Simit is a circular bread, typically encrusted with sesame seeds or, less commonly, poppy, flax or sunflower seeds, found across the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East. Simit’s size, crunch, chewiness, and other characteristics vary slightly by region. It is widely known as Turkish bagel in United States.
In İzmir, simit is known as gevrek (“crisp”), although it is very similar to the Istanbul variety. Simit in Ankara are smaller and crisper than those of other cities. Simit in Istanbul are made with molasses.
Simit has a long history in Istanbul. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525. Based on Üsküdar court records dated 1593, the weight and price of simit was standardized for the first time. The 17th-century traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 70 simit bakeries in Istanbul during the 1630s. Jean Brindesi’s early 19th-century oil paintings about Istanbul daily life show simit sellers on the streets. Warwick Goble, too, made an illustration of these simit sellers of Istanbul in 1906. Simit and its variants became popular across the Ottoman Empire.
- 240ml lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon dried active yeast
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 350gr plain flour, more as needed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 120gr raw sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons grape molasses
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
Mix the 240ml water with the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside for a few minutes till it foams or looks creamy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour with the salt. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil. Knead at low speed for 3 to 4 minutes. The dough should completely detach from the bowl. Add a small amount of flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach that consistency (I needed 3 teaspoons extra flour).
Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Turn it over so it is coated on all sides. Cover and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
Meanwhile toast the sesame seeds in a large ungreased pan at low to medium heat till they are just lightly coloured, turning them often. Make sure they do not darken. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Lightly flour the work surface. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an even rope of about 50cm. This works best if you use your fingertips to rock the rope back and forth.
Pick up a rope and fold it in half so two ends align. Hold it vertically and quickly (the dough stretches as you hold it up) twist one strand around the other. Join the two ends to form a ring. Pinch the ends together with your fingertips to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Place the rings on the baking tray with at least 5cm between each other.
In a shallow bowl, stir the grape molasses the 3 tablespoons lukewarm water.
Dip each ring into the molasses mix and then tip it with the coated side in the toasted sesame seeds. Cover with sesame as thickly as possible. Place the ring back on the baking tray. Proceed the same way with the other rings. Gently reshape the rings, ideally they are equally thick all around so they bake evenly.
Let rest, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas 6.
Bake the simit on the centre rack of the preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or within a few hours. Simit taste best the same day.