Recently I seem to be attracted to breads covered with sesame seeds, I just find those little seed give a great flavour to the bread. The bread I baked on Sunday is no exception. Pane Siciliano is a sesame dusted bread made with a high percentage of semolina flour, plus, as fun factor for the baker :-), it comes in unusual shapes. I've been a few times in Sicilia and although I've often seen bread shaped this way, it always seemed to be made with normal bread flour. Reading the very interesting L'Italia del pane from Slow food I found the bread I baked is quite similar to the so called pane casareccio di Lentini, typical of the province of Siracusa. The bread was a success but not perfect in its looks (my fault, as usual).
Making the bread is quite easy. I took the recipe from a small but information-full Italian book Pane e Roba Dolce from the Simili sisters (also quoted from Carol Field in her The Italian Baker). I slightly modified it, reducing, as usual the yeast, and letting the rises go on a bit longer. For the dough I took 350 g. (11 oz) semolina flour, 150 g. (5 oz) all purpose flour, 300 g. ( about 1/2 pint) water, 1 tsp malt, 2 Tbs olive oil, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp active dried yeast. This got mixed and kneaded as usual, till the gluten was well developed.
I wasn't able to find any semolina flour in Germany (loads of semolina though), although I had been looking for a while so I bought some in Italy over Xmas. Something funny happened as I paid the stuff. The guy at the cash counter looked at me and told me that the flour I was buying was only to make pasta, not bread. I pondered for a while if I should have told him something like "and what will you do if I bake with it? shoot me?" but decided that a ill-disguised grin and a thank you were better.
The dough took about 3 hours to rise after which I divided it in two pieces, each getting rolled into a long thin rope, about 50-60 (20-24 in) cm long and 3 cm thick (slightly over 1 inch). The first piece got shaped as occhi di Santa Lucia, Saint Lucy's eyes: each end gets rolled on itself till the two resulting coils are side to side, a bit like an S. The second was shaped as mafalda: the dough rope is coiled in a zigzag pattern and leaving a piece free that goes across the top (harder to describe as to shape!). Both breads got brushed with water and sprinkled with sesame. They went onto a baking sheet (oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal) and into a big plastic bag to proof. I waited about two hours but I guess that wasn't enough. The breads expanded a lot in the oven cracking a bit on the sides, which as far as I can tell depends on the bread being under-proofed. If you have a more exact idea on what went wrong please tell me, this problem is something I quite often run across when baking bread. The bread took about 35 minutes to bake, 10 at 230C (450F) and the rest at 200C (400F).
This bread has a few things I really like and one major flaw. The flaw is that the crust is quite thin. I like a thick crust. On the other hand the sesame gives it a great flavour. What's really great about pane Siciliano is the crumb: tasty and golden from the semolina flour and "strong" without being too compact. By strong I mean that if you press it (not too hard) it will spring right back. It almost fights back! I know just the panino I'll make with this bread....