I had already decided what to post. It was going to be a delicious boozy rum cake, perfect for the holidays or an orange pickle, made from the peels. I guess those recipes will have to wait for another time. This post is going to be all about one of the most frequently requested recipes (and bread, I might add). It just made sense to put it up on the blog, than to type it out every single time someone requested for it.
I had just about managed to successfully bake a few loaves of white bread and unsuccessfully a few 100% whole wheat bread. I wanted to bake a loaf of bread, the kind you see in photographs, all tall and golden–almost like a mushroom top, when cut, to reveal a perfectly crumbed interior. The kind of loaf that beckons you, and tempts you with visions of bread heaven.
Browsing around, I chanced upon a recipe, which to me sounded very unusual. Instead of the usual bread flour or wheat flour, it used semolina flour. Semolina, I was familiar with. Rava or Sooji as it is commonly called, is extensively used locally, both in sweet and savoury dishes. I always had some on hand to make a quick ‘Upma’ or ‘Kesari’. Semolina flour– not so much. I had once tested the blades of my blender to grind up some of the rava to make Ladoos and promised myself, never again. I looked the pictures of the semolina flour a little more carefully. It did seem sort of grainy to me. So I assured myself that all I needed was to get the finest rava (in terms of size) and I would be baking my first semolina loaf.
The recipe was fairly simple and straight-forward. You just needed to dump all the ingredients together and knead to a supple dough. Doesn’t sound very complicated right? When I did what the recipe asked me to, I was looking at a bowl full of somewhat gritty slurry. “How on earth was this going to turn into that loaf in the picture?” I asked myself. Serious thoughts about photo-shopped pictures crossed my mind. After staring at the bowl for a minute, I did what I normally do when I make Rava Idly. Just covered it and left it alone for about five minutes. What happens in that five minutes is that the semolina slowly absorbs the liquids allowing you to handle the dough better. (You can actually do that for all your breads–allow the flour a few minutes to hydrate. Believe me this makes your kneading job that much easier) If you are the kind using a stand mixer, you could turn off your mixer and wait if you want. If not, don’t worry, it is after all your mixer which is going to do all the extra work. How ever you do the job, the idea is to eventually end up with a somewhat tacky but super supple dough.
The dough might be difficult to handle, especially if you are not used to wet dough. Please try not to add more flour or semolina. If the dough is sticking to your hands when you are shaping the loaf, and you find that you are playing a game of ‘let go of me’, simply wet your hands. The dough does not stick to wet hands. It is as simple as that. A word of caution though–if you keep dipping your hands in water every few seconds, you are going to make the dough even more sloppy. Work quickly and get your loaf in the pan. When you are ready, get the loaf into the oven and wait for the magic to happen.
For the maximum effect, I suggest you turn your back to the oven, clear up your kitchen counter, maybe get rid of that little dough sticking between your fingers and in about ten minutes turn around and take a look at your bread. If you are not amazed, then you got the recipe wrong. My insignificant and hurriedly shaped loaf had risen to such unexpected heights, that the height of the loaf above the pan was as much as the depth of the pan. I had heard of ‘oven spring’, but this was something else. It was almost as if I had unleashed a monster and there was no way I could control it. I just watched unblinkingly, praying fervently, “Lord let it not rise anymore” I did not want to have a loaf stuck to the roof of my oven
Out of the oven I could not wait for it to cool. So far, the bread had exceeded all my expectations. It looked picture perfect but what about the taste. I usually love the end slices of fresh bread. You get a lions share of the crust and a generous bit of the soft crumb. The problem is, my daughter thinks the same way. So usually, there is a scramble to be the one to slice the bread (lucky for me, the bread has two ends). So the bread was sliced at both ends and we both took a bite of the bread. The crunch afforded by the semolina had already won me over. The moist crumb had a mild sweet and an almost nutty after-taste. It had just the right amount of chew and the olive oil added a lovely flavour.
I knew almost at once what I was going to have for dinner. A grilled sandwich it was to be. Tomatoes, just a touch of green pepper, maybe an olive or two, a slice of aged, sharp cheddar and a few basil leaves torn. Now, tell me if you can think of anything better.
Since then, I have made this bread many times, and each time it has never failed to elicit the very same ‘jaw dropping’ response from me. It is a no fuss recipe, no need for a preferment. Start to finish you can have a loaf in few hours. Of course, you might just about lose a wee bit of the complex flavour, but believe me you will not miss it much. For a person who is just starting on their bread journey, this bread is a perfect boost for your ego. And for those, who have just experienced the wrath of the bread Gods, it is soothing balm and restores your faith in your bread making ability.
1 1/2 cups Water
1 tsp Instant Yeast
3 1/4 cups Semolina or Semolina flour ( if you can find it. I used chiroti rava)
1 Tbs Sugar
1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive oil (or any other oil, olive oil adds a lovely flavour)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, semolina flour, sugar, olive oil and salt and stir with a rubber spatula just until a rough dough forms. Easy so far? (This is when you wait for about 5 minutes if you want)
2. Lightly dust the counter with semolina. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and knead it until it is very smooth, shiny, and elastic, This will take about 10 to 12 minutes. If you are using a stand mixer, dump the dough inside, turn it on and just watch for about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container with a lid. Cover and leave to rise until it doubles.
4. Lightly grease a loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2) with oil. (The size of the pan is important if you want to see the bread balloon up. if you use a larger pan, the dough will double, but will be less awe-inspiring)
5. Lightly dust the counter with semolina flour. Uncover the dough and turn it out onto the counter. Form the dough into a loaf.
6. Place the loaf into the pan, seam side down, pressing it gently to fit. Lightly dust the top of the loaf with semolina and cover the pan with plastic wrap.
7. Let the loaf rise until it crowns just above the rim of the pan.
8. Preheat oven to 190C. Place the loaf on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the loaf pulls away from the sides of the pan and the crust is a deep golden brown (35 to 45 mts). Make sure you are around the kitchen to watch the magic unfold
9. Remove loaf from pan. Cool bread completely before slicing. I strongly recommend that you enjoy the end slice by yourself.
A pizza in this post? Yes a pizza! I figured this dough with a wee bit tweaking is perfect for a pizza. I loved the crunch and the chew. How did I make it? That is something for another post. When you are buying semolina make sure that you buy the wheat semolina. There is also a rice semolina that is available. Use that and you can wait and watch, and all you will have at the end, is a crumbly door stopper, much like my first whole wheat bread.