Baking/ Recipes

Pane Toscano & Bread Baking: Taking it with a Grain of Salt (Or Not)

Bread is fussy and variable. Some days it needs more liquid, others more flour, some times a longer rise. And the only way to really learn is by doing, trial-and-error. I’d like to tell you I whip out loaves of bread like this every day of the week, no problem whatsoever, but I’d be lying. LY–ING. In last week’s chickpea and farro salad post, I only briefly mentioned the bread. The first loaf was ok, except for big hollow tear in the middle. And I had no one to blame for it but myself.

First, a warning. Pane Toscano has no salt. I repeat, no salt. So don’t be surprised when you cut off a hunk and think, this has no taste! No salt is exactly what you want if you’re going to be enjoying deliciously salty salumi and cheese and briny olives. I used the King Arthur recipe which calls for a sponge to be made the night before.

For the first loaf I used all-purpose flour as directed. And granted, the environment is pretty moist in Seattle, but I ended up needing an extra full cup of flour to even get the dough to come together. And I could have used more. It was a loose, pretty sticky mass, which in combination with a big DUH! on my part created the hole you see in the middle of the loaf below. WHOOPS.

Everything was going swimmingly until I covered the dough for the second rise with plastic wrap. The recipe says to cover it with a towel. I have no idea what I was thinking. But it was sitting on the counter. And (surprise) it stuck.

It was like a bad brow wax, the plastic wrap taking the top layer of the dough with it as I peeled back the plastic. After I desperately patted the top back into place, I didn’t even bother to slash the loaf, not wanting to ruin more of those lovely bubbles. Into the oven it went.

On my second attempt, I made the sponge with all-purpose and the main dough with Antimo Caputo 00 Flour It’s my go-to pizza flour and seemed the right idea for a Tuscan loaf. Weather on the day I made the second loaf was pretty similar to the first and I needed no extra flour at all. Just the 3 3/4 c. called for in the recipe. BTW – I’ve ordered from Brick Oven Baker twice on Amazon and had good experiences.

And voila! A much better result!

Let’s get a look at that cross-section. Nice height, and good, if small, bubble formation.

Every time I bake bread, I get a little more confident, a little more certain about what I’m doing. But at the same time, it’s teaching me to roll with punches. If things go wrong? So what, fix them as best you can. And then sit down with a hunk of bread, some good cheese and a nice glass of vino.

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