Sicilian-inspired Bread

The beauty of living and working in the cultural melting pot that is London, is that you get chatting with people from all over the world – and I love to ask what food reminds them of home. Their favourite local dishes never fail to inspire me to attempt something similar at home; and after a recent chat with Sicilian workmates, I decided to have a go at a simple Sicilian bread. These Italians were quite emphatic – although slightly vague – in their description; the bread must be semolina-golden, distinctively salty and finished with sesame seeds.  After a little bit of research I have come up with my own slightly inauthentic take on it, one that suits the way I always make bread. Traditional bread in Sicily is often shaped into a sort of wiggly, serpent-like ‘S’ shape; however I just made a funny kind of bloomer here – and you could just as easily chuck this in a 1kg loaf tin if you wanted to. The result is a pleasingly sunny-looking loaf with a delicious, nutty crispness from the sesame seeds. It is particularly great when toasted – making this a popular breakfast bread in Sicily.

300g strong white bread flour
200g fine semolina (semolina flour)
2 tsp fast action yeast
10g salt
3 tbsp olive oil
275ml room temperature water
3-4 tbsp sesame seeds
A little sea salt for sprinkling

You’ll need a large heavy baking sheet or tin for a free-form loaf, or a 1kg loaf tin.

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In a large mixing bowl (preferably one that’s going to sit under a dough hook for a while!) measure the flour, semolina, yeast, salt and olive oil. Try to put the salt on one side and the yeast on the other – too early contact can cause the salt to kill the yeast. Pour in the water and lightly combine with a spatula or get your hands in there. If it seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of water, but don’t overdo it. Once you’ve roughly brought all the ingredients together, you can either tip it out and knead by hand, or pop it under a dough hook for about 6-8 minutes, until silky smooth.

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Place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to double in size. I leave it at normal room temperature – about 20c – 22c – for about 2 hours.

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Thoroughly dust your baking sheet or tin and lightly knead the dough again, just to knock the air out. You can shape it like a bloomer (tuck the sides underneath so that it looks smooth) or make it round in shape or any other style you like. Place onto the floured baking sheet, or just pop it into a well-oiled 1kg loaf tin.

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Cover with a tea towel or place in a plastic bag – try not to let either actually touch the dough – and leave to double in size again for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 220c / 425 / gas mark 7.

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Lightly brush the loaf all over with lukewarm water and sprinkle sesame seeds all over. Slash a few times with a knife (I did not do this deep enough – as you can see from the pictures!) and place in the centre of the preheated oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the loaf is a deep golden brown. (It will sound hollow when you tap the bottom). Leave to cool thoroughly on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with a little extra sea salt as desired.

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