Ciao Italia Family Classics
Mary Ann returns to her family's humble beginnings to bring us a treasure trove of more than 200 time-honored recipes.
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Makes 1 Large Loaf
Bread has always had historical and symbolic, as well as practical, meaning for mankind. Somewhere in antiquity the idea of making food from grain and water took hold and literally changed the way in which people interacted with one another. Human suffering, wars, and the course of history have been determined by whether or not there was bread to eat.
One of the many breads that has its roots in historical events is Tuscan bread. Its main characteristic is that is has always been made without salt because of a tax on salt imposed by the popes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. To show their displeasure, the townspeople went without salt, and the bakers refused to put it in their bread. To this day, this saltless bread is eaten daily in Tuscany and is a reminder of the steadfastness of a proud people.
Some people say that the saltless bread is the perfect foil for the many kinds of flavorful foods traditionally made with it. Cooked cannellini beans, flavored with dark green Tuscan olive oil, are wonderful on this bread. The bread is equally good in soup or as the base for fettunta, Tuscan bread grilled and rubbed with garlic, then drizzled with dense extra-virgin olive oil. Making Tuscan bread requires a starter dough, known as a sponge, which needs at least a day to develop its sour tang.
½ cup warm (110º to 115ºF) water
1 cup King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
1¼ cups warm (110º to 115ºF) water
4 to 4 ½ cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
Cornmeal (if using a baking stone)
To make the sponge, in a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Let stand to proof until foamy, about 10 minutes, and then add the flour. Stir well to mix; the mixture should have the consistency of a soft dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place for 24 hours. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over ¼ cup of the water and let proof until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup water. Add the sponge and mix well with your hands. Add 3 ½ cups of the flour and mix well, then add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft ball.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turn to coat the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 3 to 4 hours, or until doubled in size. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently form it into a rectangular or round loaf.
Place the loaf on a greased baking sheet. Let rise for about 35 minutes, or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400ºF. If using a baking stone, set it on the bottom rack of the oven to preheat for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the preheated stone with cornmeal and carefully slide the bread onto the stone.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is evenly browned and the bottom crust is hard. If baking on a baking sheet, bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is nicely browned and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. Note: This is the perfect bread to use for crostini, as well as for fettunta. If planning to use the bread for crostini, shape the dough into 2 or 3 long narrow loaves and adjust the baking time accordingly.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1991.
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