Lemons, polenta, semolina. I seem to have a special fondness for yellow-gold foods lately. I once thought I would write an essay or even a book about gold food, but that idea was just a passing fancy.
But since I baked my first golden loaf of semolina bread the other day, I’m sure this addition to my life is here to stay. In fact, the first loaf disappeared so quickly that I mixed up another dough the next day.
I used a slightly-adapted no-knead method developed by Jim Lahey, with half semolina and half bread flour. I really like kneading bread, but I must say that this method, leaving the dough wetter than usual and putting it in a pre-heated Dutch oven, produces a very crisp crust with a tender open texture inside–and it’s hard to beat.
I was astonished that I could make such a wonderful loaf of bread in my own very ordinary kitchen oven.
The only thing about this recipe is that you have to plan ahead. It’s got a long, slow rising, so I usually start it the night before if I want to bake the next afternoon.
So. Here’s how I did it:
1. In the evening, I took out my mixing bowl and put in one-and-a-half cups semolina, one-and-a-half cups of bread flour, 2 scant teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in a large mixing bowl. (The original recipe says to use instant yeast, but I’ve found that regular yeast works fine as well). Then I added one-and-a-half cups plus one tablespoon of water (if you are making this bread with whole wheat flour, add a little more water). It makes kind of a shaggy dough which comes together when you stir.
2. Cover the bowl with a large lid (I use the one from my Dutch oven) or with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter overnight. The recommended rising time is 18 hours– you can get away with a little less (but at least 12 hours); I sometimes let it rise 20 hours or more and it’s fine.
3. The next day, my bread dough looked like the photo above: spread out, with little bubbles indicating that the yeast is working. I sprinkled enough flour on it so I could gather it up into a ball with my hands. Then I let it rest on a wooden board that I’d dusted with flour. I sprinkled more flour on the top of the dough, and covered it with a plain muslin towel.
4. I like to add a step to the original recipe. After 10 minutes of resting, I gently fold the dough over on itself a time or two, then let it rest another 10 minutes.
5. After this, I unfold that muslin towel and scatter on more flour, or cornmeal or bran (sometimes a mixture of each) –this time I just used flour. I set the dough atop the floured towel, sprinkled more flour on top and covered it up with the rest of the towel. Be sure you don’t use terry cloth for this! Now the dough has to rise for another two hours……
6. Meanwhile, about half an hour before I’m ready to put the bread in the oven, I turn the oven on to 450 degrees, and place a Dutch oven pot, along with the lid, inside to heat. No need to grease the dough. (I have a cast iron Dutch oven with a crack in it, which works just fine for this, but you could also use an enameled Dutch oven, such as a Le Creuset. Just be sure you remove the knob or put foil around it to protect it from the heat.)
7. After the bread has risen for two hours (and the pot’s been heated in the oven) I pull out the oven rack with the hot Dutch oven, gently lift the towel with the dough and turn it upside down to slide/dump the dough in seam-side up. This is really the only tricky part of the whole procedure, but as they say, even if it looks like a mess, it’ll be okay. Wearing my oven mitts, I shake the pot a bit to distribute the dough, put the lid on, close the oven, and set the timer for 25 minutes. When the timer rings, I take the lid off the pot (wearing those thick kitchen mitts, of course), close the oven and let it bake another 18 to 20 minutes.
By this time, the bread has developed a nice crispy golden crust — and maybe some attractive cracks on the surface. It comes right out of the Dutch oven–no sticking at all– and I put it on a rack to cool.
Soon I want to try a bread with all-semolina flour. If I lived in Altamura or Matera or most any other town in Italy, I probably wouldn’t bother — but since I don’t, making this bread is certainly vale la pena — worth the effort.