Low and slow is a cooking method usually reserved for meat, and goes against every convention of bread baking.
But bread baked in a low oven for eight to fourteen hours is very, very delicious: a cross between brioche, a toasted croissant, and the best Hawaiian roll you’ve ever had. Cooked this way, yeasted dough becomes light and feathery, with the not-insignificant amount of butter dispersed without any arduous lamination. After hours in the oven, the crust and crumb become a deep gold, but take on totally different textures: the outside toasty, the inside soft. It’s wild.
This technique is not new, but it’s not widely known outside of Israel. It comes from the Yemenite Jewish community, who use it to make two breads: jachnun, an unyeasted dough somewhat similar to phyllo, and kubaneh, a tall, brioche-like, yeasted specimen. According to cookbook author Claudia Roden, “Yemenite cuisine has little in common with other Jewish cuisines. They share the same ingredients, but the way they combine these makes their cooking unique.”
To make jachnun—now a brunch staple in Israel—the dough is stretched until translucent, smeared with butter, folded, buttered again, rolled, and baked overnight to let the butter soak into the dough. It’s manageable (though involved) to make at home, which is the better option if you want your jachnun made with butter, since most commercial options are made with margarine in order to be pareve.
According to Faye Levy, a cookbook author and columnist for the Jerusalem Post, kubaneh comes in two varieties. There’s folded kubaneh, in which the dough is shaped into balls, rolled out, smeared with soft butter or margarine, then rolled in a coil or spiral and put in the pan. And then there’s another version that calls for making balls of dough, dipping each in melted butter or margarine, and placing them in the pan: Israeli monkey bread. In Yemenite Cooking (published only in Hebrew), Malka Almoni notes that you can even put the whole, undivided dough ball straight into the pot with melted butter. You can listen to Almoni, but the rolling and buttering takes mere minutes—and is worth it for the fancy, croissant-like end product.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of baking while you sleep, kubaneh is the place to start. After thirty minutes or so of kneading and shaping, you’re ready to bake (/sleep). Use a Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid—most baking dishes aren’t tall enough to allow the dough to fully rise while baking. It’s important to keep the kubaneh and jachnun well sealed and covered so it doesn’t dry out.
One thing Yemenite cooking does have in common with other Sephardic Jewish cuisines, says Roden, is the long-cooked Sabbath eggs known as huevos haminados. These are the eggs you can put in the pot with your dough and be rewarded with toasted, meaty-tasting, hard-cooked eggs for brunch the next day.
The perfect kubaneh, according to Uri Scheft of Breads Bakery in New York City, is done “when the crust is dark brown, kind of shiny and golden, and it’s crispy too.” If you put the bread in the oven before you go to bed, you’ll have enough time to wake up, make coffee, and gather jam or sugar—or if you’re feeling more traditional, the fiery Yemeni hot sauce zhug.