Tuscan Low-Salt Bread is a round, low-lying loaf with a beautiful pocked crust and that special artisan taste. I like it best with big pieces torn off, looking rugged and steamy on my plate. Might just need to be served alongside some Farmhouse Soup!
This recipe comes from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. If you love baking bread and want to try many varieties (but not have to guess about what to do or why), get this book!
A few notes from Rose:
1. Because of an ancient government tax levied on products containing salt, this bread is traditionally made without the salt.
2. The low amount of salt (if you use some) means that the yeast can rise uninhibited, making it possible to use less yeast and derive more flavor from the flour.
3. Eliminate the salt entirely if you wish to be traditional, but note that the rising times will be a little shorter.
Tuscan Low-Salt Bread
1/2 C. + 1/2 TBS unbleached all-purpose King Arthur flour
1/16 tsp. instant yeast
1/4 C. of 70-90 degree water
1 3/4 C. same King Arthur flour
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
2/3 C. water
1/2 tsp. salt (if desired)
Also: 1/2 C. ice cubes for baking process (make some if you don’t have any!)
Stir the ingredients of the biga (starter) together in a small bowl using a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes. It will be very tacky and will come away from the side of the bowl when it’s been stirred enough. It should also cling a little to your fingers when touched.
Cover the bowl tightly with either plastic wrap or a lid (if you decide to oil the lid a little, make it a little and avoid the edges – I sprayed the whole lid a lot once, and the thing shot off in the middle of the night from the pressure).
Allow the biga to triple and fill with bubbles. It takes about 6 hours at room temperature. At this point, either stir the biga down and refrigerate for up to 3 days before baking OR do the following (my favorite, for ultimate flavor):
Ferment the biga in a cool area (55-65 degrees) for 12-24 hours. After 24 hours at this temperature, it will not deflate. I usually just mix it up the night before, go about my life, and begin making the bread the next morning. Easy peasy, whatever that means.
The next day, or whenever you’ve decided to make the bread, mix the flour, yeast, and biga. It will take some doing to get the biga incorporated, but be patient. Think of the great workout your forearms are getting!
Add the water a little at a time until a rough dough forms. Scrape down the dough bits. Cover with plastic wrap (a plastic bag without any holes works fine, wrapped snugly around the bowl). Let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle on salt if you’re using it and knead by hand for 7 minutes. Again, think of the awesome arm workout you’re getting and all the women who have done this process by hand for centuries past. I’ll remind myself of that next time I’m checking the clock 3 MINUTES into the process.
By the end of 7 minutes, the dough should be elastic, smooth, and sticky enough to cling to your fingers. If it’s so sticky that it’s impossible to work with, add in a little flour at a time while kneading. Using an oiled spatula or a bench scraper, move the dough into an oiled bowl.
Push down the dough and lightly spray the top (I use Pam). Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (a damp towel won’t work well in this case because of the long rising time – not worth risking the dough forming a crust). Allow it to rise until tripled, about 3 hours.
You fill in the blanks – you’ve got 3 hours! Do whatever you feel like!
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees one hour before baking (so think ahead – 2 hours to yourself, preheat the oven, and go have fun the last hour too). Make sure an oven shelf is in the lowest position, and put a baking stone on it. If you don’t have a baking stone, don’t sweat it.
Gently turn the dough onto a pan or parchment paper well dusted with flour. I use parchment paper so that I pick up the risen dough and deposit it safely onto the baking stone. Make sure if you are not using a baking stone that your dough makes its final rise on a baking sheet/pan, with or without parchment paper. The dough should be about 8″x6″, 1 1/4″ high. Basically roundish and low-lying. Dust the top with flour and let it rise 1/4″, for 30 minutes.
Next: quickly but gently set the baking sheet or parchment paper on the hot stone. Toss 1/2 C. of ice cubes on the bottom of the oven (or in a pan below, if that works in your oven). Shut the door fast! You want to keep all that moisture locked inside.
Bake the loaf for 20-25 minutes until golden. Remove it from the oven and cool it completely (if you can wait that long before tasting it).