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100_1682In the past few weeks I  somehow located a couple of indispensable   ingredients to emulate  a fantastic batch of Corona de Pane Siciliana, yesterday:  ‘The Crown’, a typical Sicilian bread.  The ingredients in question?   A finely milled Semolina flour, officially designated  with ‘Tipo 00′, which is a hard wheat (high gluten) popular in Italian kitchens- including pasta production- but most especially for bread-making in Sicily.  Sometimes referred to as ‘Double Zero’ in English – governed under state agricultural standards – similar to an appellation.  And then- unbleached bread flour?- there are always happy surprises in this world.  This is one of them.

I finally found my 2.2# bag of Double Zero at Cossetta’s in St. Paul for $4.36.  The price is a bit steep for the weight, but I estimated that I can make eight loaves of excellent bread, saving about $40-45 at the cash register.  A commercial loaf of Semolina bread in Minneapolis last week was $4.99-5.99.  Mine cost about $1 of ingredients

The second ingredient I discovered was Gold Medal’s UNBLEACHED bread flour ($3.89 at Rainbow Foods, Uptown).  I have used and have loved bread flour over the years, because it does makes a discernible difference in raised breads.  But I tended not to use it because it is hard to find organic, or at the very least unbleached.   I will be going back to this product often, because I have tended to make a lot of my own bread for the past 35 years- plus, this unbleached flour gave a richer color -and I believe superior flavor- to the final loaf.  Together, these two ingredients alone contributed to a baking of Italian style bread that I could not  have imagined coming out of my oven.

Some other elements helped to make this successful:  Malt powder, fresh (compressed) yeast, a wooden bread peel and baking stone.  Also, this bread only has a first and second rising; no third rising!  However, if you administer a redundant 2nd rising, this bread turns out to be very forgiving. 🙂  In jazz there are no mistakes, there are only opportunities.

Here’s the basic recipe, which I adjusted only merely from The Italian Baker, by Carol Field ( 1985, Harper & Row)

2-1/2 tsp active dry yeast or 2/3 oz (18 grams) fresh yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1 Tbsp olive oil

1-1/2 tsp malt powder (I used Carnation Instant Malted Milk), plus 1/2 tsp sugar

1 cup water, room temperature

about 2-1/2 cups fine semolina flour (tipo 00, or double zero)

1 cup plus 1 Tbsp unbleached bread flour

2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sesame seed (use raw white sesame seed)

I used a counter-top mixer (Kitchen Aid) with a kneading hook attachment, and it worked beautifully.  In the mixing bowl, crumble the fresh  (or dried) yeast into the warm water and add the malt powder & sugar.  Add the remaining cup of room temperature water, and let sit for 10 minutes until the yeast has proofed.  Add olive oil to the yeast & water.

After you know the yeast has started working, combine your flours, and slowly begin to incorporate at medium low speed in your mixer.  When all the flour is in, increase speed to medium and slowly add salt, and knead with the dough hook until it yields an admirable, satiny, soft, sturdy dough.  This took only about 5 minutes with my machine.  Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl, and allow to rise for approximately 1-1/2 hours.

Punch down and knead the dough very slightly and allow to rest, covered, for 5 minutes.  Now it is time to shape your loaves.  Now you can form Mafalda, Corona, or Occhi di Santa Lucia.  Here is how to make the Corona.  Divide the dough in half, and pat out each roughly into the shape of a rectangle- I think mine were about 4″ X 8″.  Now take your bench knife (or a regular knife) and tri-sect the rectangle, cutting the dough about 1/3 of the way toward the center.  Spread slightly apart, so that it resembles a three-toed bear claw pastry.  making Sicilian Bread again :)

I sprinkled my work-surface with a scattering of sesame seeds and placed the loaves on them.  Then lightly mist the top of the loaves with water and cover well with the remaining 1/4 cup of sesame.  I used a baking peel, sprinkled with a good dusting of regular semolina flour (or cornmeal) – so I put my loaves on the peel, covered it with plastic wrap, and covered that with a light kitchen towel.  If you are baking them on a baking sheet, instead of a baking stone, then place your bread directly on the baking sheet, which has been sprinkled with semolina (or cornmeal).  Allow to rise for 1-1/2 hours, or until double.

Preheat your oven to 425F for 20 minutes, with or without a baking stone, mist your bread with water & place  in the oven, misting them with water every 3 minutes thereafter, for the first 10 minutes.  Lower heat to 400F and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes.  Cool on baking rack, and wait until the bread is completely cool before slicing.


click on any photo to enlarge.

N.B.  The original recipe calls for malt syrup, which I didn’t possess for this baking… so I punted.  I will shop soon at a home-brewers shop to source this uncommon ingredient.  I think of malt syrup as a softer, rich, complex ingredient, as opposed to the plain, hard sweetness of cane sucrose.


Last year I went on an expedition with Citty Katt to an estate sale in Minneapolis, at a grand old brownstone house near the Art Institute.  It was there I found a book entitled, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field- and it’s a really great guide.

Here is a good recipe for a typical bread from Sicily, and it makes a very enjoyable  loaf, which is made with durum or very fine semolina flour.  You can shape the bread one of 3 standard ways – the Mafalda (like a curled snake with a baton laid across the top); a scaletta (ladder); or a Corona (crown).

I made a couple of substitutions to make this today – using part milk as liquid, as well as butter instead of olive oil – and I reduced the salt by half, which I think is still plenty salty.

But here are the ingredients as they appear in Ms. Field’s book (makes 2 loaves):

2-1/2 tsp dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1 T olive oil

1 tsp malt syrup

1 cup water, room temperature

~ 2-1/2 cups (350 grams) durum flour or very fine semolina for pasta

1 cup plus 1 T (150 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2-3 tsp salt

1/4 cup sesame seeds.

Proof the yeast in the warm water for 10 minutes before whisking in oil, sweetening and 1 cup water.  (For reference, the author said to pulverize the semolina flour in a food processor until it is silky, if you use American semolina, which is coarser than its Italian counterpart – I did that and it worked just fine).  Mix the flours together and add 1 cup at a time along with the salt, beating vigorously, and when it is ready to knead, put your heart into it.  Semolina is a hard wheat with a very high gluten content, which makes it ideal for breadmaking.

Allow to rise for about 1-1/2 hours before punching down and shaping into loaves.  For my Mafalda, I shaped the dough into a long rope, probably 2+ feet long, and formed it directly on the baking pan, which was lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.   I misted some water over the top, followed by sesame seeds- which are very characteristic in Sicilian breads.

This will be one more rising of 1 to 1-1/2 hours.   In a 425F oven mist some water when you place the loaves in the center rack.  In the first 10 minutes, spray additional water in a total of 3 times, before reducing the heat to 400.  Continue baking for another 25 minutes or so before cooling on racks.

reach into the cookie jar above for the recipe I use!

Biscotti started to become better known in the US  outside of all the Little Italys everywhere about 15-20  years ago, although they quickly transformed into oversized affairs covered in thick sweet icings and chocolate, with a hundred different additions ranging from raspberries and white chocolate, to chocolate chips  and craisins (dried sweetened cranberries).

Everyone has their own preferences, but I tend to like mine simple and traditional – some almond or anise extract, either of which is a very traditional flavoring.  Sometimes with whole almonds or hazelnuts, and maybe one side of the finished cookie finished with a little chocolate:  That is my idea of a good time , with a cup of coffee.  After all, they are twice-baked and benefit from a dip in something wet so you don’t break your teeth on them!   So dip them in a little coffee, or wine or sherry (I don’t drink alcohol myself, but this is also a combination in the afternoon or early evening enjoyed by a lot of people around the world).  One reader from a Sicilian family says they had a soft biscotti when he was growing up!

Because this version is twice-baked (like mandelbrot or rusk) they are easier to digest, the carbohydrates having been broken down by the toasting process in the second baking.  They do traditionally have sugar and fat- including eggs- so they do also have some richness.  The anise (in the form of liquid extract or actual anise or caraway seed) points to the relative antiquity of the recipe, and to the fact that at one point they might have been intended to be an aid to digestion- as well as keeping bugs away from them, since they store well for long periods of time.  But anise also gives them a distinctive flavor that people familiar with European patisserie will recognize.   There are lost-flavors in cooking today that it would be nice to see make a comeback- rosewater, jasmine, angelica are a few others that can be found in recipes ranging from baklava to petit fours.

I’ll post the recipe I use shortly, but thought I’d put it up on the blog, because holidays are coming up and people LOVE to give and receive biscotti as gifts.  There is something special and festive about them, and while they take a little time to make, they are not intimidating to make, especially after you’ve made them once or twice.  And they are versatile- try making them with walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios (all very traditional as well)- and of course, dip them, coat them and lace them with dark, milk or white chocolate if you are a chocoholic.  There really isn’t a lot of limitation to what you can do with a standard biscotti recipe, and you can probably find some new recipe or combination to experiment with every week for a year without repeating yourself.

Mix the dough and shape it into flattish logs and bake  for about 15-20 minutes in a medium oven (about 375F) and while they’re still warm, slice them with a serrated knife.  Lay the cut biscotti out on a baking sheet and subject them to further baking, until they are golden brown and fragrant.  After they’ve cooled you can decorate them…or keep it simple and leave them unadorned.