On the 13th of December every year, feasts are held in Sicily and around the world celebrating the bravery of Santa Lucia. One way is by baking a special bread which is known as Pan Siciliano. What is different about this bread is that it is made with semolina (what we know in India as rava/ sooji). In Sicily (and Italy), the semolina used for this bread is a specific grind of durum wheat called “semola di grano duro rimacinato” or just “rimacinato”, which translates as 'ground again'. This refers to semolina which is ground once more to break the coarser grain into finer flour for bread.
The Pane Siciliano is generally shaped into one of two shapes – the “Occhi di Santa Lucia” meaning the “Eyes of St.Lucia” or the “Mafalda” meaning “Snake”. I chose to make the “Mafalda” as I had earlier baked St. Lucia rolls in the “occhi” shape, and I had never tried shaping my bread into a snake!
Pane Siciliano (Sicilian Sesame Seeded Semolina Bread)(Adapted from Ciao Italia)Ingredients:
For the Cresciuta (Biga/ Pate Fermentee):1/4 cup lukewarm water1/4 tsp active dry yeast1/4 cup all-purpose flourFor the Dough:1/2 tsp active dry yeast1 cup lukewarm water (110° to 115°F)2 tsp honeyAll the prepared Cresciuta2 to 2 1/2 cups fine semolina or durum semolina flour1/2 tsp vital wheat gluten1 tsp salt1 tbsp olive oilA little water for brushing on the bread1/8 cup sesame seeds
Method:First make the Cresciuta. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a small bowl and stand it aside for about 10 minutes till it is frothy. Stir in the flour with a fork and loosely cover the bowl. This mixture should be a little wet/ stringy. Leave it in a slightly warm place for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.The next morning, mix the dough for the bread. In a large bowl (or the bowl of your processor), dissolve the yeast in the warm water mixed with the honey. Let it stand for 10 minutes till it is frothy.Add the cresciuta and mix well. Mix together 2 cups of the semolina, gluten and salt and add it to the bowl with the olive oil. Mix well and then add as much more semolina as is necessary until you have a smooth ball of dough.Stir the cresciuta into the yeast and water mixture and blend well. Add 2 cups of the semolina flour, wheat gluten and the salt and mix until a pancake like batter forms. Add additional flour a little at a time and knead well until you have a soft and smooth ball of dough that is just short of sticky.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn it to coat well, then loosely cover and let the dough rise till about double in volume. This should take about 1 1/2 hours.Deflate the dough, and then roll it out into a “rope” that is about 30” long. Place baking parchment on your baking tray, grease it lightly, and then gently lift up the rope of dough and place it on the baking tray.Curl the dough back and forth on itself leaving a 6 or 7 inch tail. Roll the tail a little thinner than the rest of the body so that it looks like it’s tapering off. Fold the tail over the shaped loaf. Do not tuck it under the loaf. If you’re making the “occhi”, then shape the rope accordingly.
Loosely cover and let the shaped dough rise for 2 hours till almost double in size. Lightly brush the top of the dough with water and then sprinkle the sesame seeds over this pressing them in lightly with your fingers.Pre-heat your oven to 190C (375F) with a baking tray placed upside down in it. Place your baking tray with the dough on the hot tray and bake for about 30 minutes until the bread is brown and done, and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.Cool on a rack completely before slicing.This recipe makes one medium sized loaf.