Occhi di Santa Lucia (BBD#06)

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recipe: Wild Yeast Bread with Rye and Sesame Seeds

Bread Baking Day (BBD) #06 – shaped bread

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wild bread with rye and sesame seeds When shaping freeform bread, I usually shape it in boules because that’s what I know how to do. But there is a request for shaped breads, specifically NOT “batard, boule or baguette” for BBD#6. I thought about cheating and just tacking a “this is my post for BBD#6” onto the post about Lucia Cats made on Christmas Eve.

Then I came to my senses. I took a look through our bread baking cookbooks to find some traditional shapes for bread. Lo and behold, there was that same sideways “S” shape in Pane Sicialano in The Italian Baker by Carol Field. She wrote the following in the introduction to the recipe:

One of my favorite memories of Sicily is of the hill town of Erice, which is perched so far above the sea that the weather changes three times on the way up. […] At breakfast we had the most wonderful golden semolina bread sprinkled with sesame seeds. We […] found that the bread came in an extravagant variety of forms. […] The shape [Occhi di Santa Lucia] that looks like a slightly askew pair of eyeglasses is actually in homage to Santa Lucia, the patron saint of vision.

It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Clearly I must have thought so too when I first got Field’s book. Because it was one of the breads I made when I first got the book. In the margin of that particular recipe, there is a pencil note in my handwriting saying

Jan 2001 – very white bread – 4/10

This is a surprise. Almost all of the other recipes I’ve tried in The Italian Baker have been fabulous. (Hmmm. I should probably try the Pane Siciliano again… it’s entirely possible that the semolina I used in 2001 was not the same semolina flour we are using now.) But considering the difficulties I’ve been having with our wild starter and bread making lately, there’s no way I was going to try that particular recipe again right now!

Then I remembered reading (where WAS it?!) that any bread can be put into any shape. How handy is that?

As my sister keeps saying, why is it that we feel like we need permission to stray from a printed recipe? I just looked through all of our bread books trying to find the reference. And if I hadn’t read that it was okay to put bread in any shape, would I not have done it?

So I mixed up our wild bread recipe, but this time, throwing caution to the wind and not bothering to get permission to do it, added just a little bit of dark rye flour and sprinkled sesame seeds on top of the loaves just after shaping the loaves. I also added a tiny bit (1/16 tsp) of active dry yeast to the bread, because I’m so nervous that our starter isn’t strong enough.

I formed one of the loaves into a crescent and one into the sideways ‘S’ shape Lucia shape sideways 'S', one of the traditional shapes for Lucia bread.

slack dough Why didn’t I make two pairs of eyes? I was afraid…. The dough was so slack! And I’m still quite nervous that it won’t rise properly.

Happily, the occhi shaped dough expanded nicely. I had to assume that the crescent shaped one was risen enough too. Both were rather flat when I put them in the oven. But I was very happy (read “very relieved”) that both did get some oven spring and turned out to be relatively presentable.

The other night, I took the crescent shaped loaf as my offering to a potluck dinner with colleagues. I was a little nervous, very concerned that the bread would still taste too sour….

The results? Delicious!

As we opened up the bag that the bread was in, one of the group said, “That smells fantastic”. And she was right. It did.

I’m amazed at how the flavour of the rye comes through. The bread was quite firm in the crust with lots of un-uniform holes. In the somewhat chewy crumb, there was just a hint of sourness. I mentioned that I thought it was still a bit too sour for my taste and a German woman quickly and pointedly said, “No, it’s perfect!” Everyone at the table, including me, kept taking another slice of bread.

I must say that the bread went perfectly with the lasagne (I’ve got to get the recipe for that lasagne!) and a lovely mixed greens salad that was dressed with a somewhat sweet raspberry vinaigrette. Too bad we all had to go to work after the dinner. A glass of red wine would have been a lovely accompaniment. Our dessert was a beautiful apple tart from a local bakery. It had currants and ?? and tasted almost like mincemeat.

And the other loaf? It’s in the freezer. Whenever we open the freezer, it stares at us.

Here is what I did to make the bread:

Wild Yeast Bread with rye and sesame seeds

wild yeast starter . wild yeast feeding schedule . wild yeast starter buildup . bread

wild yeast starter feeding schedule
For each feeding:

  • 1 tsp wild yeast starter
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 Tbsp water*
  1. Every Two Days Take 1 tsp of wild yeast starter (discard the rest) and stir in 2 Tbsp water and 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour. Cover and leave in the refrigerator.

wild yeast starter buildup

  • 1 tsp wild yeast starter
  • all purpose unbleached flour
  • water*


  1. Day before Baking – Morning Take 1 tsp of wild yeast starter (discard the rest or use it for something else) and stir in 2 Tbsp water and 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour . Cover and leave in a warm draftfree spot (counter in summer, oven with only light turned on in winter) til midday.
  2. Day before Baking Midday The mixture should have doubled and there should be lots of bubbling. Take 2 Tbsp of above mixture (reserve the rest to add to focaccia dough, crackers, or muffins). Stir in 2 Tbsp water and 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour. Cover and leave… etc.
  3. Day before Baking Evening Stir ⅓ c (85ml) water and ⅔ c (170ml) unbleached all-purpose flour into ALL of the above mixture. Cover and leave… etc.
  4. Baking Day Morning The mixture should have doubled and be a bubbling mass. (Remember to reserve a portion for future bread making!)


  • ⅓ c (85ml) lukewarm water**
  • 1/16 tsp (0.25ml or 0.25gm) active dry yeast
  • 2¾ c (680ml)*** unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ c (60ml) dark rye flour***
  • ½ c (120ml) wholewheat flour***
  • 1 c (250ml) water
  • all of the reserved buildup from above (about ¾ c (185ml))
  • 2½ tsp seasalt
  • sesame seeds, for garnish
  • oil cured black olives, for garnish (optional)


  1. In a small bowl, add the yeast and ⅓ c lukewarm water and whisk together until til creamy. Set aside.
  2. Put the rest of the ingredients (except the sesame seeds and olives) into a bowl that is large enough for the mixture to triple. Stir together with a wooden spoon until the flours are incorporated. Add the yeast mixture, which might have started bubbling. If it hasn’t, don’t be overly concerned. The dough at this point will look a bit like slightly stiff oatmeal porridge. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto an unfloured work surface.
  4. Wash and dry the mixing bowl.
  5. Kneading: Without adding extra flour, knead the dough until it is smooth and silky (5 to 10 minutes). Let your dough scraper (a spatula works) be your friend if the dough is sticking to the board. One hand scrapes the dough and the other kneads. Under no circumstances should you add more flour. If you find your kneading hand is sticking to much, just scrape off the excess with the scraper and continue. Don’t worry when the dough doesn’t resemble a pillow. Use the dough scraper to squoosh the dough into the clean bowl. Cover with a clean damp tea towel (or use one of those elasticized reusable plastic covers that look like shower hats) and allow to rise in a draftfree area of the counter for 30 minutes or so.
  6. After 30 minutes has passed, very lightly dust the work surface with flour. Carefully turn the dough out (try not to disturb any bubbles). Using the bread scraper and still trying not to disturb any bubbles, fold the left side into the center, then the top into the center, then the right side, then the bottom. As you lift it into the bowl, fold it in half once more. Try to place it in the bowl smooth side up. Cover. Let it ferment at room temperature for 30 minutes again.
  7. Repeat the above step. On this final time, the dough will look more like the smooth soft pillow that is described in books. The amount of dusting flour used in these folding maneuvres is not much more than tablespoon and probably much less (sorry, I haven’t measured). Allow to rise at room temperature until the dough has just doubled.
  8. Shaping: When the dough has doubled, sprinkle flour on the work surface. Gently turn the dough out, disturbing it as little as possible. Cut the dough in half. Gently fold each piece (try not to disturb the bubbles) starting with the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side then the bottom. Fold in half. Turn it over. Continue to fold it in half lengthwise underneath itself to form an even tight tube without actually deflating the dough. (When I shape the dough, I handle it the way I would hold a wild bird – firmly enough so it won’t escape but gently so as not to harm it.) For occhi di Santa Lucia, make an “S” shape. Place halved olives in the centers to complete the eyes. Place the shaped bread seam side down on a parchment covered peel. Spray with water. Sprinkle generously all over with sesame seeds. Cover with a clean damp tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for an hour or more – until the dough is about doubled. To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge – it should very slowly spring back. For comparison, try pressing early on to see how it quickly springs back when the dough has not risen enough.
  9. Baking: Thirty minutes before you are going to bake, put the baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and turn it to 450F.
  10. At the time of baking, spray the top of each loaf liberally with water. Put the bread in oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Bake the bread for a total of 30 to 40 minutes or until it has an internal temperature of about 210F. Half way through the baking, turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the oven.
  11. Remove to cool on a rack. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it. It is still continuing to bake inside!****

*Tap water is fine to use – just make sure that it has stood for at least 12 hours so that the chlorine has dissipated.

** Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls… the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!)

*** Please note that a Canadian cup holds 250ml. When I measure flour, I really fluff it up in the bag before scooping out flour to roughly fill the cup.

**** If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely. To reheat unsliced bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

If you have not yet captured wild yeast, please take a look at:


wild bread with rye and sesame seeds Event: Bread Baking Day #06
Bread Baking Day#6

Eva (Sweet Sins) will be hosting the sixth round of Bread Baking Day and has chosen “shaped bread” as the theme. She wrote:

[T]his time, it’s all about the shape […] be it something traditional like a braided challah or a pretzel or something a little unusual like a cut-out sun, letters made out of bread dough or whatever you can think of. Although I’m most interested in hand-shaped bread, you can also use a fancy mold.

The only requirement is that you don’t choose a normal loaf shape like batard, boule or baguette. However, round bread rolls count as well as long as they have something unusual like a decorative slashing pattern.

Please post about your recipe and your experiences with shaping between now and 1 February 2008.

Once again, the deadline for BBD#06 is 1 February 2008. For complete details on how to participate in BBD#06, please go to:

Please also read about previous BBDs and WBDs:

blog from OUR kitchen posts:


And finally, before completing your BBD post, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to read about

edit 5 February 2008: Eva has posted the BBD#06 roundup in two parts. My fellow participants have outdone themselves. Take a look at the fantastic and delicious looking shapes!


This entry was posted in baking, BBD, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, crossblogging, food & drink, posts with recipes, wild yeast (sourdough) on by .

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2 responses to “Occhi di Santa Lucia (BBD#06)

  1. Eva

    Congratulations to your decision to stray away from constraining recipes! Your Occhi di Santa Lucia look wonderful! Thanks for participating!

    Thank you, Eva, that’s kind of you to say. And thank you for hosting! -ejm

  2. zorra

    Oooh, your post reminds me my wonderful vaccation in Sicily and I was in Erice, too!
    Thank you for your participation.

    I’m most envious, Zorra! How wonderful that you got to taste the real things. -ejm


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