BBA Challenge #38: Tuscan Bread

Did you know I am participating in the BBA Challenge?  Oh, you forgot, since my last post on this topic was, oh, six months ago?  Or, you’re thinking, isn’t that so over?  Didn’t everyone finish by now?

Yes, pretty much everyone is done, and no, I haven’t silently bailed on the challenge, hoping no one would notice my lack of follow-through or discipline.  (But no, I won’t hold it against anyone who was suspecting as much).  In fact, I had even made the next bread, Tuscan bread, well before the BBA gauntlet was thrown down, so there wasn’t even the an intimidation factor at play.

But…I wasn’t all that excited about Tuscan bread.  There are plenty of poetic things you can say about this bread–I think you can drop the adjective “Tuscan” in front of anything these days and people will get excited.  I love the fact that Tuscan bread’s singular quality, its lack of salt (one of the four “essential” ingredients in bread making, besides flour, water, and yeast) was even referenced in the Divine Comedy, where Dante is foretold of his future in exile:

“You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste

of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs.”

The salty taste of this bread, is of course a metaphorical reference to the bitter life of one banished from his home who cannot return, but is also a quite literal reference.

Much as I love the connection with classical literature and the Renaissance, I procrastinated.  Dante may have been saddened at the thought of salt in his bread, but I was less than thrilled to contemplate its absence.  But being only a few loaves from the finish line, I knew I had to make this at some point, and I finally buckled down. 

The odd thing (or, another odd thing) about this bread is that it starts by adding boiling water to flour which sits out the night before.  As the steaming water splashed into the flour in my bowl, up rose a familiar smell–that of cream of wheat.  The resulting paste looks rather like glue–which was in fact a clue to the texture of the final dough.

When I mixed the dough the next day, I allowed it to rest and develop structure by autolyse rather than by kneading (so that I didn’t overpower my poor, recently refurbished Kitchenaid–the wound is still fresh). 

I ended up finishing the kneading by hand, which I haven’t done in a long time.  I was pleasantly reminded of how meditative a process it can be, even though little E and baby H were banging pots and pans at the time.  The hand kneading was a rather sticky proposition.  I kept adding flour thinking I had over-hydrated the dough, but in fact the dough is likely supposed to be clinging like glue:  Only a few days later did I see this post, which reminded me that besides its most acknowledged role as a flavor enhancer, salt also alters the texture of bread, including making it less sticky. 

My formed loaves, however held together well and rose buoyantly.  Perhaps my shaping skills have improved (creating enough surface tension so that the dough doesn’t spread as it rises) or perhaps the hand kneading at the end provided the extra structure.  My bread baked up nicely, but was perhaps a bit dense; it’s hard to say if this was the result of adding too much flour or, again, simply the neat texture of a saltless loaf.

To eat this bread, I decided I needed something rather strong to complement it, so I made an olive tapenade (which besides being delicious, certainly compensated for any lack of salt in the bread).  In my mini-blender, it couldn’t have been easier (8 olives, 2T capers, 2T fresh parsley, 1T vinegar, 2T olive oil), and I was left wondering why I never made this spread before.  Note to self:  remember olive tapenade the next time I am looking for an easy appetizer!


14 thoughts on “BBA Challenge #38: Tuscan Bread

  1. You should be able to see the finish line already – 5 more breads, and you’re done! ;o) Have I told you we’ll be in Italy in September? Not quite Tuscany, so no Tuscan bread for us, but ROME. So excited. Without the kids!!!!

    • And I actually have baked the whole wheat and white already (the white a few times–homemade buns + CSA ground beef and even I am craving hamburgers!). So really, only three to go! It’s even sadder how much I procrastinated then, isn’t it?

  2. Congratulations on being so soooo close…you’re almost there! The olive tapenade was a good idea…I wasn’t creative enough (or maybe was just too lazy) to make anything salty to go with this, so we just really didn’t like it. I love the look of your little boules. =)

    • I forgot to mention I used the rest to make a savory butternut squash and sage bread pudding. So delicious–Mark Bittman to the rescue! (I added more salt than the recipe called for of course…)

  3. If you slow down your pace just a bit you can finish together with the 2011 group doing the challenge!! (HaHa). Your Tuscan bread had wonderful oven spring and your scoring was so pretty. Almost makes up for the lack of taste in thes bread. Great save with the olive tapenade.

    • Don’t joke–I’m at one bread per quarter so far and have more than that to go ;-). And yes, the olive tapenade was great to have. If nothing else, at least I learned how easy this delicious spread was to make!

  4. Wonderful looking breads- Even with all the weirdness arising from lack of salt.

    seem to remember this one was sweet because I probably added more olive oil than I should have, but I was definitely missing the salt. You’re so close to the end! The last two breads are real treats. I say charge on ahead and just catch up on posts later.

  5. Hi Sara, Your bread looks beautiful, even if it didn’t have any salt. Thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s always fun to “meet” another local blogger. I am also one of 3 sisters and we love sharing recipes from afar or cooking when we get to visit together. I look forward to reading more of your cooking and crafting adventure.

    • I loved when I read the Divine Comedy a few years back and on that passage there was a footnote explaining the reference to salt. Baking and literature combine! I thought you might like the reference 😉

  6. When I lived in Italy, I could never quite get behind pane Toscano. The history is interesting–a 12th Century dispute with Pisa–but unless you’re sopping up pasta sauce or oily beans the lack of salt always bugged me a little. Yours looks lovely, though.

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