Pane Toscano – Bread from Tuscany
When thinking about regional cuisine from Tuscany it is necessary to have one basic ingredient, Tuscany bread. Usually prepared in a round loaf this bread is the basis for many dishes from Bruschetta to Ribolita. This bread differs from other Italian breads because it is only flour and water. No oil, no salt just flour, water and yeast. The resulting bread has a thin layered crust and once cut will rather quickly harden. The remaining bread is then used in various dishes as the carbohydrate base instead of pasta. It also is fantastic for breadcrumbs.
The process is rather simple. The ingredients are:
1 ½ cups of Biga
1 teaspoon sugar
3 ¾ cups of unbleached flour
1 cup of warm water
1 package dry yeast or 9 grams of fresh yeast.
Dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in the warm water. Stir in the yeast. Allow the yeast to sit for 10 minutes. Foam will form on the top. If the foam does not form then buy new yeast.
Place the biga in a mixing bowl. Once the yeast has finished activating pour the yeast-water mixture over the biga. With a large spoon mix the two together. The result is a super leavening mixture.
Pour the flour into the biga-water mixture and mix with a bread hook or large spoon. The mixture will be relatively soft. Continue kneading with the bread hook for about 7-10 minutes. Move onto a floured surface and knead for another 2-3 minutes. The dough will be soft but should maintain its shape. Roll into a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with a towel, I use a piece of plastic wrap under the towel, for 1-2 hours depending on the temperature. The dough should double in size.
Do not punch down the down. This bread has large air pockets that are important to the various dishes such as Bruschetta. Place on a well floured baking dish and flatten with your hands to get a round disk 3-4 fingers high. Flip over to get flour on both sides. Allow to rise another 1-1 ½ hours depending on the temperature.
About ½ hour before baking, turn the oven on to 450 degrees. If you are using a baking stone place the stone in the oven and allow the stone to come to temperature. Just before baking spray the inside walls of the oven with water. Be careful, steam will be released. If using a baking stone quickly sprinkle some cornmeal on the stone.
Cut a tic-tac-toe pattern with a sharp knife into the top of the dough. Place the bread in the oven and allow to cook for 30 minutes. Once completed baking cool on a rack for several hours.
This bread will remain fresh for several days before cutting. Once cut it will dry quickly.
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