Ingredients (for the version with sourdough see below):500 g plain flour25 g brewer’s yeast300 ml water
Tuscan bread – the “real” kind – is delicious and famous in the rest of Italy as well, thanks to a unique characteristic: it’s made without salt. The habit of not putting salt in bread seems to go back to the 12th century, when the rivalry between Pisa and Florence, led Pisa – which was a “Maritime Republic” – to impose an actual embargo on salt (very precious at that time) against the inland city. This habit, which began due to necessity, was willingly adopted and then salt simply didn’t return to the bread of Florence or the entire region of Tuscany. Moreover, “pane sciocco” (= bread without salt) is perfect with Tuscan cuisine, which is made up of very flavoursome foods (cold cuts, roast meats, stews, game, tasty vegetable or fish soups…), and so, since then, Tuscan bread has remained without salt.
In the evening, before going to bed, make a little soft dough in a bowl using 50 g of flour and the yeast which has been crumbled into an inch of very warm water (at least 37 °C). Cover and leave it to rise in a warm place. In the morning, pile the remaining flour on the table, create a “well” in it and place the risen dough in the centre. Gradually add approximately 300 ml of very warm water, mixing until you obtain a soft, spongy dough – kneading well with your hands (flattening and then folding the dough over several times, energetically). Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly floured bowl. Cut a cross into the top of the ball with a sharp knife, cover it with a cloth (better still, woollen) and leave it to rise, in a warm place with no draughts, for at least an hour. When the dough has doubled in size, knead it again briefly and shape it into the desired form. Heat the oven to 200 °C and cook your bread in it for 20 minutes. Then lower the temperature and bake it for another 15-20 minutes. The bread should be a nice golden colour when it has finished baking.
For those who want to use sourdough and make bread with a much longer leavening time, here is the recipe:
300 g plain flour
200 g Manitoba flour
230 g water
130 g sourdough starter (to make it at home, see recipe here)
Tip the flour into a large bowl, forming a heap with a “well” in the top; put the sourdough starter in the centre with a little (warm!) water and stir carefully with a fork until it dissolves. Gradually incorporate the flour from around the edge and, very slowly, pour in the rest of the water. When the mixture becomes more compact, knead it with your hands until you have a homogenous, soft dough (use a few handfuls of flour to prevent it from sticking). Cover with a cotton cloth and leave to rise for about 2 hours. After this time, knead the dough (which in the meanwhile will have doubled in size) again, cut a cross on the surface and then leave it to rise for another hour. Then put the dough in the fridge overnight (or for approximately 12 hours). The following morning tip it out onto a work surface sprinkled with flour, knead it, cover with a cloth and leave to rise again for 2-3 hours. And finally, bake your bread in the same way described above in the recipe prepared with brewer’s yeast.
Good rules for baking bread:
1) Do not put the bread into the oven until it has reached the right temperature.
2) Put a small container of water in the oven with the bread during baking; this favours rising and correct baking.
3) After removing the bread from the oven, allow it to cool on a rack so that the humidity evaporates completely.