Semolina Bread from Sicily
(Adapted from Piano, Piano, Pieno: Authentic Food From a Tuscan Farm)
As one ventures into the mezzogiorno or southern Italy, bread takes on a golden aspect as if it has spent more time in the sun than its northern cousins. This is especially true in Sicily where much of Italy’s hard durum wheat is grown. Milled into a sunny colored yellow flour called semolina, durum wheat is used to make the dried pasta for which Italy is famous. When mixed into bread dough it produces a beautiful yellow loaf with a sweet, nutty flavor that has wonderful keeping qualities.
In Sicily, yellow bread dough is shaped into fanciful snails and reptilian forms, sprinkled with sesame seeds and frequently baked in wood burning ovens.
Durum wheat is strong and it is easy to overdevelop dough made with it. It is best to under mix and let your dough gain strength during the fermentation.
For the Starter
200 grams semola rimacinata di grano duro*
200 grams tepid water
a pinch of instant yeast
In the work bowl of a stand mixer stir the ingredients together with a spatula until combined. Cover the bowl with a plate and let sit at room temperature overnight.
The next morning add to the starter
500 grams Semola rimacinata di grano duro*
360 grams tepid water
10 grams sea salt
2 grams instant yeast
Knead 5 minutes by hand or on the lowest speed on your mixer fitted with the dough hook, increasing the speed to medium during the final 2 minutes of the mix.
Cover the bowl with a plate and let it sit in a cool corner of the room until doubled in bulk. This should take 2 ½ to 3 hours.
Twice during this period gently degas the dough and give it a gentle turn. To do this, remove the dough from the bowl and gently but firmly stretch it out into a rectangle onto a lightly floured work surface. Be careful not to deflate the dough too much. Gently fold the dough back up, like you might a letter and return to the mixing bowl to rest.
Pre-Shape and Rest
Cut the dough and shape each piece into a tight round and let them rest for 15 minutes.
Final Shaping and Proof
Shape the dough into a simple log or a round. Or for a reptilian shape, make a log about 18 inches long and then roll it into a coil to form a snail or a double snail. You may find it easiest to work with wet hands when shaping this sticky dough.
Spray the dough with water and sprinkle a thick layer of sesame seeds over it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to proof until it slowly returns a finger imprint. The final fermentation takes about 45 minutes.
Using a pair of scissors cut each loaf as illustrated below.
Preheat the oven to 260C/500F.
Slide the parchment onto your peel. If you use a baking stone place the parchment directly on it in the oven. Otherwise, use a baking sheet. Once the loaves are in the oven, immediately turn it down to 230C/450F and bake for 45-50 minutes. Spray the oven with water to create steam 2 or 3 times during the first 10 minutes.
When the bread is done it should sound hollow on the bottom when you tap on it. It should also tell you it’s done – a properly cooked loaf will crackle and pop during the first few minutes it comes out of the oven.