If you’ve ever been in an Italian bakery and seen rustic loafs of bread covered in sesame seeds, you might have thought to yourself, “Huh. Now there’s some bread covered in sesame seeds.”
Little did you know that that bread is most likely semolina bread. It’s made from a completely different kind of flour than normal bread. In fact, it’s made from the same flour that’s traditionally used to make pasta.
The resulting loaf has a really dense, chewy texture that makes it perfect for serving up with a good butter. Seriously, you need nothing else to have a good snack. A few slices of this bread and some real butter and you’re in for a treat.
Unfortunately, you don’t see too much semolina bread in bakeries these days, so you’ll just have to make it!
1) Stir together yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes and stir again to ensure yeast is well dissolved.
2) Add semolina flour to bowl and salt. Stir well to combine.
3) Add one cup of bread flour and mix to form a rough ball of dough. Turn this out onto a lightly floured surface.
4) Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 10 minutes, sprinkling on more flour if the dough gets sticky. After ten minutes, the dough should be smooth and soft.
5) Move the dough to a bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn the dough to coat well with oil. Cover with a towel and let rise until it triples in size, probably 3 hours.
6) Punch the dough down, knead for another minute, and return to bowl to rise until it doubles, probably another 45 minutes.
7) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down, and roll it into a rectangle about 18 inches high and 12 inches wide. Fold left 1/3 in and then right 1/3 over the top to form a cylinder. Form it into a smooth loaf.
8) Sprinkle a baking sheet with a good layer of corn meal. Add loaf to baking sheet seam side down. Let rise for 30 minutes.
9) Brush loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
10) Preheat at 425, put dough in the oven, then turn temp down to 380. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until dough is a very golden brown and is hollow when thumped.
11) Let cool for 30 minutes at least before slicing.
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.
Starting the dough
This is a really standard, basic dough to make. The only trick is that you substitute a good amount of bread flour for semolina flour which makes the dough a bit harder to work with.
Start by adding your water and yeast to a large mixing bowl. Stir this together and let it sit for a few minutes until the yeast dissolves completely. You’re looking for kind of a yeast slurry.
Then add your salt and semolina flour to the mix. Note that you could do this all in a stand mixer, but I decided to make this loaf by hand just for kicks.
When you stir in your semolina flour, it’ll look like scrambled eggs. You could play a very mean trick on someone at this point or just continue with the recipe.
Next, add a cup of bread flour to the dough and stir it until it forms a rough ball. If it’s really dry, add a bit more water and if it’s really sticky then sprinkle on some more flour.
Roll this out onto a lightly floured surface. It should be pretty firm at this point.
The key to working with semolina is to let it relax and absorb some of the water before working with it. So, let the dough rest for about 5-10 minutes before trying to knead it. Then it should be a lot easier to work with.
Knead this dough for about 10 minutes until it’s very elastic and really smooth and soft. If the dough gets sticky at any point, sprinkle with more flour. You might need to add another 1/2 Cup or so throughout the kneading process.
After a few minutes though you should have a very smooth dough ball.
Add this to a large bowl and coat it well with olive oil. Cover it with a towel and let it rise until it triples in size.
Depending on your temperature and environment this might take a while. It took my dough about 3 hours to get to the right size.
Take the dough out of the bowl, punch it down, knead it for another minute or so, then return it to the bowl and drizzle it with more olive oil. Let it rise a second time until it doubles in size. It’ll rise a lot faster the second time. It’ll probably take only 45 minutes to an hour to get there.
Making the loaf
You could shape this loaf into almost any shape you wanted at this point, or even bake it in a loaf pan. I went for a kind of rustic loaf shape.
I started by punching down my dough and then rolling it into a rough rectangle, about 18 inches high by 12 inches wide.
Then fold over one side of the rectangle until it’s 2/3s of the way in.
Then fold the right half over the left half and flip it over the seam is on the bottom. Kind of tuck the edges in so you have a nice smooth loaf.
I was pretty happy with this.
Getting ready to bake
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and sprinkle a baking sheet with a good amount of cornmeal. Add your loaf to the baking sheet and let it rise a third time for about 30 minutes. It shouldn’t double in size, but it should puff a bit.
Then whisk together your egg with a bit of water and brush the entire loaf with the egg wash mixture. If you’re using sesame seeds, sprinkle the whole loaf heavily with them.
As a final touch, use a sharp serrated knife to slice some narrow diagonal slits in the loaf.
Slide your loaf into the oven and turn the temperature down to 375. Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes until it’s golden brown and is hollow when you thump it.
Let it cool for at least 30 minutes on a rack before trying to cut into it.
It turned out to be a very pretty loaf in my opinion!
The texture on this loaf is like no other I’ve had. It’s pretty dense and chewy which I really liked. It makes out of this world toast and I imagine, although I haven’t tried it yet, french toast.
If you’re getting sick of your normal loaf, give this a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!