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Photo by: Joseph De Leo
This loaf is dramatic to serve, as the sunflower shape pulls apart with ease into tender, springy pieces for individual servings. Coating your fingers with olive oil instead of flour makes the dough easy to handle when shaping. If chestnut flour is available, it is a wonderful nut-scented variation.
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add the sugar or honey, stir to dissolve, and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the room-temperature water, the 1 tablespoon honey, and the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using a wooden spoon or a heavy-duty mixer, add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and mix until smooth. Grind the aniseed in a mortar to release the flavors, if using. Beat the aniseed or rosemary into the mixture. Beat in the remaining 2¼ cups flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough comes together in a loose ball.
Using a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook, or by hand on a lightly floured board, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ hours.
Lightly oil a 14-inch pizza pan. Punch down the dough, turn out on a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth, 1 or 2 minutes. Roll the dough out into a 14-inch round and place on the pizza pan. With a glass turned upside down, cut out a 3-inch round in the center of the dough, then with a pastry scraper or knife, divide the outer circle of dough into fourths. Cut each piece into fourths again to make 16 slices. Twist each cut strip over and lay it flat. Brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds. Stud the end of each strip with an olive or a grape and place several in the center. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake the bread for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the bread from the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pull apart to serve.
Chestnut flour variation: Substitute ½ cup chestnut flour for ½ cup of the unbleached flour.
Nutrients per serving (% daily value)
Nutritional information includes 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil for brushing.