#16, Tuscan Bread
I haven’t done a hearth bread in a while, so I think I’m due, especially after the recent decision to actually follow through with cooling my main finished loaves to completion before slicing for proper textural results. Searching the book for a decent one, however, has had me come to the understanding of how few my options are becoming for ‘new’ breads I can make that don’t require the extra-long and special processes that Rye bread creation requires, or basically the needing of a ‘barm’ (will discuss when I finally get into ryes). Certainly I’m at the point where I’ll need to make some official decisions soon, whether it’s revisiting recipes or finally delving into the more continuous-intensive process of having to use and refresh the living starter culture.
That aside, I did find one intriguing thing that stood out, a simple recipe to re-try the hearth technique that also offered a distinctly unique personality: Tuscan Bread. It’s a very simplistic bread recipe… and I mean VERY simplistic. This is one of the only breads that is completely Salt-free; likely developed by poorer Italian families who couldn’t afford the expensive seasoning back in the day. This thus leads to a bread that is rather ‘bland’ compared to others, which is why the Italians often load it with super-flavorful pastes and other toppings. Also, since there’s no salt, the yeast isn’t kept in as much check, allowing it to ferment and release as much gas as fast as it wants, which is probably why they also employ another interesting technique. Instead of a pre-ferment, the mix of yeast and flour and water and such done the night before to develop flavor, it utilizes a past of flour and boiling water left overnight. If a pre-ferment was used, it’d likely eat through almost all the natural sugars before making the dough itself the next day, giving us no doubling action. The paste is much more bland, but still allows for some flavor release from the starch gelatinization; or at least that’s the idea. We’ll just have to see how it turns out!
1 ¾ cups/14oz Boiling Water
4 2/3 cups/21oz Bread Flour
2 ½ tsp/0.28oz Active Dry Yeast
½ cup/4oz, ish, Room Temp Water
2 Tb/1oz Olive Oil
- Pour Boiling Water over 2 cups/9oz Bread Flour, stir vigorously until it forms a thick, consistent paste
- Let cool, cover, and sit overnight at room temperature
- Mix Yeast and ¼ cup/2oz of Water, let sit 5 minutes until bloomed
- In stand mixer bowl, with paddle attachment, mix Olive oil, remaining flour, yeasted water, and paste together on low, adding as much additional water as needed to bring everything together in a soft ball/mass; it’s okay if it’s a little sticky
- Switch to dough hook, kneading on medium for 6-8 minutes until tacky and passes the windowpane test, sprinkling in any extra flour as needed
- Oil bowl, transfer, and cover with plastic, bulk fermenting 2 hours until doubled in size; if doubled early, punch down and let re-double
- Line sheet pan with parchment paper, evenly sprinkle with Semolina or Cornmeal
- Divide dough into 2 pieces as desired. Carefully shape each into Boule or Batard forms, handling gently to avoid degassing
- Move on top of cornmeal pan, mist with spray oil, cover loosely plastic wrap and let proof 60-90 minutes, until nearly doubled in size
- Prepare oven for ‘special hearth baking.’ Place two cups of water in steam pan, move into oven with baking stone and heat to 500F
- Lightly mist dough with water, sift with flour, and score the top with a razor in desired pattern
- Slide bread onto baking stone, close, and wait 30 second. Spray the inside oven walls with water, shut door, and repeat twice more in 30 second intervals, turning the oven down to 450F after the third misting
- Bake 10 minutes, remove the steam pan, and rotate loaves 180 degrees
- Bake 10-20 minutes longer, until loaves turn deep golden brown and sound hollow when thumped
- Remove, cool over rack at least an hour, or enjoy a smaller loaf piping hot with butter
- Slice and enjoy
What Have I Learned This Time?
Softer, stickier doughs do seem to produce a more idealistic result, or at least it seems to have a better chance at it, so I’m going to continue trying not to be so cautious of leaning towards that way from now on. Besides, once it bulk ferments with some of that oil covering, it’s just about as easy to handle as not-so-sticky dough.
Apparently there are plenty hearth bread recipes, not just the really long and unmanageable baguettes or other weird shapes, where it’s okay to cook the bread on parchment paper while it’s on the baking stone, if not even the sheet tray on top of the baking stone. Applying this to more recipes will make the transfer much easier and faster, again minimizing oven temperature reduction as much as possible, and I don’t have to worry about deforming my shapes as I fail to slide them from a metal pan even with all the damn cornmeal I sprinkled on its surface.
If there are any other recipes that call for the ‘2 cup water steam bath,’ it’s okay to let the oven stay at its highest temperature for a while to better hold its heat. My worry was that all the water would evaporate and I’d run out, but after the initial 10 minutes there was still probably ½-1 cup left in the pan.
If choosing to bloom the yeast in water, don’t do it in ALL the water from the recipe; I’m rather sure I initially over-moisturized. Next time the yeast is just going in half, supposing I’m making that adjustment to the recipe myself, and the rest is only added to the point of balance. Truthfully I worry that I may have eliminated the chance for the olive oil’s flavor to be detected by having to add in what amounted to quite a little bit of extra flour.
Never have had I had a bread that, even when fully cooked, is so distinctly ‘flour-y’ in flavor. You really can TASTE that flour paste made the day before, almost as if one mixed in mashed potatoes… but flour. Ultimately reminiscent of a cross between those cottage loaf breads, my favorite kind from the store, and a classically crusty baguette/roll. It emphasizes itself even further after leaving the bread alone to cool, which I’m not sure how I feel about that; but this ‘extra plain’ flavor does allow that particular toasty sweetness the browned crust develops to actually be tasted a bit more. It’s a shame that it doesn’t keep that delightful crunchiness it has right out of the oven, but most hearth breads don’t; letting it rest without touching has it go chewy, probably from the extra steaming. But still glad I left a giant round to cool off all by itself, now it’ll actually last and in the ideal ‘bread state.’
Does the Dough Like Me Yet?
Currently putting up a fight but it seems to submit a little more-so in the end.