Sesame seeds are used mostly as a decorative element in Spanish food, e.g. as topping on burger buns or in “rosquilletas” (a sort of bread-based snack). The dishes with a much stronger presence of sesame seeds were all originating from Andalusia, such as tortas de anís and mantecados—possibly related to the Arab influence, but I’m hypothesising here.
I think I started “sesame seeding” my life after I tried Japanese food for the first time and I wanted to replicate some of the flavours at home. Apparently there was some mysterious ingredient called “sesame seed oil” that provided that extra “something” that my attempts were missing so far (no wonder something was amiss—I was using olive oil to cook Japanese stuff 😅). What a discovery!
Later I progressed to learn how to make hummus at home. It had a mysterious ingredient called tahini…! And once I discovered what it was, I wanted to put it on everything.
Then I started learning about all the sauces and dips you can make that involve tahini: whisk with a bit of water and it turns into a smooth dip. Add some garlic and it becomes nicely punchy. Or you can add lemon and yoghurt and it’s tangy and addictive. So many variations! All of them so tasty!
Of course, I also learned about the Divine Trinity: cumin, nigella and sesame seeds sprinkled on crackers or anything that deserves a good oomph. And there’s also my beloved dukkah, which you might have heard me
talk rave about already many times.
But—and this is a big but—neither of these recipes really puts sesame front and center. I wanted to make something that would unashamedly declare its sesameness. Something where “sesame” was in the name of the recipe.
And so I came up with this sesame seed bread!
Note: this makes two decently sized loaves. Halve if you must, but I just find it very practical to make two (it’s vaguely the same effort) and then bulk slice and freeze. If you have two bread tins you could even bake both loaves at the same time!
- 560g strong white flour
- 260g wholemeal flour (wheat, spelt, rye, whichever version you like / have available)
- 450g warm water (~30ºC)
- 1 sachet fast action yeast (7g for 500g flour)
- 320g sourdough starter
- 2 tbsp fine salt
- 50g sesame seeds (I used black and white sesame seeds), and more for sprinkling later.
This is a hybrid yeast / sourdough starter bread because I just didn’t have enough time to wait until the sourdough starter did its slow fermenting job. Thus the starter is here mostly for a bit of flavour, but if you have the time to go full sourdough, the results will be even nicer, as the crumb becomes moist and elasticated, and the flavour becomes deeper and more complex. Increase fermentation times accordingly!
On the other hand, if you do not have a sourdough starter at hand, or you don’t have enough sourdough starter (who keeps 300 grams of starter in their fridge? not me!), then replace with equal amounts of strong white flour and water. For example, you’d replace 320 g of starter with 320 / 2 = 160 grams of flour and 160 grams of water.
Add the dry ingredients to a big bowl: flours, yeast pellets, salt, sesame seeds, and mix them well together.
In a separate bowl, add the sourdough starter, then add about 50-100 g of the water and stir to dissolve the starter into a sort of paste. Then add the rest of water and keep stirring so there aren’t lumps.
Add the water with the starter to the bowl with the flour and other dry ingredients, and mix well until it is a sticky, slightly lumpy, but soft dough.
Cover and wait for 10 minutes.
Then give it a round of light kneading using some oil. Cover and wait 10 minutes.
Repeat a couple of times, then repeat again, but wait 30 minutes before coming back to the bread for another light kneading.
Each time the dough becomes softer and more integrated.
After the last light kneading, wait an hour and do a blanket fold.
Optional: wait from 30 to 90 minutes and do another blanket fold. Keep an eye on the dough, if it grows a lot in volume maybe your yeasts are very active and you’ll want to reduce this time down—thus the time range.
Note: if you’re not using yeast, you might want to repeat the above point another time or so, depending on how active your starter is.
Wait another 30-90 minutes, then split the dough in two pieces.
Shape them into balls, and leave on the counter to rest for 10 minutes.
Take each ball, seam-side up. Pat it down to a flattened oval shape. Then roll it into itself like a spiral of sorts, lift it from the ends and place it, seam side down, on the tin with baking paper.
Brush the top of the loaves with water so they don’t dry out while proving.
Heat the oven to ~200 (fan) / 225ºC (no fan).
While the oven gets going, cover the loaves, and prove for 30-60 minutes.
Once the oven has reached its temperature, and the loaves have started to plump up too, it’s time to give them the finishing touches. You might want to brush them again with water, if they’ve dried up.
Sprinkle the loaves very generously with sesame seeds, and pat the seeds down so they stick to the surface.
Using your favourite cutting implement, score the top of the loaves—you can probably go quite deep in here!
Place both tins in the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes, perhaps turning round half-way so they’re uniformly baked (note: I highly recommend you try to add steam while baking, and I also wrote an article explaining how to do that!).
Take them out of the oven when the surface looks nicely golden, then take out of the tins and the baking paper and onto a rack to cool down without getting a soggy bottom.
Leave them to cool before eating! (I know, it’s hard—they’re so tempting!)
This bread has so much flavour, you could eat it just on its own and it’d be nice already. I’m serious! It’s that good.
Alternatively, you could have it with anything you fancy, as the sesame flavour goes with everything! 😜
Be careful with the seeds you sprinkle
I used white seeds for sprinkling on top because they were not roasted yet, whereas the black ones were already roasted. I was afraid that this would lead to burnt-tasting seeds, and no one really likes burnt-tasting things, I think!
Also: be warned that there are going to be sesame seeds everywhere in your household when you handle them! It’s as if they had legs!
Variations on the theme
Although I wanted to focus on SESAME on this bread, I can very easily envision other ingredients you could add in addition to the sesame seeds that would make for a nice tasting bread:
- roughly ground black pepper — yes! The bread would then be great drizzled with olive oil.
- nigella seeds and cumin are another classic pairing, of course
- olives would also work great, as would roughly chopped sundried tomatoes (in oil or not)
- Caramelised onions, and also maybe garlic too
- I think even paprika could work, but I haven’t tried it
My only consideration with these variations is that they go a lot into “savoury territory”, which preconditions what you can have the bread with. In contrast, if you stick to sesame seeds, it’s easier to eat the bread with all sorts of things, either sweet or savoury.