When I think of Italian bread, or even Italian-style bread a very specific picture comes to mind. Bread with a crispy crust, not too thick, and with a soft, almost silky interior. Something perfect for sopping up the rich tomato-ey sauces from pasta dishes, or even the last few drops of a good minestrone. Ans so this bread fits all of that but with a twist. The bread from Tuscany is famous for having no salt, or, horrors, a very little salt. I know, I know, salt is one of the four basic ingredients of any bread (flour, water, yeast and SALT). So why? Well it seems in Tuscany, they like their food with more salt than other areas, or so goes the story and so they bake bread without, or with very little. Because it is invariably eaten with soup, or sauce and it all balances out in the end. Either way, this bread is VERY Italian but with just a little salt added. I have added it to accommodate my not-Italian palette. Leave it out if you wish, just make sure you eat it with a nice thick and chunky winter soup. Minestrone would be perfect.
Here's What You'll Need:
1 1/3 cups water
2 2/3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbs. gluten
2 1/4 tsp. instant dry yeast
2/3 cups corn meal (optional - I used it, to make it more 'Roman')
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt - up to 1 1/2 tsp. (optional)
Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1) Start with a sponge:
Place the water, 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour and the yeast in a bowl and stir to combine. It will be like a very thick batter. Cover with a towel, and let it stand in a warm place for about an hour.
2) Add the remaining flour (you may need a little more because the whole wheat absorbs more liquid), the sugar and the salt (if using), the cornmeal (if using) and the gluten. Mix it to form a rough dough, adding flour or water a little at a time as needed.
3) Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny, and just barely sticky.
4) Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn to coat, then let it rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
5) Remove the dough to a smooth surface and form into a long, oval loaf, like Italian bread! without removing too much of the air. Place the shaped loaf on a parchment-lined baking tray and cover to proof. It should double in volume in about 45 minutes.
6) About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C) for about 30 minutes. For a more authentic loaf try baking on a stone with steam.*
* You can approximate the effect of steam in a professional oven by placing a small aluminum tray in the oven under the baking tray (or baking stone). Just before placing the loaf in the oven, pour about a cup of boiling water into the tray, place the loaf in the oven and close the door quickly. The steam will fill the oven and create a wonderfully, crispy crust on your loaf.