A thick crust of sesame seeds that surrounds a soft crumb, this is the most emblematic ring-shaped bread in Turkey, the simit, also called gevrek or koulouri in Greece. It is also called the Turkish pretzel.
The different names of simit
Its first name was simiti, which came from the Greek word semidalis, meaning durum wheat, via the Arabic semiz and Turkish simit.
The word simit seems to have other origins: from the Arabic samīd which means “refined flour” or from the word simsim, to indicate “sesame”. Another origin seems to come from simithane, meaning “deposit of flour”, a name which dates from the Ottoman Empire.
In the South Slavic languages, as in Bulgaria, it is called gewrek (Геврек), in North Macedonia gjevrek (Ѓеврек), while in Serbia it is called djevrek (Ђеврек).
The Armenian name is bokegh (բոկեղ). In Judeo-Spanish, it is known by the name of roskas turkas. In Romania it is known as covrig, and is produced in several variants, among others, with salt or poppy seeds or sweet, stuffed with cherry.
In northern Greece, this sesame ring is called koulouri (κουλούρι) after the ancient bread called kollyra, which was also ring-shaped and reserved only for slaves. At the end of Antiquity, in Byzantium, this bread spread from Thessaloniki under the name of koulourion, but it did not reach southern Greece until the 20th century.
How to make simit
Like many other bread recipes, a classic simit recipe calls for flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water and vegetable oil.
What makes this bread different from any other bread is that before its second rise, it is soaked in a mixture of pekmez (grape molasses) and water before being rolled in a large amount of sesame seeds.
The combination of molasses and water gives this ring-shaped bread a slight sweetness and this unique golden brown color.
What is pekmez?
Originally from Anatolia, pekmez is a thick syrupy liquid made from boiled and reduced grape juice. This syrup is prepared from crushed grapes, the recovered juice of which is then boiled to obtain a thick syrup.
The origin of pekmez dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, when this product was often used as a sweetener.
The ancestor of pekmez is defrutum, a condiment made from reduced grape must that was used by cooks in ancient Rome. It was one of the most used sauces with garum for the preparation of any type of dish.
Defrutum was obtained by boiling. The grape juice was gradually concentrated by evaporation. It was ready when the amount of liquid reached half the initial level and the sugar concentration had reached an appropriate level. A second reduction made it possible to obtain a viscous defrutum. It was prepared and stored for years in lead containers.
The main use of defrutum was to sweeten wines. The other was its incorporation into meat and fish which gave a sweet taste to them.
Thanks to its high sugar content, it was used in the preparation of quince and melon jams and preserves. It was also mixed with garum, giving rise to oenogarum, a very popular sauce.
Defrutum has also been used as an adjunct to animal feed for suckling pigs and ducks to improve the taste of their flesh.
Today, in Turkey, pekmez is commonly used for its sweetness and flavor as well as for its nutritional qualities.
Pekmez is rich in calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium and chromium, and is considered to be a fortifier with many therapeutic properties.
The term pekmez more broadly designates fruit molasses. Even if the grape pekmez (üzüm pekmezi) is the most consumed, there are other kinds such as cherry pekmez (visne pekmesi), blackberry pekmez (dut pekmezi), fig pekmez (incir pekmezi), date pekmez (dibis), and the pomegranate pekmez (granada konumundan pekmezi).
What is the origin of simit?
You have to go back 500 years, under the Ottoman Empire, to find the beginning of the history of these breads. The simits are said to have been born in the court of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and only a few commercial documents dated 1525 attest to this.
Other legends say that during the Ramadan period, the Sultan used to give these precious breads every evening at the end of the fast, as a thank you to the soldiers who were watching.
- 8 cups all-purpose flour , sifted
- 1 cup warm water (at 97 F / 36°C)
- 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons pekmez (grape molasses), or honey or maple syrup
- 1 cup warm water (at 97 F / 36°C)
- 3 cups golden sesame seeds
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and flour.
- Dig a well in the center of this mixture, place the yeast in it. Pour over half the water and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Add the oil and the egg and, using the dough hook, knead slowly for 5 minutes, gradually incorporating the water.
- Add the salt, and knead until you get a soft and homogeneous dough.
- If the dough is too sticky, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour and if on the contrary it is too dry and hard, add a little warm water very gradually.
- The dough should be kneaded for at least 10 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 hour 30 minutes in a warm place away from drafts. It must at least double in volume.
- Meanwhile, roast the sesame seeds in a pan and, in a bowl, mix the pekmez and water.
- After the dough has risen, place it on a work surface and lightly knead it by hand.
- Divide the dough into 20 pieces.
- Roll out each dough into a 2 ft (60 cm) long tube.
- Lay two tubes in parallel. Roll the tubes in opposite directions to create a twist.
- Seal the 2 ends and pinch them together to form a ring.
- Repeat the operation until the tubes of dough have run out.
- Dip each simit in the molasses and water mixture then carefully roll them in the sesame seeds, then place them, well spaced, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Cover with a cloth and let rise for another 20 minutes in a warm place away from drafts.
- Preheat the oven to 390 F (200°C).
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the simit are golden brown.