When I was in Thessaloniki, Greece, about a year ago, I happened to visit a 78 year old fourno tis gitonias (a bakery of the neighbourhood) at night =) I don’t mean I just dropped by to buy a baguette for breakfast, I was actually introduced inside the bakery, there where the ovens are and the simple mystery of bread baking is revealed. How it happened? I just dropped in and asked… if I could possibly see the bakery from the inside, just for half an hour (and the visit lasted hours). The bakery was just several buildings away from the studio where I lived in Ano Poli (=Upper Town), a very old part of town with traditional small Macedonian houses and narrow streets (+cats, garbage and cars amazingly parked there) crawling up one of the hills of Thessaloniki. Irony of fate – this upper part of the city is tragically famous for being the place where the great fire of 1917 initiated – a housewife was frying her eggplants… The fire quickly caught up aided by the strong wind and swept the central part of the city, miraculously leaving some very important churches intact. And funny enough, the Upper Town was not touched by the fire, as it descended to the sea and left the upper part in peace! =) I loved walking there with my camera, regardless of cat
piss and piles of rubbish and the ascension of course!
So this was the bread I was lucky to be presented (along with a chocolate-filled sweet bread) after staying several hours after midnight with the owner of the bakery and his co-workers. After watching trays and trays of various baguettes, whole wheat breads, sweet things etc. entering and exiting the almighty oven, I came back home at about 5 in the morning, happy and tired. The extremely fresh bread was REALLY burning my hand, it was so hot and also so tempting to be devoured ; ) The birds were singing so loudly – and these poor creatures just disappear after the heat comes during the day – that I even recorded them on my camera. I thought then I wish I could own my bakery too… But then, am I ready to take on such a responsibility to bake bread while others SLEEP? well… here one has to think twice.
The city is famous for its bread rings, called koulouria in Greek, that traditionally come just sketo (plain) with sesame topping, sold by outdoor vendors, but can be found made into sandwiches or in all other possible variants. They also can be proper rings or – as you see on my photos – twisted like breadsticks, etc. The city consumes tons of these soft a little bit sweet bread rings every day, as they
substitute constitute breakfast / quick snack on-the-run for citizens in a hurry. When I asked about these koulouria, the bakery owner told me his bakery was baking them for the local university hospital, loads of them. You hold them like this …
… and then gobble them down =) You surely remember another typical food of Thessaloniki, bougatsa, a
over sweet pastry filled with milk and semolina. This one is also a habitual breakfast / lunch for the locals. And a real treat for those not used to eating that sweet things at one go : ) So let’s turn to koulouria instead, which turned out to be easy-peasy, quick and lovely!
Κουλούρια Θεσσαλονίκης (Koulouria Thessalonikis, THE Bread Rings of Thessaloniki), the recipe translated and published here with the kind permission of Elizabeth from bettyscuisine.blogspot.com (where you will find the original recipe in Greek) will make soft sesame topped κουλούρια, 10 to 12 depending on their size and your fancy!
- 450 g all purpose flour
- 8 g dry instant yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 100 g sesame seeds
Method translated from the original recipe with my remarks in italics
In a large bowl mix flour and yeast, salt and sugar. Then add oil. – After reading about yeast and its ‘companions’ I decided to add salt after I started mixing-kneading the dough.
Rub in the oil till it is absorbed and the mixture resembles flakes. Then add bit by bit lukewarm water continuing to mix the dough, until you get tight dough which doesn’t stick to your hands.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel – I used plastic foil – and leave the dough in a warm place to rise till doubled in size, about 30 mins – I left it for about 50 mins.
When the dough is well risen, knead it again for 5 mins.
Place sesame seeds on a plate. Preheat oven to 200 ‘C. Line a large baking tray with non-stick parchment paper.
Divide the dough in 10-12 equal parts, depending on how large you want your κουλούρια. Roll each piece into a long rope. Brush with water (after that night in the bakery I learned they actually dipped the ropes in water and then rolled them in sesame seeds, that’s what I tried to reproduce=), seal the two ends and carefully roll the rings in sesame seeds, so that they are entirely covered. Place the buns on the paper and bake at 180 ‘C (attention, not at 200 ‘C!) for about 30 mins, till they are browned. – Mine needed less than 30 mins, also because I wanted them to be extra soft!
Elizabeth also recommends to bake only the amount of koulouria you’re ready to eat (and I’m sure you’re quite ready for 10! =). The rest can be wrapped in aluminium foil and stored in the freezer. When you’re ready to bake – and staaaarving for a fresh koulouri – take them out of the freezer until they defrost at room temperature, then bake.
The result? Mmmmmmmmm, so soft inside! My Father couldn’t resist the temptation to tear a piece of freshly baked koulouri – and actually this is the very authentic way to eat them ; ) So go ahead, bake yourself a stack of lovely bread rings, the aroma will drive you mad – or just make you eat all of them to the last sesame seed, hehe.
Ελίζαμπεθ, ευχαριστώ πολύ για τη συνταγή!
See you soon, keep baking, loving nature and smiling,