result; a flaky, chewy, caramelized bread and pastry hybrid. traditionally served on Shabbat morning alongside hardboiled brown eggs, grated fresh tomato, and spicy schug.
8 cups regular or wheat flour
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 generous tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons date syrup (or honey)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup or more vegan (or regular) butter, room temperature (it really needs to be soft, otherwise it will tear the dough)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add the date syrup and warm water and mix with a spatula until the water has been absorbed by the dry ingredients. It will be a shaggy dough.
Knead the dough in the bowl until completely combined, you’ll have a smooth, wet dough. Set it aside to rest for 10 minutes. During this time the dough will absorb more moisture and become easier to work with.
Slide your hand, palm facing upward, beneath the dough and pull the dough up against the sides of the bowl. Stretch the dough this way about 10 times, then cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Rest the dough for 1.5 hours, or transfer to the fridge if you’re planning to bake the jachnun later in the day.
Separate the dough into ten balls, you can easily pinch off the dough from inside the bowl using your hands. You can help make them round by cupping your hand around it while on a flat surface and gently making a circular movement with your hand until it forms a smooth ball.
Place the balls on a buttered or oiled plate and let rest for five minutes
Butter or oil a clean countertop, this is going to be your jachnun rolling space. Every time the countertop gets dry, repeat this step to make sure your dough doesn’t stick or tear.
Place parchment paper on the bottom of a cake or loaf pan, the paper can hang over the sides.
Preheat the oven to 105°C.
Now we’re going to get started with stretching the dough. Have the butter placed next to you. One by one, take a ball of dough and gently stretch it until it’s a paper-thin rectangle. You should be able to see your fingers through it. There’s no need for a rolling pin. Throughout this process, you’re going to want to have your hands and countertop thoroughly buttered or oiled.
Once your dough is spread thin over your countertop, generously butter the top. Fold one wide side over the center of the stretched out dough, and then the other side over to the center. You should now have a long rectangle, butter it! Starting at the narrow edge, roll the dough into a cylinder and place it into the pan.
Continue these steps until you have 10 cylinders. Make your second layer of cylinders perpendicular to the first. Butter or oil another sheet of parchment paper and put it butter side down on top of the dough. Cover the pan tightly with foil.
Place the pan on the lowest rack in the preheated oven and place another oven tray right above the pan to make sure the air is trapped inside the pan. Bake (preferably overnight) for 10-12 hours. This will really depend on how hot your oven runs. In my case, I baked it for 10 hours. I recommend checking on the jachnun after nine hours. Due to the low temperature, one hour doesn’t make too much of a difference so no need to stress about this!
The vegan butter can be substituted with olive oil but will make for a slightly drier jachnun.
The date syrup can be substituted with honey, agave syrup, or any other liquid sweetener.