Finding simit in Istanbul is almost too easy, but that's a good thing. Before coming to Turkey for the first time I was not sure why people rave about simit, but the moment your teeth sink into the crunchy, sesame crust, you understand why generations of Turkish people have continued to consume it in large quantities.
Simit sellers, called simitçi in Turkish, can be found on any street corner, bus stop, city square, ferry, highway, or just about anywhere that people are in Istanbul (which is everywhere in a city of 17 million people or more). Even without leaving your home on a weekend morning, you can access simit by simply listening for the cries of the simitçis who walk street to street selling their fresh bread rings.
Simit are made fresh every morning by the thousands in bakeries throughout Turkey. For just 1 TL (about 50 cents in USD) you can buy one. Simit can serve as a breakfast on-the-go, or a snack at any time of the day.
If you are curious how simit is made, there is a great video of the process here (the video actually is from a Turkish bakery in New Jersey!).
It doesn't make much sense to bake your own simit if you live in Turkey, but if you leave Turkey after eating simit you will want to know how to replicate it at home. Luckily, they are quite simple to make, and do not require any exotic ingredients.
The best simit recipe that I have tried is from the blog Delicious Istanbul by Olga Irez. I was lucky enough to attend one of her weekend "breakfast club" meals before she moved to Alaçatı to open a restaurant. This recipe is adapted from hers.
To make simit healthier, I experimented with adding wheat flour and wheat bran to the simit dough. I found that whole wheat flour did not quite work out to achieve the right texture, but adding a few tablespoons of wheat bran does! In fact, when I made a batch with half "traditional" white flour and half with the additional wheat bran, it was very hard to tell the difference between them once they were cooked.
If you're unsure whether you want to add wheat bran to your simit, consider this: The "bran" is the hard, outer shell of a grain. The process of producing white flour removes the bran from the grain, and thus removes a valuable source of fiber. By adding back more fiber, you can slow the digestion of your food and feel satisfied for longer!
Makes 8 simit rings
3 cups + 2 Tbsp flour (500 grams) + more for dusting
4-5 Tbsp wheat bran (can be omitted)
1 1/4 cups water (300 grams)
1 packet instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt (9 grams)
1 cup sesame seeds (140 grams)
1/4 cup grape molasses - pekmez (60 grams)
1/4 cup water (60 grams) *to mix with pekmez
To make dough (best if done 1 day before):
- In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the water.
- Add the salt and 1 cup of the flour. Mix thoroughly.
- Continue incorporating flour and wheat bran until you form the dough.
- Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
- Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, coat with oil, cover with cling wrap, and place in refrigerator overnight (or ~4-6 hours).
To make simit:
- Remove dough from bowl and knead on very lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes. Separate dough into 8 equal pieces, and roll into balls. Let rest for 10 minutes, covered by a towel.
- Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds in a skillet until just lightly browned. In a shallow bowl, mix grape molasses and water.
- On a clean work surface, roll out one piece of dough into a long rope, about 2 feet long (60 cm). Grab from the center and twist together the ends, holding from the loop at the top. Pull the ends into a loop to make the ring. Repeat with the rest of the dough pieces.
- Next, dip the rings into the grape molasses and then place them in a colander to drain excess liquid.
- Dip each ring into the sesame seeds and then place them onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Allow sesame coated rings to sit for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 465 degrees F (240 degrees C). *Note, I have made these in an oven that only reached 200 degrees C and they came out fine, but a higher temp is preferable :)
- Place a small (oven-proof) tray with hot water into the bottom of your oven to create steam.
- Place simit into oven, and splash about 1/4 cup additional water into the bottom of the oven (making sure not to get it on the simit). This will create steam to help the simit quickly rise during the initial part of baking.
- After about 10 minutes, carefully remove the water tray.
- Bake simit for an additional 10 minutes, or until deep reddish brown color is achieved.
Tips & Additional Information:
- For an even more interesting flavor, try dipping simit into a mixture of toasted sesame seeds AND sunflower seeds before baking.
- You can freeze the simit, simply bake them and place them in a freezer-safe bag. Reheat in the oven.