Rosemary Semolina Bread
In any of the thousands of its references in writing from ancient times to present, bread is almost always symbolic of hospitality, tradition, contentment, safety, love, home. Greece to Pakistan to Finland and everywhere between, this humble, common item holds a place of influence and honor. It shows that despite vast cultural and geographical diversity, we are all not so different from one another.
This is an encouraging thought, and has influenced my desire to learn about and experiment with the many types of breads from every corner of the globe. Add to that my appreciation for the catharsis of kneading, rolling and shaping. To me the baking and enjoyment of fresh bread provides great happiness and is a true form of nourishment.
This bread is similar to traditional semolina loaves found in Sicily*, the tiny Italian island just off the tip of the Appenine Peninsula (the boot). The combination of semolina flour with smaller amounts of whole wheat and all-purpose flours, and a healthy portion of extra virgin olive oil, results in a rich taste, delicate crust and tender crumb. The woodsy rosemary (also known to symbolize friendship, fidelity, remembrance) and a sprinkling of coarse salts on top go a long way for taking this beautifully golden bread from familiar to exceptional.
What’s in it for me?
Semolina is a high-gluten flour made by very finely grinding the starchy endosperm portion of durum wheat. Rich in protein, iron and fiber, semolina provides both energy and satiety, and has a more moderate effect on blood sugar levels than white flour due to slower rates of absorption and digestion. Semolina is also a good source of the antioxidant nutrients vitamin E and selenium, heart-smart potassium, phosphorus for tissue repair and nerve function, and magnesium and calcium for strong muscles and bones. It is very low in fat, cholesterol and sodium.
As an ingredient semolina flour imparts a unique texture, subtle but bright color, and a slightly sweet flavor. You’ll most commonly see it used in pasta and gnocchi. Though you may be familiar with it as a warm breakfast cereal similar to farina or Cream of Wheat.
The whole wheat flour provides additional fiber, antioxidant protection, and zinc for immune function and healthy skin. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, while substances found in rosemary may support the immune system, improve circulation and promote good digestion.
Despite its decorative appearance, this bread is not complicated — measuring ingredients, mixing, some punching, rolling and pinching, and then the oven does the rest. If you set to work first thing in the morning, a beautiful rosemary semolina bread can be on your table by noon.
I hope the recipe instructions and step-by-step photos below encourages you to try it for yourself!
I recommend beginning with a thick oven-warmed (or grilled/toasted) slice topped only by a brush of fruity olive oil or a swipe of butter. From there, go forth with any preparation you please. It’s so flipping good — you can’t go wrong.
Tell me… Do you have a favorite bread from another culture? Which would you most like to make at home?
- 1 3/4 cup warm water (110 to 115º F), divided
- 1 Tbs active dry yeast
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
- 2 1/2 cups semolina flour, plus extra for dusting the tray
- 2 tsp fine-grain sea salt
- 1 Tbs sesame seeds, divided
- 1 tsp good-quality coarse-grain sea salt, to finish (optional; see HGN Notes)
- Place 1 1/4 cups warm water in a medium bowl and sprinkle over the yeast; stir and set aside 5 minutes. Once the yeast has bubbled and risen up, whisk briefly, and then add the all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of the wheat flour. Whisk again until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (about 75º F) until bubbly and more than double its original size, about 45 minutes.
- Whisk remaining 1/2 cup warm water, olive oil and rosemary in a large bowl to blend. With a rubber scraper, mix in semolina and 2 tsp salt -- the dough will be very dry and crumbly. Stir in the yeast mixture, then work in 3/4 cup of the remaining wheat flour. Turn dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until smooth -- fairly quick work. Add flour in 1 Tbs increments if the dough is too sticky. Let the dough rest on the counter 5 minutes. Knead again until the dough springs back when pressed with a finger, about 8 minutes.
- Transfer dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl, and turn it all around to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
- Transfer dough back to a lightly floured surface, and flatten into roughly an 18" x 12" rectangle. Starting from the long side, roll tightly to form a log roughly 20" long with a 2 1/2" diameter. With the seam side down, shape the log into a ring, working the ends together to form a ring by pressing and smoothing the two pieces together with your fingers. (It doesn't need to be perfect; just so it holds together.)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. Sprinkle with semolina flour. Transfer the dough carefully to the dusted pan, reshaping as needed. Sprinkle the top with 1 1/2 tsp of the sesame seeds, pressing gently to adhere. Drape dough with plastic wrap, and rest again at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400º F. Remove plastic from dough. If you wish, cut a 1/4-inch-deep slit around the top of the loaf using a very sharp paring knife (a small serrated tomato/bread knife also works well). Using a spray bottle of water to lightly mist the dough (I usually spritz a bit with my fingertips), and sprinkle over remaining 1 1/2 tsp sesame seeds. If desired, top with the 1 tsp coarse sea salt.
- Place the baking tray with dough to a middle rack in the preheated oven. Bake 15 minutes, spraying or spritzing dough lightly with water every 5 minutes. (*This step is not necessary, but helps create a nicer crust.) Continue to bake without spraying until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 30 minutes more.
- Remove the bread and its tray from the oven and place both onto a wire rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour, before slicing (trust me on this) or storing.
- Bread will keep 3 to 5 days in a zip-top plastic bag or container on the counter. For longer storage, slice the bread in half and wrap first with plastic then foil. Freeze the wrapped loaf in a tightly-sealing freezer bag or container up to 1 month. (See HGN Notes for how to use from frozen.)
As noted in the recipe, the finishing salt is optional, but so, so good! On this loaf I used a mix of kosher flake salt + a super special black salt my husband sent from the Dead Sea.
To enjoy from the freezer: Remove the bread from its bag/container and thaw still in its plastic and foil wrapping for 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425º F, and bake 3 to 5 minutes. (Alternatively, thaw the bread completely overnight in its bag/container and wrapping on the counter. This eliminates the need to crank the oven for such a short amount of time.) Slice, and eat as desired!
+ Garlicky RSB: Add 2 tsp finely minced garlic when you add the olive oil and rosemary.
+ Provencal RSB: Instead of fine-grain sea salt and sesame seeds for sprinkling atop the loaf, try Herbes de Provence mixed with a bit of salt, or plain lavender sea salt.
+ Citrus-Herb RSB: Stick with the rosemary or swap for a different herb (see More Ideas below), and add 1 Tbs fresh lemon or orange zest when that goes into the dough with the olive oil.
+ Replace the rosemary in equal amounts with other more robust herbs, such as fresh oregano, marjoram, thyme or sage (or a combination).
+ Herbs like fresh basil, dill, tarragon, chives and chervil are milder in flavor, so if you'd like to use any of these as a substitute for the rosemary, increase the amount to 1 to 1 1/2 Tbs.
*WI friends: This is a close cousin of the incredible Corsica Loaf from Sister Bay’s Door County Bakery.
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