Inspired from the traditional, fragrant festive Greek island recipes, this is the basic bread dough I use for various kinds of loaves but also for lagana (plural laganes) the flat, focaccia-like loaves that I make all the time, topped with any kind of seasonal vegetables or fruit —sliced fresh figs when in season, or wine-soaked dried figs in the winter, tomato or peppers in the summer, kumquat with spicy cheese etc.
Instead of baking the bread on the stone, I often heat a cast iron or clay casserole and when the loaf is ready, I carefully transfer it inside the heated casserole, close the lid and let it bake inside for about 30 minutes then uncover, and continue baking for another 20 minutes or until it is done. Baked inside the casserole the bread gets a more substantial crust.
I also flatten and roll pieces of the dough stuffing it with greens or broccoli. Lately I invented a pizza-like spanakopita, topping this beautiful dough with the mixture of greens, herbs, feta, and other cheeses –the same one that I use for my winter greens’ pie, where I combine not just spinach but also a variety of wonderful wild, foraged greens. I shaped the round bread-spanakopita in a non-stick skillet, and fried it for about 6-8 minutes, until the bottom started to brown, then continued to bake it in the oven.
Yields 1 large or 2 medium loaves, or 2-3 flat laganes
2 cups fine semolina (pasta) flour or strong bread flour
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour or 1 ½ cup whole wheat and 1 cup barley flour
1 tablespoon instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 teaspoons mixed ground coriander seeds, anise seeds, caraway, and mahlep (about 2 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp ground mahlep, 1 teaspoons anise seeds and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds)
1/2 -1 teaspoon ground pepper (optional)
3 ½ or more cups water
2 tablespoons milk and 2-3 tablespoons sesame, caraway, nigella, or pumpkin seeds (optional)
For a powerful hand-held mixer: Place flours, yeast and spices in a large bowl and mix well with a spatula. Make a well in the center and add 3 1/2 cups water. Use the spatula to incorporate the liquid. With a hand-held mixer fitted with dough hooks work the mixture for 1-2 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes. Work again with the hand-held mixer for 5 minutes or more, occasionally stopping to turn over the dough with a large spatula.
In a stand mixer start by tossing the flours, spices and yeast together, then with the dough hook and while the machine runs in low, pour the water slowly on the side of the bowl and work the dough for about 5-6 minutes.
Either way, the dough should still be wet and somewhat sticky, but should start to come off the sides of the bowl. If too dry, add a little water, if too wet add a few tablespoons all purpose flour.
Flour the working surface and turn out the dough. Dust your hands and the dough with flour and knead –folding, pushing, turning and folding again— for a couple of minutes or more, until you get a dough that is smooth, elastic, but still slightly sticky to the touch.
Lightly oil a large transparent or semi-transparent bowl, as well as a piece of plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the oiled bowl. Trace a line on the outside of the bowl to monitor the dough’s expansion. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let rise until double its original volume: 1 1/2 hours or more.
(When the dough has expanded to about 1 1/2 times its size you may transfer the bowl with the dough to the refrigerator, and leave it overnight and up to 24 hours. It will continue to rise slowly. Before proceeding further, bring dough to room temperature).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into to loaves, an 8-x-11-inch oval or an 8-inch round, or make laganes (flattis, focaccia-like breads) by pushing the dough with wet fingers making dimples all over the surface.
Place in baking dishes lined with parchment paper, cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let it rise for another 30 minutes —it won’t rise much. If you like, brash the surface with milk, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
(At this point you can cut off pieces of dough, flatten them slightly, sprinkle with flour, wrap in parchment paper, seal in zip log bags and freeze. You can defrost and use later)
At least 20 minutes before baking, place a baking sheet or a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 450°F.
Carefully take out the hot baking sheet, and lifting the parchment papers with the breads, slide them on the hot pan. With a wet baker’s razor or with a pair of kitchen scissors make diagonal cuts in the surface of each loaf.
Sprinkle with water from a plant sprinkler and bake for 15 minutes, sprinkling quickly into the oven with water 3 more times. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F. Do the same (sprinkle 3 times) for flat breads, but reduce the heat immediately after you put them in the oven.
Bake the loaves for 45 minutes more, the flat breads for about 25-30 minutes.
Wearing oven mitts and using a spatula, remove the breads from the pans and place directly on the oven rack. Bake for 5-10 minutes more, or until the bread sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. An instant thermometer will read 200 or 205 F when breads are done.
Let cool completely on a rack before slicing.