Gisou, the sweet bread of my childhood
Let us talk about Gisou bread.
Gisou bread is basically a Challah bread. Or at least that is what it was centuries ago when it was introduced to the Persian people by Jewish settlers. Considering how delicious and versatile Challah bread is, it is easy to see how this bread made its was into the cuisine of Persia, and hence the cuisine of Iran. “Gees” is an old name for women’s long hair, and so the word “Gisou”, refers to the shape of the bread, which is braided, like women’s hair.
In modern day Iran, you can buy Gisou bread from any specialty bakery in the country. And depending on where you get it, the bread will have its own flavor and personality.
After having figured out Barbari bread, the next item I focused on from my childhood bread memories was Gisou. I remembered so many times when my mom or dad would come home after having visited Shafagh Bakery (a specialty bakery near our home), and my sister and I would immediately find the loaf of Gisou they bought and devour half of it before they could put the bread away. Or the mornings when we had it for breakfast, slathered in butter and honey, with a cup of tea.
When I started playing around with a recipe for it, I kept thinking about the butter and the honey. Yes, the bread itself was great, but when topped with butter and honey, it made it so much better. So, I figured, why not just add the butter and honey to the recipe. So, I swapped the sugar for some Raw Orange blossom honey and added butter to soften the dough. And to add a little extra touch of “Persian”, a small amount of Orange blossom water, to compliment the honey.
I do not remember how many tries it took me to finalize it. As seasoned bakers can tell you, switching sugar for Honey is not as easy as it sounds, with one being pure granulated sugar, and the other an invert sugar with acidic qualities, Honey can absolutely change the texture and feel of the final product. And so, it took many tries to find the right balance. I do remember the day that I got it right. It was a Wednesday, and I was supposed to meet my friend Katy at the Santa Monica Farmers market. I had gotten up early that morning to bake the bread before I head out. When it came out of the oven, beautifully golden and filling the room with the scent of honey and Orange blossom, I was overjoyed. I took the bread with me to the market and handed it over to Katy, who spent the next half hour simultaneously tearing pieces for herself to eat and handing it out to farmers and customers around us. Her enthusiasm that day, made it completely worth all the work.
So Gisou was added to the bread roster, and now has quite the fan base within Kouzeh’s customers.
And I still eat my Gisou bread slathered in butter and Honey with a cup of tea. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.