Semolina Bread with Soaker and Fennel Seeds

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Well guys, I tried, I really gave this Jeffrey Hamelman bread  (Mellow Bakers – December)  the full treatment.

I shopped, I bought ingredients, measured water and dough temperatures, weighed to the nearest gram, I mixed according to the times in the book, proved with the timer precisely, cooked at the right temperature….. and you know what, I don’t like this bread.  It’s strange because I am a big fan of fennel seeds strewn over roast vegetables, and I’m dead keen on Dan Lepard’s semolina buns,  so thought this one would be a sure thing.

I rolled and twisted breadsticks with half the dough and formed a nice S-shaped loaf like Cathy’s, because hers looked so pretty.  I took loads of photos to share with you too.

I had proper Italian fine durum flour, organic fennel seeds, coarse cornmeal, millet;  the only thing I couldn’t get was wheat flakes, so I bought spelt flakes which I thought were the closest thing. I left the soaker overnight so it could fully hydrate. I followed the timings exactly for once. Hey ho, can’t win ’em all – I’m mellow with this.

I feel almost as if this recipe is one that was thrown together as a ‘demonstration’ of using a soaker and an alternative flavouring.  Anyway it’s done now, Brian won’t touch it and the dogs ran away from the breadsticks as if I had offered them something very nasty indeed.

Forget the bread, for supper I had that fabulous Ottolenghi dish with the chickpeas, roast butternut squash, spinach and brussel sprout tops  (not chard this time) and the deliriously garlicky-lemon-mint drizzle that goes over the top of the dish which makes the whole glorious bowl come alive and sing in your mouth – tra la!  and I wish I’d taken photos of that. Next time I promise!

It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry as we say in my family, and probably many other people say too.  No more December breads for me, I’m passing on the ciabatta, I need to be calm and collected to tackle flamboyantly wet doughs like that, and I’m not interested in the least in Irish Soda Bread without the right flour to make it with, so I am going to move on now to some Christmas baking!   Cookies to bake, cakes too, here I come….

14 thoughts on “Semolina Bread with Soaker and Fennel Seeds

  1. Natashya

    Well it sure looks pretty! I was planning on doing the S too, after seeing Cathy’s. It’s the way Peter Reinhart shapes his semolina bread.
    So sorry it didn’t please the tastebuds. Can’t love em all I guess!

  2. bagnidilucca

    That bread looks amazing – pity you didn’t like it. I have just made grissini, (and yours make mine look pathetic,) but they tasted just like grissini.

  3. Tutak

    We don’t say life’s rich tapestry in our household, we say ‘life’s rich pastry’.

  4. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    @ Celia and @ Natashaya, I like the S very much. It makes a nice shaped slice too :)

    I never know who is posting from BagnidiLucca, heehee – I thought you said you didn’t bake? I don’t believe your grissini were pathetic one little bit! Is there going to be a post? ;)

    You are right of course Tutak, ‘life’s rich pastry’ is much better! And speaking of pastry, I’m going to have a go at that rough puff stuff one of these days… :D

  5. drfugawe

    I too have had a recent bad experience with semolina flour – but at least yours was a quality product – I bought some from a bulk grocery, and tried to make pasta with it – result was grainy and not a nice mouth feel – did I get inferior flour?

    Hey, I’m interested in your comment about using Brussels sprout leaves – are you pulling off young leaves or old? From producing plants? Does the plant continue to produce sprouts?

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Doc, I have never made pasta, but I will go and try one of these days so I don’t know if you had inferior flour, I know that 00 should be very fine, that’s what the 00 means. Did you buy semolina or flour? The confusion comes with the word semolina which is used in UK English to mean coarsely ground durum wheat with distinct particles and semolina flour or durum flour which is much much finer and feels like the finest of silky sand when you run it through your fingers….I don’t know if the same confusion exists in American English? Celia makes lots of pasta maybe she can advise? See also my response to Az below for a link to an interesting page on Italian flour types ;)

      Brian says you cut the top three inches or so of the plant off, the bit that has a tight bunch of leaves in the middle, and this slows the plant growing up and encourages the sprouts to get bigger below. He says eventually the tops will re-shoot, that’s what his Dad used to do. They do taste wonderful. We don’t grow them, not enough room here.

      1. drfugawe

        Well, over here semolina is an obscure flour – and I’ve only seen “semolina flour” – what I got was very gritty, not fine, and seemed not to develop much gluten in the pasta.

        Your Brussels sprouts comments are interesting – you can buy BS tops in your groceries? Never saw that here – apparently, we don’t value BS greens here – we waste so much of what should be eaten. I’m going to try cutting off the top off a few of my plants this year, but I’d like to see if it stops BS production when done – in the past, if there’s no natural disaster, the BS keep putting out sprouts right up thru spring.

        Last spring, my BS plants decided they wanted to go to seed as the weather warmed, so they began putting out tiny seed heads all over the plants – I snipped them off and got enough for sev meals worth – they were quite delicious, like baby broccoli with a more aggressive flavor.

        Thanks for your comments, you are increasing my knowledge.

        1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

          I would think it would slow them up if not stop them completely. I will ask some blogging acquaintances with alotments and double check. I’ll be back. :)

  6. azélias kitchen

    hi Joanna

    just reading your response to semolina and durum flour…and I fall into the confusion too, not so much about semolina versus durum flour but the whole Italian labeling of flour “00”. I understand the double 0’s means it’s fine but that could also mean fine to other types of flour other than durum couldn’t it? …I’ve read about the description of “00” on a site and that was the impression it gave, that the “1”, “0”, “00” all refers to how fine the flour is but not what type of flour it is…but not sure about this.

    I love the S shape. Bummer about the bread!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Yes, that’s how I understand it too. I found this page and this page from the commercial importer/ distributor of Italian flours in the UK. Their descriptions of the various flours is quite useful for trying to fathom this one out… As far as I know most of these flours are not available to us at home. Waitrose has the organic alimenti one

  7. azélias kitchen

    Just looked up the first link and it seems to confirm that doesn’t it. I found some of the descriptions used not so helpful…but at least it’s clear what “00” stand for…I will be bookmarking those for future reference…handy, thanks for that.

  8. xhoxcwg

    Hi Joanna, I have now found some wheat flakes at my whole food shop so I may try it in January. Do you think it would be better without the fennel seeds?
    Perhaps yours was flimsy and tasteless because of the spelt flakes, which do not give much body, might have over proved because spelt usually works much quicker than wheat, and also seem to hold water more?
    Not sure if the flour pages have made me any the wiser, but will ask when in my Italian shop.
    Who knows!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi Allison, Good on you finding the flakes ! :) You know it wasn’t flimsy or tasteless, it was robust and chewy and the crumb was very tight and spongey. It has a strong toasted fennel taste which you either like in a bread or you don’t. I can’t imagine that those few spelt flakes made much difference to the proving, but anything is possible. It reminds me of some other lowish hydration breads and I suspect the answer is simply to add more water and go with one’s instincts.

      Interesting to contrast this with Dan’s semolina bbq buns, which have an open easy going sort of crumb, but they are made with semolina not semolina flour…. The flour pages didn’t make me any wiser, they just illustrate the point that 00 flour is just the name for a certain grade of milling and covers a wide variety of flours.

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