Pane Toscano Scuro

A (or perhaps the?) defining characteristic of Tuscan bread is its lack of salt. I have made saltless Tuscan bread before, and I was pleasantly surprised by its sweet flavor.

This “dark Tuscan bread”, a 70%-whole-wheat version adapted from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, did not warm my heart quite as well, but I did like the soft crumb and crisp crust. I might experiment with different wheat flours to see how the flavor varies with each. And in fairness, I have to say I have so far only eaten it pretty much straight up, and Tuscan bread is meant to go with the hearty flavors of Tuscan food. Panzanella (tomato and bread salad) is traditional with this bread… stay tuned.

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Look Mom, No Flour!

Yes, they’re Beautiful, Bold, and Brilliant. But who knew that the Bread Baking Babes, whose monthly exploits take them into the far-reaching corners of the global oven, were also Beastly, Brutal, and just plain Bad? That’s the only conclusion I’m left with after undertaking my first bread as a newly-inaugurated Babe. Consider me duly hazed.

Here’s the thing: this bread contains no flour.

When you bake bread with flour, the miller has done a lot of work on your behalf. She has selected the right wheat berries at just the right stage of development, tempered the flour for the proper moisture content, and maybe added malt so the dough will ferment at the right rate. When you bake with no flour, you’re kind of on your own.

Gee, thanks, Babes! Love you too. Do I now have to streak across campus in order to be fully ordained into Babehood?

The procedure goes something like this: You don your Birkenstocks. You sprout some wheat berries. You whirl them up in the food processor with some yeast, salt and honey, and work it by hand a little to make a pretty nice dough. You let it rise a few times and bake it in a pan. You get a heavy, dense, gummy-in-the-middle but crumbly-at-the edges, whole-wheat  loaf that transports you back some [mumble mumble] years to your college co-op days when everyone wanted to volunteer for weekly bread-baking because it beat toilet-cleaning, but no one really knew how to do it.

But here’s the other thing: it’s really not half-bad, considering the no-flour thing.

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Grape Schiacciata

I always feel a little presumptuous posting about regional breads, especially ones that are new to me. On the other hand, limiting myself to writing about breads that I’ve known intimately since childhood would mean an entire blog about Pepperidge Farm White Sandwich and Dutch Dill breads, and that might get old fast.

I hope it’s understood that most of what I write here about new breads comes from what I can glean from travels with my virtual surfboard and a fairly good sampling of bread books like these. I also hope it’s understood that I welcome anyone who has any firsthand knowledge of these things to correct, expand upon, or otherwise edit my neophytic commentary. I particularly invite my Italian friends to chime in on this one.

That said, here’s what I think I know about schiacciata:

  • Schiacciata is a Tuscan flatbread, similar to — or is it a type of, or another name for? — focaccia.
  • Schiacciata is pronounced something like skya-CHA-ta, and means “crushed” or “squashed” in Italian.
  • Schiacciata can be plain or filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, or cheese.
  • Grape schiacciata (schiacciata con l’uva) is a traditional version that celebrates the Tuscan grape harvest. It typically uses wine grapes (with seeds). I used seedless black grapes.
  • Schiacciata can be made as a rich, sweet pastry with eggs and lard, or as a rather lean dough. The one I made contains just a little sugar and olive oil in the dough, and a little more on top.
  • Anise seed is not an uncommon addition to sweeter versions of schiacciata. Fennel seed, which I used, seems to be less common but not unheard of.
  • I did not find semolina to be an ingredient in any of the schiacciata recipes I looked at. I included some in mine because I like the hint of golden color and nutty flavor it adds to dough, and because I’m wild like that.

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Goat on a Roll

I have to say this was a pretty good sandwich.

The meat is goat shoulder, which shows up in my meat CSA box with unpredictable regularity and which I have never, until now, succeeded in preparing beyond the “barely recognizable as food” level. Of course, this is not because there is anything wrong with the goat itself, but rather because I am just by nature, it seems, mystified by meat. Baffled by beef, perplexed by pork, foiled by fowl, and saddest of all, bullied by billy. Poor me.

Time to buckle down and hunt in earnest for something foolproof. I found it in Simply Recipes’ pulled pork recipe, which worked beautifully for the piquant, sinewy goat meat. The only change I made was to pressure-cook the meat with the water for 20 minutes before adding the sauce and simmering for two hours; it was then so tender that a stern glance was all it took to make it fall apart. Who’s bullying whom now, hm?

The rolls are a variation on my usual hamburger buns; the primary change was making the prefermented dough with whole wheat rather than white flour, which boosts the proportion of whole wheat flour in the rolls to about 72%. So they’re good for you, but if you use white whole wheat flour your kids will never know the difference between these and store-bought rolls. Oh, except these taste a lot better, and hold up better buried under a pile of bullied goat, too.

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Get Your Malt On

These baguettes were made with a small amount of diastatic malt powder. Perfectly good bread is possible without malt, but in some cases it can help your bread be just that much more lovely.

Malt contains several enzymes; the most significant to bread bakers is amylase, which breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugar. Sugar is important for two primary reasons: it is what yeast eats (so fermentation would not be possible without it) and caramelization of sugar contributes greatly to a rich crust color. Most white flours have malt added at the mill, and even when they do not, both amylase and simple sugars are present naturally in wheat flour, so you can get fine results without adding more malt to the dough at mixing time.

However, when dough has a long fermentation, the yeast consumes a lot of sugar, since it grazes pretty much constantly. This means there is less sugar left over for caramelization of the crust, so the crust color might be paler than you’d like. For doughs with preferments (such as the poolish used in these baguettes), where a portion of the flour is fermented over several hours, the addition of amylase in the form of malt can make the crust a bit nicer. You might also add some to your dough if you are baking with unmalted flour.

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Ciabatta del Giorno

I made today’s ciabatta with a little more water than usual. I expected this would result in a more open texture, but it didn’t, perhaps because I mixed it a little too long. Take-home #1: all other thing being equal, higher hydration leads to a more open crumb. Take-home #2: all other things being equal, more mixing leads to a finer, more closed crumb. (You can see this effect dramatically in these baguettes.) Take-home #3: all other things are never equal.

I will say, however, that however open or not open the crumb, it made a pretty good sandwich with prosciutto, sopressata, mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar.

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