Za’atar bread

Za'atar bread loaf, sliced

We bought a really big pack of Za’atar a couple of weeks ago, and the first thought I had (apart from cooking more cauliflower fritters) was that it would somehow make its way into bread.

First we made some sourdough manakish: a sort of flatbread topped with a paste made of za’atar and olive oil. That was very good!

Then I had an idea: what about making a hybrid between manakish and a ‘classic’ loaf?

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Sesame seed bread

Two sesame seed bread loaves cooling down on a rack

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!

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Pa de Sant Antoni (savoury, with sourdough)

The crumb of a plaited Saint Anthony's bread

After my first attempt at a Pa de Sant Antoni and realising that it was sweeter than I remembered it, I decided to develop a recipe for a savoury version.

I was also really determined that it had to be a plaited bread, which inevitably forces you to use a less wet dough so you can handle and shape it without losing your wits.

The result, once baked, has less definition in the plait than I’d like, but I am very pleased with the bread itself nonetheless. The crumb was quite open, and the anise flavour was there to give it the air of an special bread. I also practiced “painting” the surface with water to give it a smoother surface, and it worked! It felt a bit like biting into a brioche. Quite interesting!

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Pa de Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony’s bread)

A pile of Sant Antoni buns and breads

While the Fallas festival in Valencia is quite well-known, the Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony)’s celebrations are less flamboyant, more inward looking. A domestic affair, say, for the locals and by the locals.

Happening around the 17th of January, it is a very unassuming celebration: there is a parade where people bring their animals to church to get a blessing, there will be a small market called “porrat” with stalls selling, amongst other yummy things, delicious nuts, figs and confectionery based on those (which are also called “porrat”), and finally one or more bonfires will burn and light up the dark January night, spreading the aroma of pine wood all around the neighbourhood.

All good things!

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