Many of you are familiar with the muffuletta sandwich made famous in New Orleans by Italian immigrants. The muffuletta (or muffulettu) is also a type of Sicilian bread, the same one used to make the sandwich. The bread is covered with sesame seeds and is crispy on the outside and soft and silky on the inside. The muffuletta is traditionally used to make what Sicilians call pane cunzato (seasoned bread). To make the classic pane cunzato the muffuletta is cut in half lengthwise, while still warm, and seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, dried oregano, anchovies, tomatoes, and Cacciocavallo cheese.
I like to use roasted sesame seeds, available in Asian markets or the Asian section of your grocery store. You can use regular sesame seeds or try toasting your own in the oven at 325 degree F for approximately 15 minutes.
MUFFULETTA BREAD: PANE MUFFULETTA
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 2 medium or 4 small sandwich loaves.
MAKE THE BREAD DOUGH: Lightly grease a large bowl with olive oil. Using a mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine flour and yeast on low speed for 1 minute. Add salt and mix for 30 seconds longer. Add water and honey, and beat for 2 minutes longer. Increase speed to medium and gradually add in olive oil beating 8 to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, and comes away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be sticky. Using a lightly oiled spatula, scape the dough into the greased bowl and rub a small amount of olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place about 1 ½ to 2 hours until double in size. You can also let the bread rise in the refrigerator overnight and bake the next day.
PREHEAT OVEN: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F 1 hour before baking. Position the oven rack so that the bread will bake in the middle of the oven. Cover a sheet pan completely with aluminum foil and place it on the bottom of the oven before preheating. Covering the pan prevents it from getting discolored and makes for easier clean-up.
SHAPE THE BREAD: Grease a 13-by-18-inch sheet pan with cooking oil or vegetable shortening. Place the dough on a board or counter heavily dusted with flour. Divide dough in half for 2 medium loaves or in 4 equal parts for smaller sandwich rolls. Shape into balls and place on greased baking sheet. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm draft-free place until double in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Just before baking, brush the top of the bread loaves with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
BAKE THE BREAD: Place 2 cups of ice cubes in the sheet pan in the bottom of the oven. The ice cubes will produce steam in the oven, which makes the bread rise higher and makes the crust crispy. Immediately place the bread in the oven. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until deep golden brown. Immediately remove loaves from pan and let cool on rack. This allows air to circulate around the bread and prevent the bottom from becoming soggy.