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Crunchy and redolent of toasted sesame, this loaf is a great accompaniment to your favorite Italian feast.
3 3/4 cups European-Style Artisan Bread Flour or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver (optional, but helpful)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plus 2 to 4 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or whole flax seeds, golden preferred
1/2 teaspoon Bread Shine, mixed with 2 tablespoons water OR 1 beaten egg white
Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients -- by hand, mixer, bread machine or food processor -- until you've made a smooth, elastic dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turn to coat, cover, and allow it to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into three equal pieces; each will weigh about 9 to 9 1/4 ounces. Roll each piece into a 20-inch log, tapering the ends slightly. Place the logs on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Braid them loosely; pinch the ends together, and tuck them under.
Mix the Bread Shine with the water, and brush some of this mixture over the braid. (You can use a beaten egg white in place of the Bread Shine, but it won't be nearly as effective in making the seeds stick.) Cover the braid and allow it to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it's almost doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Brush the braid again with Bread Shine or egg white, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake the braid for 20 to 25 minutes, until it's golden brown. (Tent it lightly with aluminum foil after 15 minutes, if it appears to be browning too quickly.)
Remove the braid from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack. Yield: one 14-inch braid.