Fennel & Saffron Bread (Ψωμί με Μάραθο και Ζαφορά)
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (Workman Publishing 1989)Patricia Wells said this recipe came from Jacques Collet, an Aix-en-Provence baker. Collet designed the bread to be the perfect accompaniment for bouillabaisse. She writes, “The addition of hard durum wheat flour, or semolina, helps give the bread a hard, crispy, buttery flavor, perfect for dipping in the rich fish soup.”
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. freshly ground fennel seed
1/8 tsp. ground saffron1 cup semolina flour
1 3/4 – 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Mix the water, dry yeast, and sugar in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast starts to bubble. Stir in the salt, fennel seed, and saffron. Add the semolina flour and let the dough sit for 10 minutes to fully hydrate the flour. Stir in 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour. Place the dough on a well-floured surface and knead in as much additional flour as necessary to form a stiff dough. Knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and satiny.
Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, shape it into a round loaf, place on a parchment-paper-lined rimless baking sheet, and let rise until the loaf has almost doubled in size. (If you are using a baking stone, you can rise the bread directly on a wooden peel sprinkled with semolina flour or corn meal.)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut an asterisk in the center of the loaf with a razor blade or extremely sharp knife. (If you have a baking stone, slide the bread – and parchment paper if using – from the baking sheet or wooden peel onto the stone.) Turn the heat down to 375°F and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool, cut, and serve.
NOTE: I prefer using a baking stone when I make bread as it helps my home oven maintain an even temperature and gives bread a crisper crust. I also have an old baking sheet with edges that I use when I make this bread. I preheat the baking sheet and baking stone for at least 30 minutes at 450°F (the stone on the shelf above the baking sheet. I turn the heat down to 375°F when I put the bread in to bake. Just before I close the oven, I dump a cup of water into the hot baking sheet and quickly shut the door. (Do not throw water directly on the oven floor or it will warp. Trust me, I know this from experience.) The water creates steam which prevents the bread from quickly forming a hard surface, thus allowing the bread to rise to its fullest extent. The water cooks off quickly, and leaves a hot, dry oven which, together with the baking stone, helps ensure a crispy crust.
This post is dedicated to our good friend, Ron Zobel, who died way too young from esophageal cancer.