After my bagel experiment I was determined to acquire yeast for baking. And boy did I acquire it! We found a restaurant in town that was selling 1 pound bags of SAF instant yeast so we bought one. Needless to say, I'll be doing a bit of baking over the next few weeks.
It seems that the instant yeast is easier to find that the packets of active dry yeast. If a recipe calls active dry yeast, I sub out the same amount of the instant yeast. The difference is that you don't need to bloom the instant yeast first, meaning that you don't need to add warm water or liquid to the yeast to activate it, you can just add it to the flour.
As with the bagels that I made a few weeks ago, I am feeling the need to make comforting foods that I grew up with. That brought me to my next experiment which was the Italian Sesame Seed bread. This was a staple in our house growing up. We would pick it up at bakeries in New York or the local chain grocery store near us in Connecticut which had an excellent rendition of this tasty loaf. Alas, I haven't found a good substitute out here. The sourdough in the bay area almost makes up for the void left by this loaf but I'll save that for another week...
I was very happy to find out that this loaf is not only delicious, but one of the easiest yeast breads that I have ever made. Here's the recipe that I used:
Italian Semolina Bread with Sesame Seeds*
Yield: 1 braided 1 1/2 lb. loaf
1 cup semolina flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup bread or 00 flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water, about 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit
2 tablespoons lightly beaten egg white
3 tablespoons raw Sesame seeds
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the semolina flour, the bread or 00 flour, the all-purpose flour, salt and yeast. Turn on the mixer to lowest speed for 20-30 seconds to combine. Add the water and turn the mixer on again and mixer until the dough starts to come together, about 1-2 minutes. The dough will be something of a shaggy mass at this point but as long as all the flour is incorporated, that’s fine.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise on the counter overnight, at least 10 hours and up to 20 hours. The dough should double in bulk and have tiny bubbles on top at this point.
Sprinkle your work surface with about ¼ cup of semolina flour. Gently pull the dough from the bowl and knead just until you form a somewhat smooth ball of dough. This should only take a minute or two. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces with a pastry cutter or knife. Roll each piece of dough into a 12” rope and lay them next to each other. Braid the ropes together starting in the middle; take the rope on the right side and cross it over the middle rope so that it now is in the middle. Take the rope of dough on the left and cross it over the middle rope. Repeat to the end and then pinch the dough together and fold under the loaf. Repeat on the other side. Cover the loaf when done and let rise for an hour until risen about 50%.
While the dough is rising, move a rack to the middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the rack in the oven to heat up. If you don’t have a stone, place a cast iron pan with high sides or a large ceramic baking vessel or a dutch oven that can withstand the high heat in the preheating oven to heat up.
When the bread has risen, brush the top and sides with egg white and sprinkle evenly with the sesame seeds.
Gently move the bread to the pizza stone or the baking vessel that you’re using being careful not to burn yourself. If using a pizza stone, cover the bread with an inverted pot that can withstand the heat. If using another baking vessel, cover with a top that does not touch the bread.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid or whatever is covering your bread and bake for another 15 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and move loaf from the stone or pan to a rack. Let cool for about 10-15 minutes.
Find some butter or good olive oil and have at it.
*Inspired by: Editors, LC. “No-Knead Italian Bread.” Leite's Culinaria, 29 Feb. 2020, leitesculinaria.com/110773/recipes-no-knead-italian-bread.html.