Saltless Tuscan Bread
In response to a request on the D.C./Baltimore board, I am posting on my progress in developing a recipe for a rustic, saltless Tuscan-style bread using a locally-grown and freshly milled whole wheat flour.
This is not a fully whole-wheat bread, and, in fact, the whole wheat is a minor part. However, it has a very nice toasty flavor from the whole wheat.
This recipe is executed in 2 days, using a "biga" or starter. This gives the bread a much more full flavor than that made in a single day. The following makes 2 medium-sized loaves. I think it is too large for a single large loaf. I think my next step will be to try to make a slightly smaller, single large loaf, which we prefer. I do not have a bread machine or a standing mixer, so my instructions are for making by hand. I Also weigh flour instead of measure, so I can't give measurements.
175 grams of white flour (I use King Arthur regular flour)
2/3 C warm water*
1/4 t active dry or instant yeast
Stir the yeast into the water, and let it sit until it dissolves. Do this even though the label may tell you that you don't have to. Add the flour all at once and beat it in vigorously. Use a wooden spoon, or even better, use a type of whisk made for this purpose that resembles a small old-fashioned carpet beater. Beat it until you see it begin to form strings showing that the gluten is developing. It will take 120 or so strokes. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight. Since I have granite counters, I put it on a wooden or plastic cutting board, so that the temperature will be constant throughout.
It will be greatly expanded by morning.
60 grams whole wheat flour
500 grams white
1 1/3 C water
1 1/2 t yeast
1 t malt powder**
pinch ascorbic acid***
Heat 1/3 cup water to barely warm (baby-bottle-warm--too hot will kill the yeast), add the malt powder and the yeast. Let it bubble, stirring occasionally, until the yeast is dissolved. Add the remaining water (room temperature--not cold) to the biga and stir it in, breaking up the biga. Add the yeast mixture and stir it in. Mix the flours and the ascorbic acid. Add to the biga mixture in at least 4 increments. Stir vigorously after each addition, as you did for the biga. Or at least as vigorously as possible. You should see the gluten developing in that it becomes elastic. The last addition will be difficult to do anything except stir it in. The whisk described above is of great help here. After the last addition, it should be a raggy mass. If not, it is too wet, and some more flour should be added. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and let it stand for 20-30 minutes for the flour to asorb the moisture.
Heavily sprinkle a surface with flour. A wooden surface works best--again, I do not use my granite counter because it would be too cold for the dough. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and turn it out onto the floured surface. Knead for 10-20 minutes until it is no longer sticky. To fully develop the gluten, several times during the kneading process, it should be stretched and slapped--after it has become less wet so that it does not stick to the surface. To do this, pick up the dough and swing it around and slap it hard on the surface. As the gluten developes, it will string out to baguette form when you do this. This process helps to give the bread good structure when it is baked.
When it is nicely stretched and dry enough that you can stick your finger into it and get it out again, talk to it nicely and place it into a bread bowl that has been very lightly oiled. Let it rise until doubled. This varies greatly for me, depending on the ambient temperature in the kitchen. Cooler and slower is fine. It will be somewhere between 1 and 2 hours. If it over-rises at this stage, it isn't a big deal.
When it has risen, deflate it gently and turn it out onto the floured surface. Cut into 2 loaves and gently form them into ovals or small circles. Cover with cloth (cotton--synthetics might stick) and let rise until almost doubled. This will be less time, perhaps 45 minutes to an hour & a quarter. Watch carefully and don't let them over-rise, or they will deflate when they are jostled into the oven.
While they are rising, heat the oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, use it and heat it too. I have a hearthkit oven liner, which is like a pizza stone on the bottom and two sides of the oven.
When they are ready, slash the tops a few times, and put them on the stone with a peel. If you don't have a stone, put them onto a pre-heated baking sheet, with some parchment paper underneath them.
Squirt water into the oven from a spray bottle. Bake them 15 minutes, spraying about 3 more times. At 15 minutes, move them around the oven a bit so they will bake evenly, close the door, and turn it down to 400. Bake for another 20 minutes or so. If you have a convection oven, you can turn it on and check after 15 minutes for doneness.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
This bread dries out beautifully and can be used for bruschetta, panzanella, and other Tuscan recipes that require a hearty, rustic bread.
* Our city water is heavily disinfected with chemicals, which affect how the yeast works. I use water filtered through our reverse osmosis system. I suggest using distilled or Dasani brand or other water using reverse osmosis. The Brita filter also may do a good job; I don't know.
**I get this from King Arthur Flour catalogue. You can substitute sugar, but it will give a sweetness to the bread, which the malt does not. I have not tried honey, but I know some people use it in rustic breads.
***I also get this from King Arthur Flour. When I've run out, I've broken open a capsule of vitamin C and used that. Some yeasts are sold with this already added--but I still add the pinch anyway just to be sure it has an acid environment conducive to the yeast..
Isn't the difference mainly in the language of origin? All I know is that it's called a "biga" in Italy", and since it is an Italian bread, that's what I call it. The literal translation of "biga" is "chariot.
I'm also always confused as to what people in this country mean by the word "gelato" when they carefully distinguish it from ice cream. Don't get me started on other misuses of the Italian language in American food. I've stopped ordering caffe latte in coffee places in the U.S. because I'm tired of being corrected by people who don't even know what "latte" means. I get revenge by imagining their faces when they go to Italy and order a "latte"in a bar.