Baking muffuletta in the home kitchen
If, like so many others and myself you're determined to reconstruct your own Central Grocery muffuletta sandwich, the trickiest part (in my opinion) is getting hold of the muffuletta bread itself. Using anything else disqualifies it as being a proper muffuletta, and settling for anything but a "muff" after spending a fortune on italian deli meats, cheese and ingredients for that olive salad is just plain sacrilegious.
I was able to work out the following recipe using descriptions of various muffulette produced in Sicily. The muffulette required 4 basic ingredients: durum wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. Anise (or fennel seeds) and black pepper are also added, depending on the style in which the town's bakery makes them. Sesame seeds are used as a topping, but muffulette can also be left plain as seen in this photo. General specifications include a very soft, round-shaped bread that is approximately 8 ounces in weight (before baking) and roughly 5½ to 6 inches in diameter with a fine crumb. The most common way to eat muffuletta is with anchovies preserved in oil, salt, pepper and if desired, fresh ricotta. It is also interesting to note that muffuletta is traditionally tied to several religious observations.
Makes 4 muffuletta buns
3 1/3 cup durum wheat flour [500 grams] - for bread, focaccia, pizza, etc.
1½ cups warm water [350 ml]
1 package dried yeast granules [25g fresh cubed yeast]
2 teaspoons salt [10 grams]
For Muffuletta di Barrafranca: to the dry ingredients add 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon dried anise or fennel seeds. After shaping, make an incision in the center.
For Muffuletta di Caltanissetta: to the flour and salt add 2 teaspoons of anise seeds (more if you like the flavor). Sprinkle with white sesame seeds after shaping.
For Muffuletta di Niscemi: for those who like it plain and simple, this version does not have any added spices or seeds.
Combine the flour, salt and other flavorings as necessary in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the water. Sprinkle in the yeast and let dissolve before stirring to combine to a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10-12 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover and let rise in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes or until doubled in size.
Clockwise from upper left: Barrafranca style, Caltanissetta style, Niscemi style
Turn dough out onto work surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Shape into ball and roll out to approximately 5.5 to 6 inches in diameter. Place onto a heavy, parchment-lined baking sheet and set in a draft-free area for about 25-30 minutes, but not until it has doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat oven to 400°F (temperatures vary from oven to oven, but what you want is a very hot setting to be able to bake these quickly). Bake for about 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on the outside. Keeps for about 2 days in an airtight container.