Jachnun is a savory-sweet rolled pastry made of very thin layers of dough that are brushed with a smoky, fenugreek-spiced clarified butter known as samneh. It is the Shabbat dish of the Jews of Aden, in today’s Yemen, and like other Shabbat dishes from around the Diaspora, it is baked overnight at low temperature in keeping with the Jewish law forbidding cooking on the Sabbath. The jachnun rolls come out golden brown, flaky but chewy, and rich in flavor from the caramelized sugars and the clarified butter (samneh).
While in the past jachnun was served as a sweet dish, topped with honey (and later, in Israel, with sugar), in Israel it evolved as a savory dish. Just like its close relative, pan-fried malawach, jachnun is served with a sauce of grated tomatoes mixed with a Yemenite spicy condiment called zhug, and with overnight hard-boiled eggs.
These days, it is increasingly rare for Israelis to make jachnun from scratch, not only because the labor-intensive process is daunting, but because jachnun is available in the freezer aisle at any supermarket nationwide. That said, it is an inferior version, with none of the complexity or decadence of homemade jachnun.
Happily, fresh jachnun is readily available in Israel on the weekends, where it’s sold at many roadside pop-up stands, cafes and even as part of the famous Israeli breakfast buffet in many hotels. But if fresh jachnun isn’t available to you — or if you want to experience the magic of fresh-from-the-oven jachnun — I encourage you to try this recipe. It is a labor of love, but a perfect baking project for a cozy weekend at home and/or when you’re feeding a crowd.
For the jachnun:
2 lb all-purpose flour
1 tsp dry yeast
4 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
3 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 ¼-2 ½ cups lukewarm water
¼ cup vegetable or corn oil
2-3 slices day-old bread (to pad the pot)
8 Tbsp melted butter, clarified butter (ghee) or oil
6-8 eggs (one per person), to serve
For the zhug (optional):
5 Serrano or jalapeno peppers
1 bunch cilantro (at least 1 cup of chopped leaves)
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
kosher salt, to taste (start with ½ tsp)
1 Tbsp oil (optional, but recommended if you want it to keep for longer)
2 Tbsp water
For the spicy tomato salsa:
- 4 ripe tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1–2 tsp zhug or chopped Serrano, to taste
- kosher salt, to taste
- Put flour, dry yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix a little using a spoon. Turn the mixer on medium-low and add honey and 2¼ cups water, then knead for 5 minutes. If it seems too dry, add 1 Tbsp water at a time, until the dough seems soft.
- Remove bowl from mixer, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour. After 1 hour, knead again for 5 minutes. Let the dough rest again for another hour, covered with plastic wrap.
- Put ¼ cup oil in a small bowl. Divide the dough into two, roll each half to a 2-inch-thick log and cut into five equal pieces (for a total of 10 pieces). Roll each piece into a ball, dip in the oil to cover, and let rest on a baking sheet. Cover dough balls tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 3-4 hours. Resting will make stretching the dough easier.
- Preheat the oven to 200°F. Grease an ovenproof pot, put a layer of day-old bread at the bottom (optional, to prevent the bottom layer from becoming crispy) and top with parchment paper.
- Use a rolling pin to roll the first ball into about a 10-inch circle. Using your hands, stretch the dough further into a very thin 15-inch circle. Do it slowly by lifting the sides of the dough and stretching again and again until you can almost see the countertop through the dough.
- Using your hand or a pastry brush, spread about 2 tsp of the butter all over the dough. Fold the left third of the circle inside, and then fold the right third on top, like an envelope. Stretch the dough a little more and start rolling into a cylinder shape. Put in the pot. Repeat with the rest of the dough. (You can freeze some of the jachnun for later use. Simply wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and put in a freezer bag. Bake it next time straight from the freezer, no need to thaw.)
- Cover the jachnun pot with its lid. If the lid is not tight enough (or if there’s no lid at all), cover the whole pot with a double layer of aluminum foil.
- Ideally, you should put the eggs in a separate small lidded pot next to the jachnun pot. Cover eggs with salted hot water and cover the pot. You can also just arrange the eggs inside the jachnun pot, but try to put them on the sides, so as not to disturb the jachnun itself too much (it will simply change its shape because of the eggs).
- Transfer both pots to the oven and bake overnight, or for 8-10 hours.
- To make the spicy tomato salsa, start by making the zhug (optional): First, seed the Serranos or jalapenos if you’re nervous about the spiciness. Roughly chop the peppers. Then put all the ingredients in a food processor and mix to a slightly chunky paste. Add an extra Tbsp of water if the mixture resembles a chopped salsa and not a paste. Adjust salt to taste.
- Finish the tomato salsa by grating the tomatoes and mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Add salt to taste. Serve alongside the jachnun for breakfast.
- After completing Direction 6, you can freeze some of the jachnun for later use. Simply wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and put in a freezer bag. Bake it next time straight from the freezer, no need to thaw.
- The zhug will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze it for a few months.
- Prep Time: 6 hours
- Cook Time: 10-12 hours
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Basics