Pletzel is not just a drunken misspelling of pretzel, but a Jewish flatbread that falls somewhere between an oversized bialy and chewy focaccia. Some call it an “onion board” for the thick layer of silky sautéed onions baked right into the top, but that doesn’t do proper justice to the combination. Nutty poppy seeds are scattered like sprinkles on a cake, firmly adhered with a generous amount of olive oil, grassy and buttery all at once.
In honor of the 16th annual World Bread Day, I wanted to shine a light on this most humble loaf. It’s an event I would never willingly miss, because bread is not just sustenance; it’s a symbol of culture, tradition, and memories.
Pletzel, also spelled platzel or pletzl and pronounced “pleht-suhl,” might not be as renowned as challah or bagels, but it’s a true gem in Jewish baking history. As a testament to the resourcefulness of Jewish bakers, the dough is made from just the basics: flour, salt, yeast, water, and oil.
The Legacy of Pletzels
The pletzel can be traced back many centuries to Eastern Europe, where Jewish communities adapted their bread recipes out of necessity. It was an everyday staple, as it required fewer ingredients and less time to prepare than more luxurious loaves, like egg-heavy challah. Pletzel quickly became a staple in Jewish households, serving as a versatile companion to any meal.
Pletzels emigrated to the US along with the Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Jews in the mid-20th century, although they largely faded away as a relic of the past. It’s a rare sight to find them in any bakery or delicatessen outside of their motherland.
A Twist On Tradition
I don’t often have poppy seeds on hand, but I do have an abundance of za’atar. This savory seasoning blend combines oregano, marjoram or thyme, and earthy spices like cumin and coriander with toasted sesame seeds. Intense and pungent, especially with a pinch of tangy sumac, it’s one of those all-purpose mixes that works on just about any dish.
While not complicated by any means, we can still make it simpler and quicker thanks to the modern marvel of prepared pizza dough. Go all out and make your own from scratch, or shave at least an hour off of the process and jump right in; you can still call it homemade if you accept the assist.
Like any other fluffy flatbread, a good pletzel has limitless potential for pairings. It’s a delight enjoyed all by itself, freshly baked and still warm from the oven, or dressed up with a greater meal.
- Serve alongside soup or stew
- Stack on a charcuterie board
- Slice in half and stuff with meatless cold cuts or sandwich spreads
The Daily Bread
In today’s fast-paced world, the pletzel may not be as common on our tables as it once was. However, it’s a bread worth preserving and celebrating. Especially on World Bread Day, there’s never been a better time to remember the importance of preserving our culinary heritage, one slice at a time.