Did I say I wasn't a baker? Ahem.
Braided Semolina Bread
from my dear Rebecca (Foodie with Family)
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 teaspoons instant yeast
3 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups lukewarm water
For the topping:
1 egg white
Dehydrated onion flakes
Dehydrated garlic flakes
(This method is for mixing by hand. For stand mixer and bread machine methods, please visit Rebecca's original post.)
Add all dough ingredients to a large mixing bowl and stir together with a sturdy wooden spoon until you form a shaggy but cohesive dough. Cover the dough with a clean towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and form into a neat mass. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 3 pieces. Cover three of the pieces with a towel while working with the other three.
Pat one piece into a rough oval. Use the side of your hand to press an indentation along the length of the dough piece. Fold the dough together along the length of the indentation and roll lightly with your hands to form a thick rope between 12 and 14 inches long. Repeat with the other two pieces so that you have 3 ropes of roughly equal length. Line them up in parallel with the ends facing you.
Gently grasp the end of the rope on the far left. Lift it to about the center, leaving the far end on the counter, cross it over the rope nearest to it and lay it down. Now grasp the end of the piece on the far right and lift it to about the center, leaving its far end on the counter, cross it over the (now) center rope (which is the first one you moved) and lay it down. This is the manoeuver you will repeat – far left over center, far right over center, and so on- until you have ends too short to continue. At that point, pinch the ends together and tuck under the braid. Now go back to the center of the loaf and finish braiding the loaf toward the top (since I use a large cutting board when working with my dough, I just flip the board around and braid the other half, again toward me). When you reach the ends, pinch together and tuck under.
(If you would like to see photos of the braiding method in detail, again, please visit Rebecca's original post.)
Cover the loaf lightly and let rise in a warm place until puffy in appearance and about doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the egg white until it is frothy. Paint generously onto the risen bread braids and sprinkle the braids with the toppings.
Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a golden brown color and firm on top. Turn the oven off, prop the door open a little (two inches, if you can make your door behave) and let cool for at least an hour.
If you've read this far and you're saying to yourself "yeah, it's pretty, but I don't bake... I don't make bread... the braiding would be too complicated," etc., then STOP RIGHT THERE. This dough is so. easy. to work with. I cannot emphasize this enough. From the mixing to the braiding to the baking, it is a total cinch. And the recipe is so foolproof, you can cut the ingredients right in half to make a single loaf and it's still flawless.
Don't fear the yeast, people, not for any reason. I feared it for far too long, and I didn't know what joys I was missing (bread... pizza... oh, how I love you).
We've had this a variety of ways: with cream cheese, which made it taste so deliciously like an everything bagel, I had to be careful not to demolish a whole loaf in one sitting; on its own, pieces torn from the barely cooled loaves; sliced with butter; dipped in ragu. Rebecca told me she and her boys also use it for sandwiches. It's just marvelous, no matter what you do with it. I will be making this one for a long time to come.