Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BBA Challenge #38: Tuscan Bread

I guess this is the moment when it all went sensationally wrong, way back when.

Somehow, intentionally making a salt-free bread seems to have wronged the delicate balance of the bread universe, so it had to strike back somehow. This is the bread that made me realize something was wrong with the oven.

When I first started baking, I would religiously measure six cups of flour. Oh, wait. is that four or five? Hold on, I have to pour everything back into the bag of flour. One. Two. Three. Four. Whenever my concentration would waver, I would measure out the cups of flour into different parts of the bowl in order to have a visible mark of having the complete six cups of flour.

I would then pour in one tablespoon of yeast, because I couldn't be bothered to measure out 2 1/2 teaspoons. I thought- what's an extra half teaspoon of yeast? Then, two cups of warm water between 105F and 115F. I'd knead the bread by hand, let it rise exactly an hour and a half, punch it down and let it rise another 45 minutes before baking it for 15 minutes at 400F and an addition 25 at 250F.

And there you have it. The bread recipe that I baked quite seldom, and never intentionally. That is, when I would take a bite of the bread, it tasted like water. Lifeless. Beautiful loaves with no flavor. Which, if you're paying attention, would mean I had forgotten the salt. I know, I know, in the confusion of measuring out six, and exactly six, cups of flour, I had somehow forgotten the salt.

The recipe above, with the inclusion of a tablespoon of salt, that is, was the recipe I baked from for about nine years before joining the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. And since then, I have never baked a loaf of bread without the salt. Until now.

Note the absence of salt, the inclusion of an absurd amount of olive oil as well as- um- cooked flour paste, the kind that you used to get in kindergarten, but made with a darker flour.

Into the machine it goes. Note the general lack of counter space. Fruit is in the heart-shaped bowls we picked up second-hand in Belgium, and a stray cake pan is sitting atop the basket we use for potatoes.

So here's where it all starts going awry. Well, not to say that the paste wasn't awry enough. After a very fast bulk rise, I pack the entire thing into an undersized brotform, and forget about it for an hour. Okay, or two. Without the salt, the monster grew quite fast, and expanded to look like a dough-brain.

I flipped it onto the peel, and, not wanting to chance the bread collapsing when sliding it into the oven, I took the easy way out and used parchment paper, which I rarely do, even for pizza.

And what happened? The bread collapsed. Sort of. I noticed that it wasn't baking properly on the bottom, so I attempted to flip it, and stuck half of my mitt into the bottom of the loaf. That's why the picture at the top has that raw, sunken-in look.

So when it came out, it was already mauled. As for the flavor? Well, I would have said inedible. Many others who baked this bread found it tasteless, or tasting like flour paste (but in a good way).

I wasn't too convinced. After all, this bread with no salt. No one intentionally makes bread without salt.

The bread did have this nice sweetness, though, from the flour paste and the flavor of the olive oil. In fact, with this bread, good olive oil is a must, since, without salt, it is one of the prominent flavors.

Oddly enough, Amy said it was the best bread I had ever baked. Which I found strange, but not strange enough to stop me from making sandwiches on the bread. The flavor was complementary to whatever was put on it- mustard and cheese- but, in the end, I know I won't be making this one again.

Other Tuscan bakers include:

Anne Marie of Rosemary and Garlic

Chris from Eating Is The Hard Part

Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes

Oggi from I can do that!


  1. Very interesting post...fun following it all the way through, it looks really great in the end shot...just a beautiful bread inside and out. Eager to try this and see what results I get.

  2. It does look beautiful, though. And your post reminds me again to get a round brotform. I just have the oval ones... What I found interesting about this bread: the taste was good when I first bit into it (when it was warm), but later it was only *meh*...

  3. It does look lovely Daniel, but I just cannot get over that this recipe doesn't include salt and that's what stopping me from moving on to it. I'm tempted to just add the salt, but then it's really not PR's Tuscan Bread recipe, is it.

  4. Very interesting post. Congratulations on bread #38! (I'm on bread 9) It looks beautiful even though there were issues. In a year or so I'll let you know what I think of the taste, but I'm not too hopeful as it sounds like a lot of people found it blah.

  5. Mags, just make the bread and move forward, I slathered it with anchovies. Salty anchovies, of course.

    Daniel, I am perplexed by Amy's comment

  6. I agree on this bread. I found it tasted fine as long as I put something on it, but I like my bread plain and unadorned. I won't be making this one again. Your loaf sure LOOKS good, though!

  7. I agree that it looks good! And also that Amy's comment is confusing. =) Lack of counter space = good to know I'm not alone!! =)