Tuscan Bread and Olive Spread

by Janice on May 4, 2010

You’ll either love it or hate it; people feel strongly about a bread with no salt.  That’s right: Tuscan bread is totally salt-free.  But that’s not the only difference in this Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge bread.  It also starts with a flour paste (made by pouring boiling water over flour), which manages to look remarkably like mashed potatoes once it’s stirred together.  This paste sits out overnight, while you try to keep yourself from thinking you’ve forgotten to put the leftover “potatoes” in the fridge every time you walk through the kitchen.

There is no yeast in the flour paste, so it isn’t technically a pre-ferment.  However, like a pre-ferment, it’s another way to coax a complex flavor out of the flour, this time from the gelatinized starches.  And, believe me, the bread needs a hook like that – a unique flavor from the cooked flour – because of the lack of salt.  Peter Reinhart encourages bakers to try the flour paste idea with Italian or Vienna breads.  Once I finish this challenge, I’ll probably experiment with that, because I really liked not only the flavor, but the mouth-feel of this bread, and I’m guessing those gelatinized starches had something to do with it.

On the second day, the paste is mixed with olive oil, yeast, water, and flour.  From there, the normal bread-baking routine takes over.  Kneading, proofing, shaping, then a second proof before the extra-hot oven bakes the dough into a bread destined to be dipped into garlicky soups, covered in briny olive pastes, or tossed into a panzanella.  In this way, Tuscan bread shines as a natural base for the flavors of a sun-drenched afternoon, spent at a outdoor table with friends and wine.  Hmmmm.  Warm weather has arrived, and the vineyards of Sonoma County (while not quite Tuscany) are but a short drive away; anyone up for a picnic?

A similar recipe for Tuscan bread is posted here.

Kalamata Olive Spread

½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground pepper, to taste, or you can use a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like things spicier

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a mini-food processor (or double the ingredients and use a regular-sized food processor), and process until almost smooth.

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