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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pane Toscano (Tuscan Bread)

Tuscan Bread (Pane Toscano)
Tuscan Bread is one of the things that has been on my to-make list for quite a few years now. Honest to goodness, real, UNsalted Tuscan Bread (or Pane Toscano). Pane Toscano is a particularly large roundish loaf of bread that is traditionally cooked in the wood-fired ovens of Tuscany. Aside from being so large, its main distinction is its lack of salt.  It is made with sourdough or a bit of a starter, which gives it a slight tang, and it has a thick, chewy crust.

The dough is somewhat wet and slack, but the moisture in the dough, combined with a bit of steam (introduced here with ice cubes) and a super-hot oven, gives you that magical, sought-after crust crackle (sometimes called a singing crust) once the loaf is pulled from the oven.  Once you've removed the loaf from the hot oven and it begins to cool, the inside of the bread contracts a bit, which pulls at the crust. That thick, hard crust that was formed begins to form hairline fractures and cracks from the pressure, hence that much desired crackle.

I'll just say, that beautiful singing crust can incite quite the reaction. At one point, my whole family was gathered around the counter oohhing and aahhing over it.

Back to the saltless aspect of Tuscan Bread. Why is there no salt? That depends on who you ask. It's one of those "things" that has a few stories floating around behind its origins. One story is that the popes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries imposed taxes on salt. In a show of displeasure, the people went without it and bakers decided to make their bread without it.
Tuscan Bread (Pane Toscano)
Another story revolves around how expensive salt became during the Middle Ages, the people so poor they decided to go without it. Or there's the story of an ancient rivalry between the coastal town of Pisa and the inland town of Florence, and Pisa trying to punish the people by halting transportation of salt from the shore. The proud Florentine's declared their food so good that it didn't need salt.

Legends and stories aside, most say that the real reason Tuscan bread is made without salt it because Tuscan food is already so flavorful that adding salt to the bread was superfluous. And since it is often served with strong, salty meats and cheeses, salt would only interfere with their enjoyment. It was almost always eaten with the meal, and used for mopping up flavorful sauces and the bottom of bowls of soup and other items.

While it may seems strange to bite into the unsalted bread alone, say before a meal or instead of it, I've found that is is really delicious with just a drizzle of really good, flavorful olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.

When stale (we're talking after a day or two at the most), pane Toscano is rock hard. But don't throw it away! You could obviously make bread crumbs, but you could also use it in traditional Tuscan dishes that use old bread such as Panzanella, Cacciucco, Ribollita, or Arezzo (bread added to meats stewed in broth). Or go the sweet route and use it to make bread pudding!

Pane Toscano (Tuscan Bread)
Traditional Tuscan bread that consists of only 3 ingredients: flour, yeast, and water. This saltless loaf is used for mopping us saucy dishes and soups, or topping with salty meats and cheeses. It's also fantastic drizzled with good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
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Pane Toscano (Tuscan Bread)
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 85 minutes (largely unattended) + overnight
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Keywords: bake bread dairy-free nut-free soy-free sugar-free vegan Italian

Ingredients (1 large loaf)
    for the sponge:
    • 2/3 cup lukewarm (110°F) water
    • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
    • 1/3 cup (43 grams) rye flour
    for the dough:
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
    • 1 1/3 cup lukewarm water, divided
    • 3 3/4 cups (488 grams) bread flour + more as needed
    make the sponge (the night before):
    Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in both types of flour until no more dry spots remain. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight (or in the bottom of an oven that is turned off).

    baking day:
    Put 1/3 cup of the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let sit until foamy, ~5 minutes. Add the rest of the water, the sponge, and the flour to the bowl and mix until it all comes together.

    Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead. Don't add too much flour, dough should be slightly slack and a bit sticky. Once you have kneaded for 5-10 minutes, transfer the dough an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, ~60 minutes.

    while the dough is rising:
    If you have a pizza peel, get that ready. If you have a baking stone, put that on the center rack of the oven. If you don't have a stone, get out the largest baking sheet you can find (a round pizza tray would work well). Set a large piece of parchment paper on the pizza peel or the baking sheet. Set an old metal pan in the bottom of the oven.

    back to the dough:
    Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface without punching it down (trying not to lose much of the built up gas). Using floured hands, tuck and turn the dough to form a round loaf, tucking the edges under as you turn. Set the ball onto the sheet of parchment paper you got out earlier. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, ~60 minutes.

    Preheat oven to 450° F during the last 20 minutes of rising time. Have some ice cubes on hand (in the freezer, but ready to use).

    Remove the towel and slash a tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of the dough. Slide the dough onto the baking stone parchment paper and all (or place the baking sheet in the oven). Quickly drop 5 or 6 ice cubes into the old metal pan in the bottom of the oven and close the door. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400°F; bake for 30 minutes longer.

    Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool (if you're lucky, you'll hear that magical crackling sound coming from the crust). This is one large loaf, almost 12-inches across!

    -adapted from King Arthur Flour
    Tuscan Bread (Pane Toscano)

    #TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Savoring Italy and runs smoothly with the help of Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, and the rest of our fabulous bakers.

    Our host this month is Rossella from Ma ch ti sei mangiato, and our theme is Italian Breads. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month's mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves Olive Breads!

    If you'd like to bake along with us this month, share your Italian bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!

    Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
    The New York Times, Tasty Tuscan Bread
    The Kitchn, Food Science: Why Bread Crusts Crack
    King Arthur Flour, Tuscan Bread