Semolina Bread with Golden Raisins and Walnuts

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There is this bread at a restaurant that I am completely in love with. It’s crusty, nutty, and speckled with juicy golden raisins. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was addicted. So much so that I would find any reason to travel the 20 miles each way to this restaurant just in the hope that this bread would be the gift, the present in my pre-meal bread basket. In truth the meal itself was an afterthought, simply the vehicle for me to get this bread. When I found out that they had bakery locations, I would call ahead to reserve a loaf and still drive the 20+ miles to get it. But it would be a major journey and effort just to get my hands on this delectable morsel.

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I thought of this bread longingly, but found it difficult to make the bread treasure hunt with a toddler in tow. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had a bite of this amazing bread and as I have been experimenting with bread and pastas for this blog, I set my mind to trying to replicate this bread.

I have been able to identify the ingredients that help the bread to be so special. The chewiness and crustiness comes from semolina. Semolina is often used in pasta, but it also works amazingly well in breads and pizza dough. This flour adds such a unique texture that is so distinct to this ingredient – for pasta, it adds a nice bite, for pizza dough, a chewiness and crunch. If you’ve never worked with it before, I recommend experimenting with it. You will love the results. The golden raisins are sweeter and offer a slightly different flavor than your run of the mill raisins. And the walnuts add a nice crunch and texture.

Thanks to Google and a website (www.macheesmo.com), I found a basic semolina bread recipe. I’ve since adapted the recipe to make my version of my favorite bread.

If you’re a little daunted by the idea of making your own bread, don’t be scared. The process itself isn’t difficult, it’s just time consuming. Yeast isn’t frightening, in fact, it smells delicious and homey. When I make bread, my oldest daughter asks to smell the yeast mixture before I add the flour because it’s warm, earthy, and fragrant. Kneading the dough makes me feel useful and productive – anything that takes a little effort is worth it for my family. (And it’s a little bit of a science project… I’ve taught my daughter about yeast and how it’s alive and how honey feeds the yeast, etc.)

I make sure to make a bunch of loaves each time and stick them in my freezer so I don’t have to go through the process too often. Bread is truly a labor of love, but there is nothing comparable to the taste and texture of homemade bread. But it’s so worth it. My daughter will happily chow down my whole wheat bread without a peep, whereas she would perform acrobatics to get out of eating the store bought kind (she even eats the crust!). She’ll put in the effort to eat around the nuts and raisins just to get to the the soft bread in this bread.

— Makes 4 loaves

  • 3 C. warm water (I turn on the faucet and let it run for a minute so it is pretty warm)
  • 3 T. honey
  • 2 packages active dry yeast (stick it in your freezer to extend its shelf life)
  • 4 1/2 C. semolina flour
  • 1 1/2 T. kosher salt
  • 3 C. all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 C. chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 C. golden raisins
  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • Olive oil for when the bread rises
  • cornmeal for baking

In a large measuring cup, combine warm water, yeast and honey. Combine thoroughly (I take a spoon and make sure to mush up the yeast so it is full dissolved in the water). Add salt. Pour into a mixing bowl.

With your dough hook on your mixer, ddd semolina flour, one cup at a time and mix. It should look like this:

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Add all-purpose flour and combine well. I scrape down the sides and mix with the spatula to make sure all the flour gets incorporated, then turn the mixer on again to finish the job. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before turning the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for about ten minutes, folding and turning clockwise. You may use 1/2-1 C. additional flour depending. It should feel smooth, and only slightly sticky, but not gummy. Oil the mixing bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning to make sure it’s all coated. Cover with a kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise until it triples in size (in my bowl, that means it will puff up above the top of the bowl).

Tip: so, if you’re like me, you’re wondering what the heck does this mean? How warm? Where do I find such a place? Here’s a solution: when you start to mix the dough, turn your oven on to warm for 5 min and then turn off. Place the entire mixing bowl, covered with the towel in the oven until it triples in size. For me, it took about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

After it has tripled in size. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Turn oven to warm. Add half the raisins and nuts. Knead for 4 turns. Add remaining nuts and raisins. Knead for another couple of minutes. Turn oven off. Oil the bowl and return dough and coat completely. Cover with the towel and return to oven to rise until it’s doubled (just before it reaches the top of the bowl), about 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out again onto a well floured surface. Cut the dough into quarters. With a rolling pin, roll each out into a rectangle, about 8x12ish. Fold into thirds (or roll) and tuck the ends in. It should look like this:

 

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Dust 2 cookie sheets with cornmeal. Place 2 loaves on each, with plenty of room in between because it rises again slightly. Rest the dough on top of your stove for about 15 minutes so it puffs slightly. Turn oven to 425 degrees. Once the dough puffs, brush with egg wash (one egg mixed with water). With a serrated knife, make 3 cuts into each loaf. Place loaves in the oven, reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until it’s golden brown and it sounds hollow if you thump it (flick it with your thumb and index finger).

Let it cool for 20 minutes until you cut it otherwise you will seriously hurt your finger tips and tongue (trust me, I tried it… I even successfully cut it, blew on it and popped it into my mouth. Big mistake.) 🙂

I realize this looks like a long and daunting recipe, but you can do it! Give it a try. There’s nothing like it. And remember, I’m always here for you if you need support or have questions. I am happy to help any aspiring bread maker. 🙂

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