Makes 1 large loaf
I owe my love of this bread to Sicilian bread maker Carmelo di Martino, who makes it weekly in his old wooden madio. Carmelo mixes a starter dough, the cresciuta, with semolina flour and water, then kneads the dough with his fists for close to 30 minutes to achieve an elegant smoothness. Then he free-forms it into round loaves to rise. A benneton (reed basket) can also be used to shape the dough before turning it out onto a hot baking stone or a cookie sheet for baking. This bread freezes very well. Start the cresciuta early on the day you plan to bake the bread, or make it the day before.
1/2 cup (110° to 115°F) water
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
1 large cake fresh yeast (1 ounce) or 4 packages active dry yeast
3 cups warm (110° to 115°F) water
Prepared Cresciuta (above)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 1/2 to 6 3/4 cups fine durum semolina flour
Cornmeal for sprinkling
Filippo Berio olive oil for brushing
1/3 cup sesame seeds
To make the cresciuta, in a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Let it proof for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in the flour, cover the bowl, and let the mixture sit in a warm place for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 2 cups of the warm water. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes, or until foamy.
Stir the remaining 1 cup water and the cresciuta into the yeast, blending well. Add 5 cups of the semolina flour and the salt to the yeast and mix with your hands until a ball of dough is formed, adding additional flour as needed until the dough is no longer too sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it with closed fists for about 20 minutes.
Form the dough into a round and place it on a peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until doubled in size. Or place the dough in a 10 by 4-inch banneton (bread basket), cover, and let rise.
Preheat the oven to 425°F, and place a baking stone on the bottom rack to preheat for at least 30 minutes.
Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Sprinkle the baking stone with cornmeal and slide the loaf from the peel onto the baking stone. Or, if using a basket, carefully turn the bread out onto the peel. Brush the top with olive oil, sprinkle on the sesame seeds, and slide the bread onto the baking stone. Bake the bread for about 35 minutes, or until nicely browned and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. Let the bread cool on a rack before slicing.
Note: To bake the bread using a cookie sheet, follow the instructions through step 3, then shape the dough into a round or oval loaf and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet to rise. Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool the bread on a wire rack before slicing.
This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1995.
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