Simple pleasures are the best! That is my all time favorite mantra ☺️ And San Giovanni Bread is one of mine.
Having my morning Egyptian cardamom coffee while reading the food section in The New York Times magazine is the highlight of my day!
The recipes of the NYTimes always summon the finest cook in me. The energizing tone of the contributors and their accurate recipes make glorious culinary attempts in my kitchen.
It is always good to try new recipes, and it is even better when I figure out how to make dishes that I grew fond of, but never before had an accurate recipe for.
SAN GIOVANNI BREAD
I adapted this bread recipe from the seasoned Melissa Clark, the prominent contributor to the food section of NYTimes, who is among my top favorite three food writers, hands down.
When she published her recipe of challah bread, her descriptive words conjured up the flavors of San Giovanni Bread, a favorite childhood bread of mine that I grew up eating in Alexandria, Egypt.
Sure enough, when I followed the Ms. Clark’s recipe to a T, I ended up with a perfectly golden crusted bread, with a pillowy interior that resembled the texture my San Giovanni bread, yet Melissa’s challah digressed in flavor. Therefore, I had to add in a couple of ingredients to match the flavor that my brain has retained for over three decades.
In addition of orange zest, I used ground mahlab and crushed mastic to jazz up the flavor and achieve the resemblance to my childhood bread.
SAN GIOVANNI BAKERY
For some history, San Giovanni was the name of a legendary bakery and restaurant that was located in an upscale neighborhood called Stanely in Alexandria, Egypt.
Overlooking the shores of the Mediterranean, San Giovanni Bakery in the city of Alexandria was the only bakery, city wide, acclaimed and known for selling this fluffy, pillowy bread that melts on your tongue after the first bite.
I have been baking this bread for my family and guests for over three years now and it hasn’t failed a single time. It is an excellent bread either to serve on a table teeming with lavish hearty dishes or simply used as a sandwich bread. I guarantee that the superb texture and flavor of this bread will elevate any mundane dish it’s served with.
BREAK DOWN THE WORKLOAD
I prefer to leave the dough overnight in the fridge, which serves two purposes: First, it tastes even better as the mastic and mahleb impart their flavors throughout the dough. Second, this fridge step breaks the work load into two days which perfectly fits my busy routine.
San Giovanni bread is perfect for kids’ breakfast. The eggs, olive oil and orange juice elevate its nutritious value and make it an excellent alternative to a plain white bread, empty of any nutrients.
This bread is so versatile. You can either use it for sandwiches, paninis, or serve it next to a hearty stew to soak up the sauce.
If you end up with any leftovers, which I highly doubt, go ahead and use them in a pudding recipe. The orange and olive oil notes in this bread offer excellent notes to a baked bread pudding doused in a rich custard.
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SAN GIOVANNI BREAD
Serves 6-8 people
Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s Orange-Olive Oil Challah
- ½ cup fresh orange juice at room temperature (from about 2 medium oranges; see notes)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons grams active dry yeast (1 packet)
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon orange zest
- ¼ teaspoon crushed mastic
- ¼ teaspoon ground mahleb
- 3 to 3 ½ cups bread flour, plus more for kneading dough
- Proof the yeast: Combine the orange juice (should be room temperature), one tablespoon of water and mix in the yeast. Whisk everything together and let the yeast-juice mixture sit in a warm place until it becomes frothy.
- Combine dry ingredients: Sift all the flour, salt, mastic, and mahleb using a fine mesh sieve over the bowl of an electric mixer.
- Combine the wet ingredients: Add oil, 2 eggs, 1 yolk, the sugar, and the zest to a large mixing bowl. Mix well until just combined. Add in the yeast-orange juice mixture.
- Make the dough: Gradually, add the liquids to the flour until a sticky soft dough comes together. Stop the mixer once the dough starts to separate from the walls of the mixer’s container.
- Let the dough rise twice: Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn the dough over to coat it well with oil. Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size. After about 90 minutes rising time, press down dough to expel all the air, cover bowl, and let it rise for another 45 minutes.
- Make the egg wash: In a small bowl, make egg wash by combining the remaining 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water or milk.
- Braid the bread: Watch this tutorial video to see all the possibilities of braiding the bread.
- Let the bread rise AGAIN: Place the bread on a small rimmed baking sheet, then brush with egg wash. Let it rise uncovered for 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven: While the bread is rising for the third time, preheat oven to 375ºF with a rack in the middle. Gently brush a second coat of egg wash on the dough, then bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until challah is a deep rich brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
- Serve it warm or at room temperature.
- Melissa Clark warns against using using store-bought orange juice with preservatives; it can inhibit yeast growth. Use freshly squeezed oranges instead.
- This bread is freezer friendly. Feel free to freeze and reheat it before serving.