Friday, 25 June 2010

KOULOURIA


Koulouria are a very popular street food all over Greece. They are made in commercial bakeries and are sold as a morning or mid-morning snack. By 1:00 pm or so, vendors are sold out. I guess you can say koulouria are a street food with pedigree since there is historical evidence that they were sold in the streets of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, as early as 800 to 900 CE. (They are discussed in an army manual of the 9th century. See my entry about koulouria here). If you are far from Greece and miss the crunchy, sesame taste of koulouria, here is a recipe you can try that will ease your nostalgia.


Ingredients:

3 cups bread flour plus more for dusting
1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl and the dough
1 cup sesame seeds (you may need more)
one medium-sized bowl filled with water at room temperature

Directions:
  • Place the yeast, sugar, salt and 1/3 cup of oil in the bowl of your mixer. Add the water and mix everything with a wooden spoon, stirring until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Add one cup of flour, place the dough hook on your mixer and start mixing on low speed. Add the rest of the flour one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Keep mixing until you have a smooth dough. You'll know it's ready if it does not adhere to the sides of the bowl as it's being mixed.
  • Remove the dough to a large bowl that has been greased with vegetable oil. Grease the top of the dough ball with vegetable oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then cover it with a kitchen towel.
  • Place it in a spot that is free of drafts and let it rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  • When the dough has doubled in size punch it down, cover it again in the same manner, and let it rise until it's doubled in size once again, about 1 hour.
  • Punch the dough down once more, remove it from the bowl and cut it into chunks of dough that are about one-inch square.
  • Sprinkle a small amount of flour on your working surface and roll each piece of dough into a strip. Line up the strips and sprinkle flour over them until they are lightly covered.
  • Have the following ready: a bowl filled with water, a clean dish towel, and a flat pan filled with the sesame seeds.
  • Dip each strip of dough into the bowl of water and lightly dry it on the towel. Dry it just enough to remove excess liquid. The dough needs to be somewhat wet.
  • While the strip of dough is still wet, drop it in the pan with the sesame seeds and roll it around until it's coated in seeds.
  • Cover all the strips in sesame seeds.
  • Twist the strips into round shapes and pinch the ends together to make rings. Why should koulouria have a round shape? Look at the picture below:

A modern-day vendor. Round shaped koulouria are easy to stack and easy to carry and sell. If you have a  few wooden dowels you're in business. Merchants have carried them around in this manner for centuries. 

Here's a modern-day display stand, but in the old days, a nice plain dowel did the job just as well!

  • Although koulouria are traditionally made into ring shapes, I like to make both strips and rings. Strips take less space on the baking sheets, allowing me to fit more on each sheet and finish the job faster. 
  • Place on sheets lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 425°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.
  • Koulouria should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve them warm. They taste best if consumed the same day they are made. Unless you are feeding a crowd, you won't be able to eat them all in one day. Store them in an airtight container and enjoy them during the week. They tend to get really crunchy-hard if they are left over, but believe me, they still taste great and can be enjoyed as breadsticks.