Monday 16 July 2007

Sesame and Lemon Bread

One of E’s work colleagues has been bringing him lemons from her tree at home. Lemons keep appearing in the fridge (even though I usually keep them in a fruit bowl).

I think lemons are wonderful for bringing flavour to lots of sweet and savoury cooking but I just couldn’t eat anything too lemony. I have worked in offices where lemon tart is regularly brought in for birthdays and other celebrations. When chocolate cake is brought in, I would struggle to resist a piece but I just am not interested in a lemon tart. As a child, when my mum baked desserts most nights, I never ate lemon pudding, lemon tart or lemon meringue pie.

So I am always on the look out for recipes that might use a decent amount of lemons. Enter Mollie Katzen’s sesame and lemon bread. Quarter a cup of lemon juice seemed a lot but it actually only got me through about 2 lemons. Tahini and lemon is a classic pairing that seems so right.

It is years since I made this bread. Actually so long that I begin to wonder if I ever made it at all or if it was just friends making it and me eating it. No matter, I’m sure I helped at least. I grew up with a mum who baked bread so I learnt to stick my finger in the dough and check if the indent stayed there as a way of checking the bread had risen enough – or did the indent close over? Now I will have to check with my mum. Anyway, I learnt enough to know it was fun to stick my fingers in bread dough but you might have guess I don’t do it any more. Nevertheless, I was lucky to grow up with my mum kneading dough and taking freshly baked loaves of bread out of the oven. She now uses a bread machine a lot and I am in awe of the way she doesn’t really need to follow a recipe. I hope I can be that confident with bread making one day.

Winter weekends are great for baking bread. The heater is on so it is so easy to find a warm spot, and great to have any excuse to put the oven on and fill the house with the aroma of baking. And bread doesn’t demand in the way of cakes. It waits so patiently. It allows time to read the paper and make phone calls and bring in the washing. When my mum rang as I was about to punch down the dough I just placed the damp cloth back over the dough and left it while I chatted. If it had been cake, I couldn’t have just left it and relax.

If you are new to bread baking, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen is an excellent companion. Mollie explains in a friendly and entertaining way about bread dough, complete with hand drawn pictures (for example in her guide to kneading she warns ‘remember you are guiding the dough, making suggestions to it – not forcing it, tearing it, or otherwise employing intimidation’). Her affection for the dough is appealing. She does have methods that I am not accustomed to. She puts about half the flour with the yeast and water and leaves them to rise before what for me is usually the first rise but she says this helps with the amounts of wholemeal flour she uses. She also recommends kneading longer than other recipes I have used recently but once I got into the rhythm of kneading it is quite soothing (especially with something good on the stereo on repeat so you don’t need to change the cd with doughy hands). I think it says a lot about bread making that there really aren’t too many ingredients but the instructions can take some time – mine will be much briefer than Mollie’s, I promise.

I can recommend this bread to the novice and expert alike. My main caution is when you toast the sesame seeds, don’t get distracted because they burn easily. I had a few moments of anxiety about killing the yeast but the bread rose anyway and I had a delicious loaf come out of the oven just in time for dinner. The nutty richness of tahini is the prominent of the lemon and sesame but both are subtle flavours in a delicious loaf which I thought had a certain denseness I enjoy and was a little disconcerted when E said how pleasingly light it was. He is right, I guess (but looking at the recipe I am a little dubious that I added the right amounts, although I didn’t get quite all the flour recommended). But I like the roasted sesame seeds which give it an interesting texture.

Sesame Lemon Bread
(from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest)

2 pkts (2 tbsp) dry yeast – I had a little less but it was ok
1 cup luke warm water
A drop of honey
2 cups unbleached white bread flour

The Mix:
½ cup tahini
¼ cup honey
½ cup hot water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp salt

½ cup toasted sesame seeds
1¼ cup unbleached white bread flour
¼ cup wheatgerm (Mollie suggested substituting some wheatgerm for flour so I did)
1 ½ cup wholemeal flour

Make the Sponge: Mix the water, yeast and honey and sit about 5 minutes. Yeast should be a little frothy. Mine wasn’t as frothy as I expected but it still rose. Add 2 cups flour and beat in with a whisk or a fork (which I used). It makes a very moist mixture. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place 30-60 minutes (I only did 30 minutes as this seemed a bit superfluous anyway).

Add the Mix and remaining ingredients: Mix all the ingredients listed under the mix in a separate small bowl. Beat the mix into the sponge til well combined or ‘merged’. Now Mollie suggests kneading in the flour but I found this mixture way too moist to start kneading – I think I managed to stir in about 2 cups of flour/wheatgerm and the toasted sesame seeds (which seemed to do not harm to the yeast when I added them hot). Then I started kneading in more flour and didn’t get quite all the flour in but this may have been because I misread the amount of water and put in ¼ cup instead of ½ cup! I still found this incorporation of the flour slow work.

Knead-Rise-Punch-Rise: Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, knead for 15-20 minutes. Mollie says you can’t knead too much by hand but you can underknead, so I just timed it and did about 15 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise til doubled in size (about 1 hour, or more if your mum rings!). Punch down the dough and knead a minute or two. Mollie says it makes 2 loaves but I thought they were smallish loaves. Cut dough into two pieces. Place dough in greased bread tins or in a circle on a tray (I put sesame seeds on the bottom of my bread tray). Cover with wet cloth again and let rise another 30-40 minutes. Mollie said under an hour, and I asked my mum and she was equally inscrutable so I think I did about 40 minutes.

Bake: Place bread tins or trays in a preheated 375ºF oven (if you are into preheating – I don’t always preheat because I have a gas oven, but while the bread is rising you have plenty of time to remember to preheat if you don’t get too involved in the paper or blogging or whatever takes your fancy!). Bake about 30-40 minutes. I just left mine in 40 minutes because I got distracted cooking dinner and it did look quite dark on top but actually was still a nice softish crust. And it was hollow when tapped, as cooked bread should be. Take out of tin and cool on a rack. Mollie says you should wait at least 10 minutes before cutting it. I’m not sure I managed to wait that long!

On the Stereo:

Set List: The Frames


  1. This bread sounds wonderful - I must try it soon! Unfortunately, lemon trees in Alaska are non-existant but we do have plenty of wild blueberries and raspberries to make up for it. (-:

  2. thanks Monika - lemons are great for cooking but if i had the choice I would prefer to have plentiful blueberries and raspberries!

  3. This sounds like a great bread. I love the nutty and crunchy addition of sesame. Lovely!

  4. Mollie Katzen, so tried and true. Don't you just love her recipes and her "way"? She is amazing... This looks like an incredible bread! Almost cake-like...

  5. thanks Anh - yes, it was the perfect bread for me because I love tahini and had to use up lemons!

    Kleopatra - I'm pleaased to hear you are a fellow fan of Mollie - she does have amazing recipes

  6. Sounds like a great tasty bread. I love sesame :)

  7. Wish I had someone who brought me lemons!
    Will be buying that book on your recommendation. :)

  8. I am also a lemonhead, so I'm sure I would love that bread.

  9. cooking ninja if you like sesame you will love this bread

    urban vegan, I wish I could say the same for you about lemons but didn't think the lemon taste was as strong as I thought it would be - but still worth a try - but check out the pie I am going to post tonight which had a nice tang to it

    wendy - I shouldn't complain about being given too many lemons - it feels a terrible thing to buy them at a supermarket when there are so many lemon laden trees about! Will be interested to hear your thoughts on The Enchanted Broccoli Forest if you can get a copy!


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