Sesame Bread and Ricotta Cheese

Back to reality I go.  Tonight is the last night of the freedom of spring break.  I'm pretty excited about my course schedule for next quarter, so I'm not feeling all that bitter about it; but it's hard not to whine about returning to class.  I'll be taking a creative writing course, The American City in Literature, to fulfill one of my mandatory art credits and a psychology course called Language, Thought, and Action.  This one I'm really excited about, since my primary academic interest is in the psychological mechanisms surrounding language comprehension and production, and how those processes influence behavior.  I'm nerding out about it pretty hard.

This bread though, oh my.  I think it may be the best bread I've ever made.  The toasty sesame seeds are subtly nutty, the crust toothsome, and the center ethereal and light, with a soft crumb.  It's heavenly, actually, with the heady aroma of yeast and almost buttery scent of the sesame seeds together perfuming the kitchen.  Combined with the silken, pure ricotta cheese, a sprinkle of coarse salt and slip of olive oil, every bite is a pleasure.  I never knew it was so easy to make ricotta cheese - my recipe was from Alex Guarnaschelli and didn't even require cheese culture.  Better yet, it's only three ingredients: buttermilk, cream, milk.  You need only to simmer them together until the curd begins to separate from the whey, let cool slightly, then strain gently through cheesecloth in the refrigerator for a few hours.  That's it.  The bread was also incredibly simple to make, as far as bread goes, but comes out beautifully.  Both the bread and cheese require some time and patience, but most almost all of that time is inactive.  I would recommend making the cheese the night before you want it, stowing it away in the fridge until morning.  As for the bread, that was great spring-break project for me; I made the dough, watched the original Star Trek and worked on projects for an hour and a half, punched down and braided the dough, continued my lounging for another hour and a half, then added the egg white coating and sesame seeds and baked the loaf.  Once I took it out of the oven I went off to practice, and returned to a lovely aroma and even more lovely slice of bread.  I think I may make it again soon, this time using the whey that remains from my cheese-making adventure.  Alex Guarnaschelli recommended that this would be a great use for the cheese by-product, and I'm not one to argue with food legends.

 Sesame Bread

3 3/4 c unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder (don't worry about it if you don't have this, it just helps the yeast work)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
~1 c warm water
~3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 egg white, beaten

In a medium bowl combine flour, malt powder, yeast, salt, olive oil, and water, and knead until the dough is soft and silken, tacky but not sticky.  Let rise in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel, for 1.5 hours.

Gently punch down the dough, then divide into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a rod about 20 inches long, then place on an oiled baking sheet.  Pinch the tops together, braid loosely, then pinch the ends together and tuck them underneath.  Brush with egg white (save the remainder, you will need it again), then cover and let rise for another 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Brush the loaf again with the remaining egg white, being very carefully not to deflate the bread.  Sprinkle on the sesame seeds, then bake 20-25 minutes until golden.  Let cool completely before slicing and serving with your ricotta cheese:

1 c heavy cream
3 c whole milk
1 1/2 c buttermilk
Salt to taste

Combine in a saucepot and heat over medium heat, until the curd begins to come to the surface and coagulate.  Turn off the heat and let cool ~20 minutes.  Gently spoon curd into a fine mesh strainer lined with a few layers of cheesecloth, then pour the whey over.  Place in the fridge for ~3 hours until the cheese is thick.  Season with a sprinkle of salt.

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