Tel Aviv baker’s luscious loaves made from ancient wheat
Israel at 75

Tel Aviv baker’s luscious loaves made from ancient wheat

Hagay Ben Yehuda is at work in his bakery in Tel Aviv. (Robyn Del Monte)
Hagay Ben Yehuda is at work in his bakery in Tel Aviv. (Robyn Del Monte)

Since the 1990s, when Erez Komarovsky introduced sourdough to Israel, Israelis have become spoiled for choice when it comes to artisanal bakeries.

But Hagay V’HaLehem (Hagay and The Bread), which opened recently on Vital Street in Tel Aviv’s trendy Florentin neighborhood, is not just another purveyor of crusty loaves.

Here, Hagay 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 a recent visit to the bakery, I got to taste a slice of Einkorn bread. Einkorn is considered the grandmother of all wheat in the world, the wheat from which the first bread known to humankind 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 it is a buttery yellow 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.

Grains used for baking bread, including Einhorn wheat, left. (Robyn Del Monte)

Although once indigenous to the Fertile Crescent, Einkorn wheat has long disappeared from the region, and Ben Yehuda’s supply, he says, is imported from “Michael on the border of Bavaria.” Ben Yehuda grows Khorasan, another variety of ancient wheat related to durum, on Moshav Sarona in the north of Israel. All the flour used at Hagay V’HaLehem is milled daily in an impressive machine imported from France.

The bakery’s other French connection is Ben Yehuda’s partner in his new venture, Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, the author of three books on baking and the 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 passion for bread was ignited 20 years ago as he investigated making 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.

Customers stream into Hagay V’HaLehem bread bakery. (Robyn Del Monte)

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 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. 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 visitors are curious about 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 to the more recent past. That is when round dark golden challah loaves can be found on the shelves. They’re 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, when the family arrived 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.


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