Italian Semolina Bread
My favorite food to make and eat is a basic, delicious loaf of yeast bread. With a crisp, golden crust and chewy, flavorful interior, this Italian semolina bread follows the most basic methods of bread making to produce a top-rate gourmet bread, perfect with soup. I enjoy it for toast, sandwiches and with any dinner menu.
My grandfather and I share a love for bread making, and he taught me the basic technique in preparing an Italian loaf. Since then, I’ve used tips from Cook’s Illustrated and various cookbooks to adapt the basic recipe to create many different types of bread. Bread making falls into the cooking category of recipes: understand a few basics, and you hardly need a recipe to create amazing bread.
This particular loaf gains character from semolina flour. Also used in my beer pizza dough, semolina comes from durum wheat. It boasts very high protein content, but low levels of gluten. It is the hardest wheat, and gives pasta its strength and chew. Used in bread making, it produces a dense, chewy crumb and yields a complex wheat flavor.
Ensure the yeast proofs well before adding the bread flour and semolina to encourage a good rise. Beat these ingredients together to begin developing gluten. Once the dough peels readily from the bowl and clumps together on the beater, switch to the dough hook. Add the olive oil, salt and enough more bread flour to create a smooth dough, just slightly tacky to the touch.
I let the dough rise in a six quart plastic food storage container where it can ferment, undisturbed for as long as five days in the refrigerator. The longer the dough rises and ferments, the more developed the flavor of the finished bread – I have allowed the dough to stand as long as a week with amazing results.
Before shaping the dough, it should be at room temperature. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide in half. Stretch each portion into a narrow rectangle. Fold the long edges into the middle and pinch them together. Using the side of your hand, press a rut down the seam and tuck the narrow edges into the rut. Fold the long edge into the middle, pinching the edges sealed. Roll the dough over so the seamed edge sits underneath the loaf. Transfer both loaves to parchment paper, spaced at least six inches apart, but not so far apart that they won’t both fit on a pizza stone.
The loaves can be baked on baking sheets, but the high heat of the oven will likely cause them to warp. Baking on a pizza stone encourages a crisp, well developed crust and is my preferred method of baking bread.
Preheat the oven while the loaves rise until puffy. Mist the bread thoroughly several times during the second rise to keep the surface of the dough wet. About ten minutes before transferring them to the oven, slash the surface several times to allow for expansion in the oven. Right before baking the bread, pour a cup of water or two into the bottom of the oven, or throw in a handful of ice cubes. The steam created will produce incredible, artisan bread crust. Some bread makers put a baking dish of water into the oven on a low rack to achieve a similar effect.
Bake the loaves for fifteen to twenty minutes, misting the bread thoroughly every few minutes. Once the bread is just starting to brown and has expanded fully, reduce the temperature of the oven to 350° and allow any remaining steam to escape. Bake the bread, rotating a couple of times, until the crust is dark golden brown. When rapped sharply on the bottom, it will sound hollow when done.
Let the bread cool slightly on wire racks before cutting. Serve warm, with either butter or olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Any leftover bread should be store in a paper bag inside of a plastic produce bag and enjoyed within a day – this delicious bread does not keep long, but makes delicious toast past its prime.
I often make one loaf at a time, keeping the remaining portion of dough refrigerated until ready to use. For an attractive and decorative loaf, brush the surface of the unrisen, shaped dough with a beaten egg and cover the surface liberally with sesame seeds before rising, slashing and baking.
Italian Semolina Bread
This rustic bread is chewy and slightly dense with a thick crust. Semolina flour, used in pasta making, is mixed with high gluten bread flour to produce the amazing flavor and texture. For the first half of baking, make sure the oven is hot and humid to produce the best crust. Roll the unrisen shaped loaf in sesame seeds for a decorative loaf.
2 cups warm water, 100 to 110°
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup semolina flour
3 to 4 cups bread flour, divided
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, sugar and yeast. Allow the yeast to proof until very foamy and well-started, about five to ten minutes.
- Add the semolina and one and a half cups of the bread flour and beat with the paddle attachment, increasing speed to high gradually, until the gluten has developed well and the dough pulls freely from the sides of the bowl in stringy sheets.
- Switch to the dough hook and add one and a half cups of the remaining bread four along with the olive oil and salt. On a slow speed, mix in the dry ingredients and oil before increasing speed to medium high. Knead the dough until the gluten is very well developed, adding more flour as needed. The finished dough should be slightly tacky to the touch and very smooth.
- Let the dough rise in a large bowl or plastic food storage container at least until doubled in bulk or up to five days in the refrigerator.
- To shape loaves, divide the dough in half and gently stretch into narrow rectangles. Fold the long edges to the middle and press down with the side of your hand to seal. Tuck the narrow ends under and fold the long edges into the middle once more, pinching the seam to seal tightly. Turn the loaf over to cover the seam and shape the second portion.
- Let the loaves rise until puffy on parchment paper, about thirty minutes. Mist the dough several times with water to prevent drying and to keep the surface wet. Preheat the oven and a pizza stone to 400°. Once the loaves are risen, slash the surface several times with a sharp knife and let sit five to ten minutes.
- Pour about two cups of water or throw about ten ice cubes into the bottom of the oven, taking care to avoid the element. Mist the loaves thoroughly one more time and transfer them to the preheated pizza stone.
- Bake the loaves for fifteen to twenty minutes in the hot, humid oven, misting the bread thoroughly every three to five minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° and crack the oven door for a couple minutes to allow the steam to escape. Continue baking the bread until the crust is deep golden brown, and the loaf sounds hollow when rapped sharply on the bottom, about twenty to thirty minutes.
- Let the bread cool slightly on a wire rack before slicing.
Yields 2 loaves