If you ask a Turk living away from Turkey to name 5 foods items he or she misses the most, chances one of them will be simit. M. would also add cheese and tea to go with it.
Simit is a popular street food - a crispy and chewy twisted ring studded with sesame seeds all over. It is sold everywhere by simit sellers who carry them by tray loads or in special carts. I have tried several simit recipes, but none worked as well as this one by Ayla Agar, a Turkish-American scholar who happens to be an amazing cookbook writer. She obtained the recipe from a small bakery in a back street behind the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and she claims it is the best. And she is right. This recipe works yielding simit close to what you will find in Turkey. Although it lacks the characteristic flavor of a clay-oven baked simit that sells in Turkey, it is still very good.
M. munched on the chewy simits with white cheese, sipping at his Turkish tea while praising me for my improved simit baking skills. Then we both dreamed about buying a real clay-oven baked simit from behind a Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. Hopefully this summer. Can’t wait.
Turkish Sesame Rings (Simit)
Adapted from “Classical Turkish Cooking”, by Ayla Algar
Makes 8 large simits
Note: The original recipe calls for baking the simit on heated tiles but I adjusted it to use regular baking sheets as I don’t own tiles.
For the Dough:
3 + 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeasts
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm water
about 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons salt
About 1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup molasses (in Turkey: pekmez)
1/2 cup water
For the Topping:
2 cups sesame seeds
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 10 minutes in a warm place until frothy. Place the flour on the work surface, make a well in the center, and put in the yeast mixture, salt, and 1 cup lukewarm water. Gradually work in the flour to make a stiff dough (you may not need all of the flour). If you have a heavy-duty mixture, it is best to knead 10 minutes with the dough hook. By hand, knead at least 15 minutes, until the dough is smooth and springy. Put the dough in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 2 hours.
Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured work surface, roll into a log, and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a tight ball and let rest under a slightly damp towel about 30 minutes.
Roll each ball into a 14-inch long rope. Hold down one end of the rope with one hand while twisting it with the other. Then form this twisted rope into a long ring, pressing and rolling the overlapping ends together on the work surface with one hand to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet or a work surface (I use marble countertop) and let rest 1 hour.
Dust 4 baking sheets with some cornmeal. Set aside.
Dissolve the molasses in water in a bowl. Put the sesame seeds in a plate and set it next to molasses water. Dip each simit in molasses water first, then in the sesame seeds, making sure the simit is completely and thickly coated with the seeds on all sides.
Place 2 rings on each baking sheet. Take each ring and rotate it gently through your hands, enlarging it into a 7-inch circle. Or, if it is easier for you, let the simit sit on the baking sheet and simply stretch it in all directions. Let the simits rest for 30 minutes or until well puffed.
Preheat the oven to 390F.
Bake 2 baking sheets at at time, about 15 to 20 minutes, until rich brown in color. Simit is best eaten fresh out of the oven. They will be good all day. You can also reheat them wrapped in foil to freshen them. Afiyet Olsun! (Bon appetit - in Turkish)