Since the 1990s, when Erez Komarovsky introduced the country to sourdough, Israelis have become spoiled for choice when it comes to artisanal bakeries.
Here, Hagay (pronounced “ha-guy”) Ben Yehuda makes bread from wheat milled onsite and based on ancient varieties that have never undergone genetic modification and are grown just as they were 8,000 years ago.
On ISRAEL21c’s visit to the bakery, I get to taste a slice of Einkorn bread. Einkorn is considered the grandmother of all wheat in the world, from which the first bread known to man was made.
It lives up to Ben Yehuda’s description as “a revolution of flavors that hits you with each bite.”
The bread is nutty with a delicate texture and buttery yellow in color. It also has the advantage of being low gluten and high in minerals, vitamins and protein, unlike modern varieties engineered in the 1950s for their ability to feed a growing global population.
Although once indigenous to the Fertile Crescent, Einkorn wheat has long disappeared from the region and Ben Yehuda’s supply is imported from “Michael on the border of Bavaria.”
Khorasan, another variety of ancient wheat related to durum, is grown by Ben Yehuda on Moshav Sarona in the North.
All flour used at Hagay V’HaLehem is milled daily in an impressive machine imported from France.
The French connection
The bakery’s other French connection is Ben Yehuda’s partner in his new venture, Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, author of three books on baking and owner of six Chambelland bakeries in France and Belgium, known for their innovative gluten-free pastries.
Teffri-Chambelland answered my questions while deep in the process of working a piece of dough.
A former biologist, his bread passion was ignited 20 years ago while investigating how to make naturally gluten-free bread. He succeeded by using buckwheat and rice, a grain with nutritional qualities but thought of as unsuitable for breadmaking.
Ben Yehuda and Teffri-Chambelland met when the Frenchman came to do a masterclass in Tel Aviv at Estella, the renowned school for training pastry chefs, chocolatiers and bread makers.
It took two years before the pair’s dream of opening a bakery in Tel Aviv became a reality.
Up until then, Ben Yehuda was well known among chefs and artisanal bread aficionados who would come get their supply at the bakery adjoining his home on Kibbutz Einat. Delis and restaurants, mainly located in Tel Aviv, would receive a few hundred loaves a day.
At the new bakery in Florentin, Ben Yehuda is able to share his craft with a larger community.
In fact, there is a constant flow of people coming through, many taking a peek into the semi-open area where the magical breadmaking process takes place or catching a glimpse of the tall trays of paper-thin Einkorn biscotti studded with hazelnuts.
Some are curious as to the names of breads they are not familiar with (including Einkorn) and the well-trained staff or Ben Yehuda himself give them a quick explanation on heirloom varieties of wheat.
Each week approaching Friday, Ben Yehuda pays tribute to something far more recent, but nonetheless connected to the past.
This is when round dark golden challah loaves can be found on the shelves, made without eggs or butter according to a recipe passed down through five generations of bakers in his family.
From the first generation of bakers in Poland, to arriving in Palestine in the 1890s and founding the Rosenthal bakery (later named Tikotzki) in Petah Tikva, the family has been in the business for over a century.
They would be exceptionally proud of what the current baker in their family has achieved.
For more information, click here.