New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.
For my second dance with New World Sourdough, I tackled the Honduran roll semitas de yema. I’ve seen Ford and his followers making this on Instagram for months, and I was eager to taste them for myself. I had never eaten a semita before, and they look similar to Mexican conchas, which I don’t particularly like. Based on the abundance of sugar, butter, and eggs in this recipe, I had faith that these would be plenty delicious.
Like so many breads, the scheduling of semitas de yema requires days of advance planning. Professional bakers can build their lives around their bakes. As an amateur, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to build my bakes around my life. My days run together and my memory is terrible, so I have to be deliberate—two nights of feeding Bradley, build the levain by X, mix the dough by Y, refrigerate by Z—accounting for meetings, appointments, and bedtimes. The real test is when 16 semitas de yema come out of the oven, I will want to distribute some number among friends. An ideal breadule (bread schedule) concludes with a party where I can share my bounty. In a pinch, I’ll make deliveries.
I made the rookie mistake of not timely calculating how much mature starter I would need to build the levain. This recipe calls for double what pan rustico requires–100g of mature starter–so it was a minor miracle to find I had exactly 100g of Bradley in the jar. I keep a list of empty jar weights on hand for quick calculations just like this.
This levain rose quickly to nearly overflowing. The build calls for 150g bread flour (I used AP) and 50g whole wheat, and it felt more watery than my usual 50/50 split.
Baking sourdough bread, you get used to making loaves cheaply. You buy flour, add a bit of salt and water, and you’re making bread for pennies. Enriched bread is an investment. Semitas de yema ask a lot of your grocery bill, and hopefully give a lot in return.
Despite “egg yolk” being in the name, I grossly underestimated how many yolks were needed for semitas de yema. I cracked a full dozen eggs to get 200g of yolk. There is also a lot of butter—I used a whole pack of Kerrygold plus a bit from my regular rotation to reach 250g. (I mixed up my numbers initially and only added 200g of butter. Thank goodness I caught it!)
All this fatty goodness came together in a tough yellow dough. After several minutes of working the dough in the bowl, I kneaded it on the counter, as Ford instructs. This is my first experience in which kneading actually felt like a workout.
The cubierta recipe recommends starting with 200g of flour and adding more to reduce wetness. Since the solidity of coconut oil depends on the ambient temperature and environment, how much extra flour is needed will probably vary every time you make it. I definitely should have used more this time. I wasn’t sure what the goal was (I would like more process pictures in this book), and I stopped adding flour when my cubierta was still very shiny and wet.
After six hours bulking in the oven with the light on and 13 hours in the fridge, the dough did not want to leave the bowl. It was dense, heavy, and obstinate, and I had to pry it out with a bench scraper. Despite the cling wrap over the bowl, the dough developed a slightly discolored crust, but that did not seem to affect the final product. I’m used to dividing wet, lean doughs; cutting this fella into meaty hunks was very satisfying.
I had no trouble forming the dough into balls. The only irregularity was that there was slightly more of everything than the recipe suggests. My dough measured out to 18 pieces, not 16, for which I used two baking sheets. I also had about a third more cubierta than I needed. I was not able to free-form the mix into discs, so I just glopped a handful on each roll and smoothed it down a bit. It stayed put while proofing (and filled my apartment with the wonderful fragrance of coconut) but melted to the pan in the oven, leaving a thin crust across the surface of the semita.
Everything about eating semitas de yema is a delight. While waiting for them to cool, I treated myself to the crumbly, coconutty cubierta left on the baking sheet and brewed a cup of decaf (per Ford’s strict instructions to serve with coffee).
Coffee is the right call. It perfectly complements the slight sweetness of the semita. The flavor is complex–a little sweet, a little buttery, a hint of coconut–without overwhelming in any direction. The roll’s texture is well-balanced with a soft, dense crumb and crispy outer layer. I’m sure if the cubierta stayed piled high it would have been an extra treat.
Like so many butter bomb baked goods, semitas de yema are best eaten while fresh and in moderation, so I gave away 15 of the 18 I baked. I kept the remainder in bees wax wrapping (my favorite bread preserver) and two days after baking I heated one for 30s in the microwave, covered in a damp paper towel. All those eggs and butter do wonders for shelf life–it was still delicious.
Semitas de yema were easy enough to make, and scrumptious enough to eat, that I will certainly make them again. I see myself downsizing the measurements to a fourth of the original, so I can give myself a treat and not need to make deliveries all across town.
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