How to Make Simit, Turkish Sesame Bread Rings

Recipes

Simit by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Here in Istanbul only a few might make simit, sesame-bathed bread rings, at home. But while visiting my parents in Russia it felt like a right thing to do: after all my dad is a simit-addict. When my parents came to Turkey last autumn, dad walked from our Sapanca property down to the village (1 hour downhill and then 1.5 hours back) to combine exercise and purchasing of some simit. Much to his embarrassment he forgot the word and could not make himself clear to a bakkal who would not sell simit anyway.

That’s why my caring husband assumed the duty of finding a good bakery wherever we stayed during our road trip with parents and diligently procured simit every morning. I can’t call most of the simit on the Aegean coast the real deal, but dad felt his breakfast was incomplete without a bread ring or two. No wonder that my impossible-to-excite parent brightened when I announced I would be making simit.

My dad is hardly alone in his simit enthusiasm: I am yet to meet somebody who visited Istanbul and did not fall for the sesame bread rings. What’s the magic behind simit sold off the red carts anywhere in Istanbul? Why does everybody happily munch it throughout the day? Why does my husband head out to procure it first thing in the morning if in Istanbul? Why do cheese, jam or butter not seem compulsory next to a simit straight out of the oven? Why, why, why?

Simit Vendor Istanbul by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

I have been contemplating the matter for a while and came up with a few explanations of the simit magic:

1) Simit has a pleasing ratio of crust to crumb. Who does not like bread crust? Well, some people eat only the crumb, but then they should be send to a place where simit is the only type of bread existing to experience as much torture as the bread they have been eating all these years. As a bread ring, simit naturally has a lot of crust – sometimes light caramel, sometimes deep reddish brown, but always satisfying and crunchy.

2) Simit is crunchy: If a simit maker has not skimmed on pekmez (grape juice reduction) and coated the bread rings well, then his simit gets its well browned and characteristically crispy crust. We might be eating simit for the same reason we east chips: because of the crispy factor. Scientists say that human beings are genetically wired to seek out crispy foods as our ancestors used to eat insects and plants, and with those crispy meant fresh. Unfortunately, not all the simits are created equally crispy. Some (and we will not point fingers) simit bakers skip pekmez taking away a big part of the simit pleasure from the eaters. Thankfully, they don’t skim on sesame seeds.

3) Simit is covered with sesame seeds. The seeds add buttery and nutty note to simit: an unassuming bread ring bathed in the sesame seeds transforms into a sophisticated treat. Plus, there is no more pleasing sight than a bunch of simits piled up in a basket, their brown exterior dotted with the sesame seeds. Sometimes simits come coated with the sunflower seeds (and I madly love those), but then they can’t beat the classic version for its aesthetics and flavor!

4) Simit is round.  A couple of times I saw simit shaped as a braid. But only a couple of times: I don’t think the customers approved. Simit has to be round! Ring, an ancient symbol, is perfection, completeness, balance, recreation – all those things we are seeking in life and can obtain (even though to a short lived effect) for just 1 Turkish lira in the form of simit.

5) Simit feels like a treat. Buying pretty bread rings from a white-gowned cart vendor commanding authority always feels like a little treat you have deserved! The bread rings are baked twice a day – early morning and early afternoon, and it’s hard not to consider yourself lucky when you get a still warm crunchy ring.

I wondered how close I can get to the classic Istanbul street food while recreating the simit magic at home. I went through a ton of recipes ranging from the plain bread dough to the enriched versions with eggs and fat. I used my emerging baker’s logic (and the formulas I typically rely on) to calibrate a recipe that would work for simit.

Simit dough is fairly dense (think New York Bagel) which makes it easy to shape into long even rolls. After trying 65% hydration, I settled on 60% (meaning 60 g water for every 100 g flour), even though I came across the recipes insisting on the even stiffer dough (e.g. 55% hydration).  I measured 1.5% (1.5 g for 100 g flour) of each salt and fresh yeast, and here goes your simit recipe.

I used less yeast that most of the recipes and focused on the longer rising time instead: simit is a morning bread, and it is not easy to justify waking up 4 hours earlier to have the bread rings ready for breakfast. That’s why I am making the dough in the evening before going to bed, letting it rest in the fridge overnight and then have a beautifully risen dough to shape, proof and bake in the morning. When you proof longer (and even at the lower temperatures that inhibit the yeast bacteria) you don’t need spoons of yeast.

The major challenge when making simit in Russia was that my parents did not have pekmez (reduced grape juice also referred to as grape molasses), so I replaced it with simple syrup I made of brown sugar to coat the bread rings and create the signature crust. My experiments with molasses later in Istanbul showed that pekmez is used for a reason: even though I watered down the syrup it gave a bit too much sweetness to simit in comparison with the molasses. But then this is my taste, because as I was still contemplating the result after the first run, my dad was already enjoying it. Eight simits were gone in no time: that’s how you know the recipe works and even crosses the borders.
Simit on Sale in Istanbul by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

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Bake like a Turkish grandma:
Poğaça (Turkish Cheese Turnovers): Delight of a Baking Geek
Tahini Bread Roll
My Mother-in-law’s Mahlep Biscuits
Mardin Hayat Çöreği: How We Bake in Turkey

Simit, Turkish Sesame Bread Rings

The whole simit baking affair is only 30 min of hands-on work and a bit of planning. I make the dough in evening – just before going to bed, let it slowly rise in the fridge overnight and come back to it first thing in the morning. This approach significantly reduces the “production” time to just 1.5 hours. Plus, the morning you make simits can become your most productive time of the day: you become so aware of the time and can sneak many errands in between attending to the dough.

If you make the dough on the same day, then proof it at the room temperature for 3 hours, folding after each hour.

The simit dough is rather stiff, and the kneading requires some muscle work. That’s why you should incorporate the flour gradually: that way you will be kneading the dough with less effort slowly thickening it.

Makes 8 bread rings

Prep time (hands-on): 30 min
Cook time: 20 min
Total time: 50 min + overnight proofing + 10 min rest + 30 min final proofing

Ingredients

500 g (3 cups + 2 tbsp) all-purpose flour + more for dusting (only when specified!)
300 g ( 1 + 1/4 cups) water
7.5 g fresh yeast (or 2.5 g (3/4 tsp) instant yeast, or 3.8 g active dry yeast)
7.5 g (1 + 1/8 tsp) fine sea salt
140 g (1 cup) sesame seeds
60 g  (1/4 cup) grape molasses (pekmez)
60 g (1/4 cup) water

Directions

The night before

Make dough: Pour the water in a large mixing bowl and dissolve the yeast. Place the salt and 1/3 of the flour amount in the bowl and with a tablespoon stir into a runny pancake-like batter. Continue adding the flour gradually and stirring the thickening batter with the spoon. When about 1/3 flour left unused dust the clean working surface with some of it and transfer the dough to the surface. Knead slowly incorporating the flour. Once there is no flour left on the surface, add more from the remaining batch. Continue kneading until you have incorporated all the flour (about 10-12 min): the resulting dough will be a bit stiff. Place the dough in a bowl considering the dough will at least double. Cover with a cling film and leave to rise in the fridge overnight.

In the morning

Deflate dough: Release the dough from the bowl into a lightly dusted with flour clean working surface and knead it gently a few times to deflate. Divide into 8 equal pieces, shape each piece into a neat ball and make sure that each ball is lightly (!) dusted with flour. Cover the dough balls with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10-15 min.

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul
Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul769894_307b5139a6.jpg[/img][/url]

Toast sesame seeds: Place the seeds in a medium size skillet and toast on a medium heat. Toss every 2-3 minutes to ensure even browning: after 7-10 minutes, the seeds should pick up light brown color, but make sure they don’t turn caramel-brown (meaning bitter). Transfer the toasted seeds to a small deep tray. Whisk together the grape molasses and water in a deep wide plate.

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Shape rings: Take one dough ball and roll it into a long rope: start with your both hands working from the middle and then move the hands apart towards the edges of the rope. If you dusted the dough balls while dividing, you don’t need to dust the working surface with the flour: too much flour makes rolling tricky. As the rope is about 60 cm / 24 inch long, lift it holding from the middle and swing a bit to extend. Now holding the middle in one hand and both ends in the other twist the rope a couple of times. Place the ends into the loop to make a ring. Set aside on a lightly dusted with flour surface, cover with a kitchen towel and continue with the rest of the dough.

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Coat rings: Dip each simit in the molasses and then transfer to a colander/sieve to drain the excess of the moisture. Once all the simits are dipped, one by one place them in the tray with the toasted sesame seeds and coat well. Arrange the coated simits on two baking trays lined with the baking paper and share each bread ring into a neat round. Leave to proof for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 240C/465F.

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Bake: As you are ready to bake, place a metal tray with boiling water to the bottom of the oven and splash about 1/4 cup water into the oven: you want a bit of steam in the oven to ensure dramatic oven spring (rising of the bread rings during the initial stages of baking). Place the trays with simits and bake for 10 min. Remove the water tray (carefully, it is burning hot!) and let simits bake for 10 minutes more until the tops and bottoms are reddish brown. Simit is best within just a few hours out of the oven. You can cool down and freeze the baked ones and then warm them up in the high oven.

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

Simit Sesame Bread Ring by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

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{ 52 comments… add one }
  • Mrs Ergül January 17, 2014, 4:04 am

    I’m most happy to have another simit recipe to try!! Yours looks awesome, Olga!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 17, 2014, 10:38 pm

      Thank you Pei Lin! Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
  • Claudia January 17, 2014, 9:25 pm

    Olga, I am just in awe: your photos are sooooo fabulous! And to think of making your own simit when you live here … I don’t think I can, yet you are very inspiring!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 17, 2014, 10:34 pm

      Thank you Claudia for being so generous with your kind words! It was not easy to shoot myself from the top, but now my tripod is good friends with the kitchen counter. Making simit.. that’s why I like leaving Turkey now and then – to develop a new appreciation for the things that start becoming regular.

      Reply
  • Ana January 18, 2014, 11:28 pm

    Wow they look fantastic!
    Thanks for such great and detailed instructions.

    Reply
  • Ana January 18, 2014, 11:30 pm

    How is pekmez different from date molasses in flavour? I have the date molasses at home, so was wondering if it can replace pekmez.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 19, 2014, 7:49 pm

      Have never tried date molasses (dates don’t grow in Turkey so much). Any molasses should work: watered down it will leave only a thinnest coating on the simit, so from the flavor prospective the differences should be minimal.

      Reply
    • nadia December 12, 2014, 9:24 pm

      its similar only pekmez is alot lighter in texture, flavour and a bit less sweet

      Reply
  • Anita Horton January 19, 2014, 9:59 pm

    Are you planning a breakfast in February?

    Reply
  • Cali January 20, 2014, 9:22 pm

    Hi Olga! The photos look great! Thanks for posting step by step instructions too, very helpful with the photos. What do Turks call the flat metal sieve that is in the picture? I was hoping to find one in NYC.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 20, 2014, 11:54 pm

      Glad it’s helpful, Cali! The sieve is just a sieve (süzgeç in Turkish) to my knowledge: super convenient to wash and drain rice for pilaf.

      Reply
  • Pal McLisky January 21, 2014, 12:18 am

    Hi Olga thanks for all the fine recipes! Re the hydration percentages you talk about, a 60% hydration would be 60g of water to 100g of flour, not vice versa… I think. I will be baking tomorrow!
    Regards, Paul

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 21, 2014, 10:57 am

      Of course, you are right about the hydration, Paul! Thanks for catching it – have corrected the text! Would appreciate if you report back on the outcome.

      Reply
  • rhys January 26, 2014, 1:28 pm

    I just made these for the first time, Olga, and they worked out really well. Breakfast guests very impressed….
    thanks for posting the recipe!
    cheers
    rhys

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 26, 2014, 3:42 pm

      Fantastic! I am happy the recipe worked for you, and thank you very much for letting me know!

      Reply
  • Gules Cleere February 3, 2014, 12:59 pm

    Hi Olga thank you for your recipe. After a long search to find the traditional recipe of Simit. I found this one that to me looks the best! I live in the south west of England ( Somerset) no turkish shops here unfortunatally both my parents are turkish. My mum made simit when we were children on a regular basis. Mum passed away 🙁 regrettably I didn’t write down the recipe, however through memory I remembered the ingredients, but not the measurements.. I’ve just had some simit that my daughter brought back from a turkish shop in London, delicious! Hence my search for the recipe! I WILL be definitely be making these beauty’s!! Hopefully my experience making them, bring back my childhood memories!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 4, 2014, 1:04 am

      Wow, what a simit connection you’ve got, Gules! I am excited for you to try out the recipe and hope you’ll report back.

      Reply
  • Juergen February 16, 2014, 9:11 pm

    What to make for breakfast? I thought of the circles I ate every day in Istanbul and found your recipe. Wow, it is worth five out of five stars. However, I only used light spelt flour, as I want to stay away from wheat, and it still tasted just like I remembered from my vacation.

    I was also able to finish the recipe in a lot less time. After kneading the dough for about ten minutes to get it to the right consistency, I only let the dough rest for 15 minutes before stretching and folding the dough three time and repeating this technique two more times. The reset I did as described with my son helping to shape the simits before I dunked them into the molasses mixture, let them drip off for a second and then covering them in nuts.

    I didn’t have any sesame seeds, but was able to use shopped up sunflower seeds which I first roasted a little bit. I didn’t have grape molasses, but was able to use pomegranate molasses. Using the 60 g of molasses mixed with the same amount of water turned out to be overkill and I had to save some for later. Half would have worked just fine. I am definitely going to make this recipe again.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 21, 2014, 3:58 pm

      Wow, Juergen, thanks for sharing every detail of your cooking process: I always love knowing how others use my recipes, what works and doesn’t. Great tip on spelt flour as an alternative to wheat and variety of nuts or seeds (I love sunflower seeds, here we use them whole when making simit). Amount of molasses varies greatly depending on their thickness: looks like mine was very thick.

      Reply
      • elliott December 13, 2015, 2:54 am

        Just want to make note that spelt is a glutinous grain, and is definitely not gluten-free. It is lower in gluten than wheat. And it’s tasty.

        Reply
        • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 27, 2016, 3:56 pm

          Thank you, Elliott, corrected.

          Reply
  • Heidi May 9, 2014, 8:19 pm

    Hi!!! I´m so happy to have found your site and specially this recipe! Me and my husband went to Turkey a couple of months ago and fell in love with those rings from heaven, so I´ll try to replicate here in Argentina!

    Reply
  • Csaba May 11, 2014, 11:23 am

    Olga, thank you for sharing this. Following your insctructions I baked very good şimits. The way you described the process makes it impossible to make anything incorrectly. Compliments!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez May 11, 2014, 11:33 am

      I am delighted to know the directions were helpful. I wanted to do just that – to create the guidelines that get you to the right outcome.

      Reply
  • Ala June 24, 2014, 8:36 pm

    Merhaba!

    I made these and my simit didn’t turn out deep brown like they should, although I did use pekmez. Do you have any tips on achieving that nice brown color?!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez June 24, 2014, 10:12 pm

      Ala, the key to a good crust is high-heat in the oven + steam. If you followed the baking directions in the recipe word-to-word and still got a pale crust, means you might need to bake it longer. Baking time in any recipes is just a guideline: ovens are often not calibrated, I use thermometer so I always know the actual temperature in my oven that’s a bit different from the set temperature. So you may just want to experiment with the baking time.

      Reply
  • Leah August 5, 2014, 10:40 am

    Thank you so much for this you have made my day I fell deeply in love with simmit and stringy cheese

    Reply
  • Nikki October 13, 2014, 3:43 pm

    Thanks for this recipe – I fell in love with simit in Istabul!! I’ve tried your recipe but do you know why my simit come out so small and pale? 🙁

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez October 17, 2014, 3:34 pm

      Nikki, sounds like your simit did not rise well and came underbaked. Unless you leave on the high-altitude which is a totally different matter when it comes to baking, you may want to check the expiry date of the yeast you use and make sure you observe all the timing I mention for overnight proof and final proofing as well as steam the oven how I describe. Also, you may want to increase the baking time until the bread looks nice or get a baking thermometer to calibrate the oven: while I set my oven to 240C the real temperate reads 230 or less; most of the home-type ovens need to be calibrated.

      Reply
      • Nikki October 20, 2014, 9:46 pm

        Thanks for the tips Olga! Will give it a try 🙂

        Reply
  • Beren October 16, 2014, 12:02 pm

    We made these today and they were absolutely delicious!! Thank you very much 🙂 I think next time I won’t water the pekmez down so much, I like to have abit more of its flavour. Great job and thank you do much for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez October 17, 2014, 3:26 pm

      Delighted to know the recipe worked up great for you, Beren!

      Reply
  • Ezgi October 18, 2014, 8:38 pm

    I live in Germany, and have been longing for fresh simit. I found this recipe, and the photos caught my attention because your simits looked like real simit. After first try, my simits also turned out very good. Thanks a lot for the recipe! I am making another batch now 🙂

    Reply
  • Lindsay November 1, 2014, 1:23 am

    Great recipe. I was unable to locate pekmez in Toronto. Because you mentioned the New York Bagel, I tried the following options: malt syrup (medium darkness); baking soda (light beige color); and the best alternative I found was to use food grade lye (produced a dark brown firm crust – used also to make New York Pretzels and Pretzel Buns). The Sodium Hydroxide food grade lye bead solution was my favorite as it seemed to produce the closest results to pekmez.

    Reply
  • Nazan November 10, 2014, 11:38 am

    Hi Olga

    This is the best recipe i have tried! I have also tried out the cezerye recipe several times with great success 🙂 I have a question, how much yeast would you use if not overnight proofing/cold proofing?

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 27, 2016, 6:14 pm

      I prefer not adding more yeast, but increasing resting time. At 25C it would probably take 2.5-3 hours before shaping

      Reply
  • LarryA February 6, 2015, 7:23 pm

    Great job Olga! I love the photos. Yours is the only recipe I found in English that uses weights and not volumes. Kudos for not pandering to the lazy American habit of measuring ingredients by volume. I made my first batch of these before finding your recipe. I made a 60% hydration dough and I just sprayed the rings with water. I didn’t yet have any pekmez. They came out very good. I followed the method used by the pros as shown in this fabulous must-see video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHYEFEpm-JA

    The roll-flip-twist-pinch technique is cool-looking, fast, efficient, and easy-to-learn. You have to try this.

    I went to the local Middle Eastern store and got some pekmez and tried your basic recipe but I used a 70% hydration this time because the 60% was too stiff for the ‘pro’ technique. This was easier to form as predicted. These came out even better than the first batch. The pekmez does yield a browner crust but adds no flavor whatsoever. The seeds stick as well as they did with just water. The taste and consistency of pekmez is like watered down cane molasses with a pinch of citric acid so that’s what I will use when the fairly expensive pekmez runs out. Meanwhile I froze the remaining liquid. Thanks for the great recipe.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 11, 2015, 4:31 pm

      Thank you for reporting about your simit experience in such detail, Larry! I am humbled that you’ve used my recipe and found time to report back. There is a number of techniques to shape simit, I’ve shown here the one that is easier to explain and photograph (while working at the same time). The video on the pro simit making is cool though, thank you for sharing. I tried higher hydration dough too, but it produces more airy simit than the one you get on the street, so after my experiments I am pretty convinced that the traditional recipe uses hydration ratio close to 60%, yes, rather stiff. But then of course, the type of flour matters a lot, so hydration is always subject to correction. Great suggestion on pekmez replacement for the North American readers too.

      Reply
  • Annie April 25, 2015, 9:55 pm

    Dear Olga
    Thank you for the wonderful blog. I just made your Simit today (have just come back from an amazing trip to Istanbul). They came out just like yours in the picture! The recipe was easy to follow and I got great results.
    Annie

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez April 27, 2015, 9:23 pm

      Fantastic! Thanks for reporting back and glad that you could relive your Istanbul memories back home, Annie

      Reply
  • dale July 19, 2015, 9:27 am

    Hi, can i use instant dry yeast instead of active yeast? many thanks!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 27, 2016, 6:09 pm

      yes and the recipe specifies the quantity

      Reply
  • Aisha August 5, 2015, 11:11 am

    Hi , i want to ask , how long at least should I keep the dough in the fridge ? And can I skip this step , because I want to do it at the same day , thank you in advance ❤️

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 27, 2016, 6:14 pm

      Aisha, overnight = 8-10 hours. At room temperature 2.5-3 hours, probably

      Reply
  • Wendy September 27, 2015, 8:43 am

    Olga! You are a genius and a goddess!

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I am currently in Istanbul for two months, we haven’t been here a yet a week, and I know that I will need a way to have these once I am back in the states. So, your website is a hero! I will keep an eye out for pekmez while I am here so I can bring some back with me!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez January 27, 2016, 4:01 pm

      Wendy, you are so kind! Hope the recipe works out for you.

      Reply
  • Diana January 28, 2016, 7:34 pm

    What a wonderfully written, dependable, delicious recipe. I’ve now made this three times in the USA with fantastic results. Thank you, Olga, for perfecting this recipe so we could have our own little bit of Istanbul at the breakfast table.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 1, 2016, 11:31 am

      Thank you for letting me know the recipe has worked for you, Diana! I am only glad if you could relive your Istanbul memories at home)

      Reply
  • Tanya February 28, 2016, 1:44 am

    I have made it today following your recipe. My dear goodness, these are real simits. MY DEAR GOODNESS! I ate 2 on the spot, half of me in the oven. I do not know how to shout it out so that everyone hears on the Internet. This is dream come true!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 28, 2016, 8:43 pm

      Tanya, wow, I am happy you’ve loved the recipe! Thank you for letting me know)

      Reply
  • Dana July 17, 2016, 3:38 pm

    Great recipe, this is the 3rd time I am baking these after first trying them in 2014, and it is hands down the best recipe! My Turkish husband and even parent-in-laws loved them. Thanks again from he USA!

    Reply

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