The new year began with a beautiful bread on the We Knead Bake group. The first bread for 2015 was Pane Siciliano, a semolina bread from Italy. It was exciting for me because there were new elements (for me) involved in this recipe - I'd never made a bread with semolina, and I'd never made a pre-ferment before. What a great way to start the new year - with a chance to broaden my bread making horizons.
The recipe is an easy one but the process takes some time. Ideally you should do it over two days giving the poolish, or in this case, the crescuita, time to develop properly overnight. The Pane Siciliano is traditionally shaped into the Mafalda (snake) or the Occhi di Santa Lucia (Eyes of Santa Lucia). I went with the Mafalda. The resultant loaf wouldn't be winning any prizes in the looks department but this was one delicious bread! And whatever reservations I had about making a bread with semolina simply evaporated as soon as I cut the first slice.
I started the crescuita in the late morning and by the time my dough was ready to prove for the final time it was already a little late. I didn't want to stay up baking till late in the night so I tucked it into the fridge and baked it in time for breakfast the next morning. (in fact, that was another first for me, I think!).
This is Aparna's recipe for the Pane Siciliano which I followed with a couple of minor variations.
For the Crescuita (pre ferment)
1/4 cup warmed water
1/2 tsp Instant Yeast
1/4 cup plain flour
To make the crescuita simple dissolve the yeast in the warmed water. Once it froths stir in the flour and dissolve gently with a fork or whisk. Cover the bowl with a loose lid or napkin and leave it to ferment overnight. If you've forgotten to do this the night before simply start it as early as you can and let it sit for at least 4 to 6 hours. Mine was left for around 6 hours.
For the Dough
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tsp honey
2 to 2 1/2 cups barik sooji or fine semolina, ground fine
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame seeds
water for brushing
Once again, bloom the yeast. Dissolve the honey in the warm water and add the yeast in. Wait for it to froth. Though I use instant yeast I still like to bloom it just to ensure it is still active. Do this in a large mixing bowl so you have fewer things to wash once you're done.
Once the yeast solution has frothed add 2 cups of the ground semolina and mix well to form your dough. Add the olive oil and the salt with the semolina flour. You will start with a thick batter like consistency. Now keep adding the remaining semolina flour and knead/mix till you have a nice soft dough. I did this in the stand mixer. The final dough should be 'just short of sticky'.
Form into a ball and leave it to rise in a well oiled bowl covered with a damp tea towel. The dough should double in volume and this will take anything from an hour and a half to two hours.
Prepare your baking pan while you're waiting. All you need is the baking sheet/pan and some baking parchment. Cut a large piece of the paper, enough to cover the pan, and you're ready. Place the paper on the pan and spread it to cover the entire surface. You will be placing the ready loaf on this before popping it in to bake.
Once doubled, punch it down gently and take it out onto your work surface to shape into the Mafalda. I like to lightly dust the surface with flour so the dough doesn't stick. Knead the dough very lightly for a bare minute and then roll it into a long rope/cylinder. You will need it to be at least two and a half feet long so you can shape a proper snake with enough coils and enough tail to place on the coils.
Shape the mafalda and then leave it to rise for another couple of hours or until double. I did this stage overnight in the fridge. I covered the bread with a damp towel again to prevent it from dehydrating in the fridge - a hazard of our frost free refrigerators.
Brush the risen loaf with water and sprinkle sesame seeds all over the surface. Pat gently and make them stick.
Preheat the oven at 190C. Set a tray upside down in the oven and let it heat up with the oven. Once ready place your tray with the Pane Siciliano on top of the hot tray. Bake the bread for around 30 minutes till the crust turns brown.
Cool the loaf completely before you slice it. Enjoy your Pane Siciliano! We had ours with butter, cheese spread and even jam.