You might be surprised to know, this is my first time making homemade bread. I’ve always felt a little intimidated about it before, because it’s such a long process… Mixing the yeast with “just right” warm water, mixing that with flour and other stuff to make a dough, letting it rise, punching the dough down and kneading it, letting it rise again, punching it down and kneading it again until just the right texture, blah blah blah. Talk about a daunting task! Not to mention time-consuming. So, imagine my delight when I came across one that didn’t require all of that junk!
I should probably start out by telling how I came across this bread, being that it has a kind of strange name and I had never heard of it before. Unlike most other recipes, I didn’t come across this while looking for another recipe of some sort online. I was actually at Wal-Mart with a friend, and I happened to notice the braided rolls while looking for something to go with my fish sandwiches that I’ve been planning to make. I had never heard of scali before, so I Googled it on my phone while still at the store and found that it’s not a well-known kind of bread around my area in Wisconsin. It’s more local to the Boston area, where some people of Italian decent settled and made the bread popular. It’s a mild, slightly nutty bread with a “crumb” (as it is called) that is perfect for sandwiches and such. While I could have purchased the bread from the bakery there, I declined as I was more than a little disappointed in the fact that they omitted the sesame seeds, which are characteristic of this bread. Being that I love sesame seeds, AND bread, I was intrigued and therefore set about learning what I could about the bread - which is when I found out how incredibly easy it is to make.
The basic recipe for this bread called for one large loaf or 12 small hamburger-sized rolls. However, I wanted slightly larger ones as I am planning to make my own fish sandwiches, which means that they’re not going to be the perfect little square crap things you buy in a box, and so will need more bread for the sandwich part. I adjusted the measurement part of the recipe thusly, and also added the egg wash and sesame seeds after proofing, but otherwise the recipe is the exact same. When it comes to bread, I’m not sure that it’s something you should mess around with too much… Well, I’m not going to anyways, being a very amateur bread maker! The only thing that I did do differently was how I went about making my rolls... I had asked a few questions on different blogs about how to go about braiding the rolls, whether it would be best to separate the pieces of dough for each roll and braid them separately or has a larger loaf. I was told that, being an amateur bread maker, I should stick with the larger loaf and cut it into separate rolls because that would be easiest and only really talented bread makers should attempt to braid individual loavees. I guess now I should probably tell you (even though it might be obvious) that I have never braided bread before either! And all I have to say about the advice I was given... Whatever!! I tried doing what they said and making one big loaf, but right away I was having difficulties getting the bread to cooperate and stay a uniform size while trying to braid and all of that mess. So, finally, I stopped messing around with that, cut the pieces smaller, and braided each roll separately. It was MUCH easier and the rolls turned out looking more uniform and pretty! After all, it's all about the aesthetics!! ;-)
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
⅓ - ½ c. cool water, to make a stiff dough ball
Pinch of instant yeast
All of the starter
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
2 tsp. instant yeast
⅔ c. lukewarm water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large egg white beaten
1 Tbsp. cold water
½ c. sesame seeds
To make the starter: Mix the starter ingredients together, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Note: This is a dry, stiff starter. If it's too dry to come together, it may be that you measure your flour differently, or that you're in a particularly dry climate. Dribble in sufficient water to make the dough come together, and proceed with the recipe as directed.
To make the dough: Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough. This will take about 7 minutes at medium speed in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook… Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes, till it's just about doubled in bulk.
To make the rolls: Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into six equal pieces; then, divide those six pieces into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a rough log, and let the logs rest, covered with a towel, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which in turn will make the logs easier to roll. Or so I've read... Working on a lightly greased surface, take three of the logs and roll each into a thin rope. Grab one end of each rope, and squeeze the ends together firmly. Braid the ropes, tucking the ends under to make a neat braided loaf. Repeat with the remaining logs. The resulting loaves will be about 6" long.
Place the rolls on a large, parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet, spacing them approximately 2” apart. Cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise until very puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush each roll with the egg white/water, and sprinkle heavily with the sesame seeds, rolling the tops of the rolls gently in the seeds to pick up as many as possible. Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack. Yield: 6 rolls