Some say it’s the sauce that makes or breaks a pizza. Others say it’s the cheese or toppings. But to Hannah Wolfman-Arent, it’s all about the bread. The 30 year old is a professional baker and a manager at Sonny’s Pizza.
She grew up in Washington and moved back to the area recently after a stint in New Orleans. In her spare time she leads virtual cooking classes through organizations, including Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, and attends programs hosted by the New Synagogue Project.
So what attracted you to baking?
It was the purest form of joy to me and that was an important part of my personal journey in finding what would be a good thing to do with my time. I love feeding people. I love feeding large groups of people. And I like working with my hands. I think, for baking specifically, what I really love about that is I think it gets a little bit of a bad rap where people think it’s just a science [where] you follow everything exactly. What I love about baking is there’s a structure to it, but there’s so much opportunity to be creative within it and experiment and try new things. And that is like the perfect combination for me.
Are there any baked goods that you specialize in?
I specialize in bagels, and artisan and crusty bread. And I have a lot of pizza experience.
I’m glad you brought that up, because I wanted to ask if you had any tips or tricks for pizza making.
Anyone who can make really good bread can make really good pizza. Like they’re very much the same. I think pizza makers definitely think of themselves as bread bakers. But I would say the tip I would give is be patient, like let your dough take up time to develop flavor. So opt for the recipes where it’s actually going to take a long time. The other thing is simplicity goes a long way with pizza. It’s really fun to like to try different types of toppings and this and that. But simple ingredients, once they’re married with like a really good crust, again, it’s all about the bread for me, will be like the best product in my opinion.
How do you identify with your Jewish identity?
I’ve always been really interested in my Jewish identity. As a young person, I did Avodah [the Jewish service corps] when I left college. In New Orleans, I co-founded our chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. And in that community, I found probably my most joyful and informative experiences.
We spent a lot of time having spiritual practice together, celebrating Shabbat, putting on really beautiful rituals for different holidays. And, feeding people is a big part of that for me and for the group, too. So a lot of the lessons I’ve learned in organizing, about collective decision making, collective power, collective liberation, they’re very influential in how I make business decisions and how I choose to present food and relate to it.
Earlier you mentioned relating Judaism to food. I was wondering if you could expand on that. Are there any Jewish foods that you really connect with?
I’m an Ashkenazi Jew. And so I grew up with a lot of the foods that popularly are associated with American Jewish food. So I grew up eating bagels and rye bread and challah. And I’ve spent a long time perfecting those recipes over the years out of personal interest.
Those are some of the recipes that I’ve taught in my online classes. And they’re definitely some of my most popular. Bagels is mostly what people request to do for private classes. People love those foods. And then, on a personal level, I’m really interested in exploring more other foods that get forgotten, the Ashkenazi foods and other Jewish foods that don’t get as much playtime on Instagram or Facebook or haven’t gotten as popular. Like a lot of really great fermented foods that I’m interested in exploring more. So I feel like I’m in a Jewish food journey.