Noshin' Recipe: Onion-Poppy Seed Bread Ring

What do Purim and shiva have in common? Maybe not much except this exquisite bread.Onion Poppy Seed Purim Ring Bread
Last week was the second week my baking class studied Jewish traditions around funerals and shiva. Rabbi Esther Adler, one of Mount Zion’s rabbi’s, answered the kids’ questions on death and dying. “What do Jews think about the afterlife?” “Can I say kaddish for a non-Jewish friend?” “Can Jews be cremated?”
And my personal favorite, “If Barbie were a Jew, would she — could she — be buried in a hot pink coffin (even if it’s pine)?” (I’m so unbelievably proud of these kids for asking legitimate, probing questions).
What really brought it home though, I think, was that the rabbi had to leave the class early to lead a shiva service. And then, the kids voted to send half of our (giant) loaf of onion-poppyseed bread with the rabbi to comfort the mourners. Let me say it again: I am so proud of these kids.
Round foods are customary for life-cycle events — hence the bread is in a ring shape — and poppy seeds are also round (there’s no explanation for the onions except perhaps that they are yummy and a staple food). Additionally, breads are a fitting food to bring to mourners because they are so basic (much like the gesundheitskuchen from last week).
There was also a valuable lesson this recipe permitted me to teach: it is better to try and get 90% of the way than not to try at all. As in, if you don’t have poppy seeds for this recipe, replace them with something else, like black caraway seeds (or sesame seeds, etc.) like I had to do, because it’s more important to bring something than forgo the whole thing because you didn’t have exactly the right ingredients. Similarly, if it’s half an hour before a funeral and you don’t have any clean clothes that you normally would consider appropriate for the occasion, go anyway — it’s more important to be there than to be wearing the “right” thing.
Perhaps this recipe is a week late for this year’s Purim celebrations, but it was right on time for my kids’ baking class AND you never know when you’re going to need a good bread to bring to a gathering. Plus, much like costumes, aren’t you already thinking about Purim for next year?
Onion and Poppy Seed Purim Ring
From A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs, by Maggie Glezer
The twisted ring looks like Queen Esther’s crown, and the onions and poppy seeds are not only delicious but honor this queen’s bravery and piety.
Makes: One large ring loaf
Recipe Overview: Make a yeast slurry, then beat in the remaining ingredients and mix the dough. Let the dough rise for 1 ½ hours. Make the filling while the dough rises. Shape the dough and let it proof for 1 hour. Bake the bread for about 50 minutes. The filling goes in raw, but cooks in the bread.

Bread Ingredients:
1 envelope (2 ¼ tsp) instant yeast
~3 ¾ C (500g) bread flour
¾ C (170g) warm water
2 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
½ C (110g) vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp (8g) table salt
½ C (55g) granulated sugar
Filling Ingredients:
1 ½ C (275g) very finely chopped yellow onions (about 1 large)
½ C (70g) poppy seeds, plus extra for sprinkling (optional)
½ tsp (3g) table salt
6 Tbsp (85g) melted unsalted butter, margarine, or oil
Mixing the yeast slurry
Whisk together yeast and ¾ C (100g) of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let stand for 10-20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.
Mixing the dough
Whisk 2 eggs, oil, salt, and sugar into the puffed yeast slurry until the eggs are well incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 3 cups (400g) flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until smooth and soft, no more than 10 minutes (the kneading can also be done in a food processor very quickly). The dough should feel smooth and firm and knead easily without sticking to the work surface.
Fermenting the dough
Place the dough in a warm, clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap (the dough can be refrigerated up to 24 hours from this point). Let the dough nearly double in size/bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
While the dough is fermenting/rising
Line a round pizza pan or long baking sheet with foil and oil it generously, or line it with parchment (which needs no oiling).
Mix the filling: Combine the onions, poppy seeds, salt, and melted butter (or margarine or oil) in a bowl. Divide the mixture into two equal portions.
Shaping the ring
When the dough has doubled in bulk, it is ready to shape; do not punch it down. Cut the dough into two pieces. Roll each piece into a 30-inch strand, then, using a rolling pin, roll the strand into a 30-by-4-inch rectangle. Spoon a heaping line of half the filling down the center of the dough. Pull the long edges up over the filling and pinch them together. Arrange the strands side by side seams down. Beginning in the middle, cross one strand over the other, being careful to keep the seams facing down, and continue to cross the strands until you reach their ends. Pinch the ends together. Repeat with the other half of the strands and pinch those ends together. Bring the ends around to form a ring and pinch the ends together.
Carefully pick up the ring, place it seam side down on the prepared pan/sheet, and cover it well with plastic wrap (at this point, the ring can be refrigerated up to 24 hours, then removed to proof).
Proofing the ring
Let the ring rise until very soft and tripled in size, about 1 hour (or up to 2 hours if the dough was refrigerated).
Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange an oven rack in the lower position and preheat the oven to 350 F.
Beat the egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the ring.
Baking the ring
When the ring has tripled and the dough does not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remains indented, brush it with the egg glaze. Sprinkle it with poppy seeds, if desired. Bake for 45-50 minutes until very well browned. After 30 minutes of baking, turn the pan around so the ring browns evenly. Cool on a rack.