Mangia – Pane Toscano


Having spent a thoroughly frantic day preparing for guests on Saturday, when bread baking finally rolled around on Sunday morning, I was more than happy to settle on a recipe that was a little more hands off than usual.  Rushing to and from the market and standing on one’s feet all day tend to make this foodie grumpy, so I was on the lookout for an effortless endeavour followed by a crisp, cool glass of wine.

On top of all that, I planned to go out for dinner to research a restaurant review for my side job, so I knew I would not be around to tend to anything time-consuming (coming soon; August 6th).

After halfheartedly flipping through the pages of Local Breads and bypassing both the German and French sections, I paused where I often do; in Italy.  The pane Toscano, billed as a saltless Tuscan bread, seemed simple and rustic enough to pull off with a minimal amount of fuss.  The primary advantage in tipping the scales was that it didn’t require a starter more complicated than a biga.  I whipped the biga together in double time, then went about soaking my poor, aching toes.

Mix Mix Mix

Fast forwarding to 9 hours later, I returned from my dinner with bread baking on the brain.  The dough was mixed, proofed, divvied, and shaped, all in a matter of two and a half hours.  By that time it was 11:30, and my duvet was calling, so I made an executive decision to test out a fancy little knob on our gas range that I’d avoided until now; the automatic timer shutoff.  Fortuitously, this particular bread called for turning the oven off at the end of the baking time, but leaving the loaf in the oven to toughen the crust, so the timer would be just the ticket.  The one chink in the armour that I hadn’t anticipated was that once the oven shuts itself off at the end of the timed cycle, it incessantly beeps until you acknowledge the “end” of it’s sequence.  Which necessitated getting out of bed.  But it was still a worthwhile experiment, and I now know that it works reliably enough to use whilst I’m busy gardening or doing various other things.

The next morning I arose to find a lovely, pale, golden wheat double helix in the oven.  The crust was appropriately hard and hollow-sounding when tapped, and the flour I’d sprinkled on top prior to baking gave the loaves an endearingly homespun quality.  Based solely on appearances, I had high hopes for this bread, but a taste reaffirmed the reason that salt is one of the four indispensable ingredients in any decent loaf of bread.  Without the salt the loaf tasted bland and boring, though for some reason I kept picking up hints of cinnamon from it (perhaps from the tea towel it had been covered with while proofing).  Though I’m sure this bread would make a wonderful accompaniment to any highly seasoned dish, my honorary Italian self says to give this recipe a pass.  Especially when homemade ciabatta is clearly so much better.

Until next time…

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3 Responses to “Mangia – Pane Toscano”

  1. scott says:

    Looks good anyway. I’d heard(I can’t remember where) about a group of culinary students who studied in Tuscany on the border with Emilia-Romagna. They used to cross the Po river to get bread in Emilia, rather than eat the saltless Tuscan brand. So, you’re not the only one holding this opinion.

  2. mochapj says:

    HA! Scott, that’s hilarious. Though it has the sound of an urban legend to it, I have no doubt that it’s true.

    Glad to know I’m not alone. Until I slathered it with peanut butter for lunch today, I thought it was absolutely terrible. The PB makes it passable, but still not worth making again.

  3. scott says:

    Try making chicken liver crostini. I had some in a cozy little Osteria in Siena. Perfect compliment to unseasoned bread.

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