Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Greek Simiti / Koulouri

If you've ever found yourself walking the streets of Athens on an early morning, then you might have happened upon a vendor selling the famous Greek koulouria Thessalonikis otherwise known as simitia.

These small, sesame-crusted bread rings are sold on street corners and bakeries and are the breakfast of choice among the busy Athenians who hurry on their way to work with nothing more than a coffee in their belly. We Greeks are not big on breakfast but when you see these bread rings in front of you, there is no room for resistance.

Before moving to the Netherlands, I have never thought of making simitia myself. There was no point to it since I could go to my neighborhood bakery and get one whenever a craving would hit. Now, things have changed. Now, whenever I crave something from home, I have to make it myself.

Simitia are a common snack and street food for both Greeks and our neighbors, the Turks. They were brought to Greece by Greek refugees from Asia Minor and Constantinople (Istanbul) who settled in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, which explains why simiti is also called 'Koulouri Thessalonikis'. Koulouri/κουλούρι (plural: koulouria/κουλούρια) means small round-shaped bread ring.

The Greek word simiti/σιμίτι (plural: simitia/σιμίτια), comes from the Turkish word simit, which comes from the Arabic word semid, which in turn comes from the ancient Greek word semidalis/σεμίδαλις (simigdali/σιμιγδάλι in modern Greek), meaning semolina.

The traditional Greek version of koulouri/simiti is a thin bread ring encrusted with sesame seeds. The one I prefer eating and making is another version, the Politiko simiti (Politiko refers to the type of Greek cuisine I grew up with, of which you can read all about here), one that originates from the Greek bakers of Constantinople. It's a braided, fuller version of a bread ring, that is first coated with a generous amount of petimezi (Greek grape-must syrup/grape molasses) that gives them a light sweetness and then with toasted sesame seeds.

The braiding creates a more intricate texture and thus a more interesting flavor as the delicious petimezi sneaks in the crevices of the braids, creating a light caramelization when the bread ring bakes in the oven. The toasted sesame seeds give the bread a more intense, nutty taste and the addition of eggs and milk in the dough, another difference between the plain Greek simiti and this one, gives it a richer flavor.

Simitia are characteristically crunchy on the outside and soft and slightly chewy on the inside and even though they are a traditional Greek breakfast snack, you can serve them any other time of the day. Let me assure you, no one will complain.

Greek Politiko Simiti / Koulouri (Braided Bread Rings Coated with Grape-Must Syrup and Sesame Seeds)

Simitia/koulouria can be served either with sweet or savory accompaniments. I love cutting them in half crosswise, spreading a generous amount of butter on top, followed by some honey or jam, and having them for breakfast. Served with Kalamata olives and Feta or Graviera cheese they make the perfect light lunch.

You can find grape-must syrup (petimezi) in Greek or Middle-Eastern stores. If you can't find it, simply coat the bread rings with water before covering them with the toasted sesame seeds.

Yield: 10 simitia/koulouria


for the dough
11 g (3 tsp) dried instant yeast
220 ml plus 30 ml (2 Tbsp) lukewarm water
30 g (2 Tbsp) caster sugar
650 g all-purpose flour
1 large egg
30 ml (2 Tbsp) olive oil plus extra for oiling the bowl
100 ml lukewarm fresh whole milk
8 g (1 tsp) salt

for the coating
1½ cups sesame seeds
⅓ cup grape-must syrup (petimezi) diluted in ¼ cup water

Special equipment: mixer with dough hook attachment (optional), one or two baking sheets, baking paper

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the yeast and the 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of lukewarm water. Massage the yeast with your fingertips into a paste and then add the sugar, the rest of the water, the flour, the egg, the olive oil, the milk and the salt, in that order.
Note: Be careful not to add the salt on top of the yeast but on top of the flour. If the salt comes in direct contact with the yeast, it will kill it and your dough will not rise.

Attach the dough hook and knead for about 7 minutes, on the lowest speed, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl and it is smooth and elastic. If you're kneading by hand, take the dough out of the bowl and onto a clean surface and knead well. It'll take about 10 minutes. What you're aiming for is a soft and pliable dough that's ever-so-slightly moist but that is not sticking to your hands.
Note: Not all flours are the same, so if your dough is very wet, don't be afraid to add more flour. Add a little at a time though, testing the consistency of the dough. You don't want to end up with a stodgy, stiff dough.

If you're using a mixer for kneading the dough, turn out the dough onto a clean and lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball.
Lightly grease the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl) with olive oil and place the ball of dough inside. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place, allowing the dough to proof and double in size. It will take about 45 minutes to proof, depending on how warm the room you leave it in is.
During the winter, I always leave my dough next to a working radiator. Not on top of it but on a chair and right in front of it.

In the meantime, toast the sesame seeds. In a large frying pan, add the sesame seeds and toast them over medium heat, stirring them around constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon, until they take on a light brown color and start releasing their aroma. Be careful not to burn them because they'll have a bitter taste.

Prepare your baking sheet/-s by lining the bottom with a piece of baking paper. Depending on how large your oven is, you can bake the simitia in one batch of 10 or two batches of 5. I bake mine in two batches.
Place the toasted sesame seeds and the petimezi that's been diluted in water in two separate, medium-sized and deep plates.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 390 Fahrenheit.

Once the dough has proofed, take it out of the bowl and knead it for a couple of seconds just to deflate it a bit. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces (100-110 g each) and shape them into 10 balls. Take each ball of dough and roll it on a lightly floured surface into a 70 cm-long rope.
Note: Don't flour your work surface too much because you need friction in order to shape the balls into ropes.
Bring the two ends of the rope together and braid the two strands (see photos for reference). Then, form a ring and press the edges together to seal. You can use a little bit of water to make the ends stick.
(In case you prefer your simiti a little thinner and with a bigger hole in the middle, roll the ball of dough into a longer and thinner rope than the 70 cm one, or roll it into two shorter and thinner ropes, about 50 cm-long each, and braid them).

Place the simiti on the baking sheet and continue rolling the other balls of dough.
Once you have prepared all your simitia (or half of them if you're baking them in two batches), take each one and first dip it in the petimezi and water mixture, coating it well on all sides and then immediately dip it in the sesame seeds, coating it thickly on all sides. Then return each simiti to your baking sheet. Continue doing the same with the rest. Don't place the simitia too close together on the baking sheet because they'll rise while baking.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake the simitia for about 20 minutes, until they take on a golden-brown color.
Take the first batch out of the oven and continue baking the second batch.
Place the baked simitia on a wire rack and eat them while still warm or when they have completely cooled.

You can keep them for a couple of days, covered lightly with a clean kitchen towel, but as with all baked goods and bread in particular, they're at their best on the day you bake them.

More recipes with grape-must syrup (petimezi):
Greek Beef Stew with Quinces and Grape-Must Syrup
Moustokouloura (Greek Grape-Must Syrup Cookies)


  1. oh man, you're a mind-reader! just a couple of weeks ago, i was thinking about how good these were and looked around for a couple of recipes. i also loved the ones loaded with chocolate ;)

  2. They do look so good - and you make them look so easy! I will have to try them for my Greek friends... wish me luck! ~ David

  3. The etymology is as fascinating as the recipe is delicious. Thanks for including it! And nothing makes the house smell as inviting as baking bread. - Mark

  4. These are BEAUTIFUL, really beautiful, Magda. And I will make them. The finished ring looks extremely professional and your step by step photos give me confidence! Thank you and yes, I know what it means to create a piece of home for yourself....whilst in a foreign land.

  5. I've never heard of these, but they look amazing! Now to find a good source of Greek ingredients.. :)

  6. nom nom! I think you have a 100% success, it look perfect and so fluffy. Congrats dear!

  7. Love this recipe-must try! BTW I had left a comment some time ago, but forgot to write my name. Love your blog. Best, Karishma

  8. These are beautiful. I must try them!

  9. yum yum yum! These look like simit, a kind of bread we ate daily in Istanbul! Now I HAVE TO make these!

  10. wow! love these and the photos!!!!! in Lebanese traditional baking too, we have kaak which is another version of these and some cookies here get dipped in grape molasses before a coating of pistachios or sesame seeds (barazek). anyway, your post got me so excited about these I am going to be making them, besides, anything with a sesame seed cover makes me wild with hunger.

  11. I'm inspired. I wish I could go home and make these right now.

  12. I would love those for breakfast! Maybe I also have to try making this at home. Or I might fly to Greece ;)

  13. Just a question before I send this along to some of my baking buddies: with what could I substitute the petimezi? I can't find that here in my nook of the world but maybe there is something else here in Italy that is similar enough...

  14. heather — I've never tried these with chocolate. Now, that's an idea!

    David — good luck!

    Mark — oh yes, the smell of freshly baked bread is amazing.

    Kitchen Butterfly — I know you do dear Oz. I do hope you give these a try. You'll love them!

    Eileen, Katerina, El — I'm glad you like them!

    Karishma — thank you so much!

    Anh — yes, they're similar to the ones found in Istanbul.

    Joumana — I'd love to hear what you thought if you try them.

    Tracy — but you can :)

    Pola — hehe a trip to Greece would be fantastic huh?

    Ilva — oh I would love it if you shared these with your baking friends, Ilva! There is no substitute for petimezi but you can simply brush them with water and coat them with the toasted sesame seeds.

  15. Synchronicity! earlier this week I visited a Turkish bakery that recently opened--and had simit for the first time. It was delicious, although not as beautiful as yours, and I suspect it was not quite as tasty as yours either--it hadn't been dipped in the grape must syrup. Thanks for posting this gorgeous recipe.

  16. Every time I visit your post I know I will see beautiful photography, mouthwatering recipes and learn something new and interesting, usually about Greece. Thank you for sharing the simitia with us!

  17. Nancy, Fiona — thanks! I'm happy you like these!

  18. These are absolutely beautifull! I have to bake them! The sooner, the better :)

  19. Hi Magda! I was inspired by your pictures to make these. I just made a batch (halved your recipe) and they are simply delicious and gorgeous!! I didn't have the petimezi, so I used water instead. My family is swooning over them, and I'm now thinking that I should have made more than 5 ;) Will definitely be making lots and lots more of these.

    1. Hi Jolene! I'm so happy you liked them and thank you for the feedback.

  20. Hey, thanks for the wonderful recipe!
    Is it possible to replace grape-must syrup in date syrup?

    1. Hi Shi! I have never tried date syrup, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. Just make sure to dilute it in water and to not add too much.


    2. Excuse me for asking again, from what I found petimezi means molasses
      Is this true?

    3. Hello Shi, no problem, I'm happy to answer your question. Petimezi is the Greek word for grape molasses which is the sweet viscous liquid product that comes from boiling grape-must for a long time over low heat.

  21. Thanks so much for this recipe and all the others, too! I am discovering Greek cuisine thanks to you...

  22. And that's how I learned to cook! I moved to Ireland and craved Italian food. Love this recipe, I have to try it!

    1. Thank you! I hope you give it a try and if you do, I would love to hear how it went. :)

  23. telio! Egw anti gia petimezi evala to Kipriako Xaroupomelo me ligo Valsamiko xidi kai itan Katapliktiko!

  24. Hi magda! Ihave just take them off the oven! they're AMAZING! instead of petimezi i put on the koulouri Haroupomelo (from Cyprus) with a little bit of Valsamiko ! I LOVE THAT TASTE!

    1. Καλησπέρα Άλκηστις. Χαίρομαι πολύ που σου άρεσαν τα σιμίτια! Χαρουπόμελο με μπαλσάμικο; Ωραία και ευφάνταστη ιδέα! Αν βρω χαρουπόμελο, θα το δοκιμάσω κι εγώ.

  25. Magda, thank you for this amazing recipe! I did it twice already and we are very happy. I didn't have the grape must so I used the pomegranate molasses diluted with grape juice ( I didn't want to drive 60 km to my middle eastern store). It was just perfect! The second time I covered the simiti with walnuts, superb! Thank you again! Xoxo

    1. Hi Mihaela. I'm so glad you liked them!! The walnuts sounds like a great idea. You are welcome and thanks for the feedback :)

  26. Hi Magda! Does the simits freeze well?

    1. Hi Cali. Sorry but I haven't tried freezing them to tell you how they turn out. You can try it though.