I love pane toscano. Let me get that out of the way. I love the dense crumble, and how it tastes only of wheat. I love that it's the perfect supporting team to peposo or ribollita. I love it dripping with bitter, buttery Tuscan oil...
I know the Tuscans have been baking saltless bread at least since Dante. I know that the modern version of that bread is made with a biga, and I know that bigas were the Italian attempt to recover flavor after baking shifted to commercial yeast.
Does anyone out there know of a naturally leavened pane toscano? I assume that at some point before commercial yeast the Tuscan bakers used some kind of starter. Has anyone ever had a "sourdough" version of this bread? Has anyone ever made one?
Re: Pane toscano?
The Italians are not big on sourdough or natural yeasts though there are certainly bakers that use natural yeast.
Pane toscano is usually made with a biga which is basically a piece of dough left over from yesterday's breadmaking which is often/usually (as I understand it) spiked with a little bit of commercial yeast when the dough is mixed on baking day. Since you probably don't bake daily this can be easily approximated by making a small amount (100-200 grams) of dough the evening before you bake and then expanding it about 4 times to 500 to 1000 grams total weight on baking day. (This is very similar to the technique that Peter Reinhart uses to get more flavor in his breads.
I have served as an advisor to an Italian restaurant on improving the flavor of their Pane Pugliese and we added some very mild sourdough to enhance the flavor but the result is NOT authentic or conventional Pugliese. The final dough was always made with commercial yeast to both avoid the sourness of conventional sourdough and to make the dough more predictable for the restaurant schedule purposes.
The best source I know of for advice on Pane toscano (which I have not made and never eaten in Italy) is Joe Ortiz book The Village Baker. Joe uses a 15 to 24 hour presoak to allow the enzymes in the flour to break down the carbohydrates prior to mixing the dough. A good presoak is an interesting alternative to preferments and sourdoughs that also gives a lot of flavor.
It's all pretty straightforward. You will benefit from an overnight process. The biga or presoak is far more conventional than using sourdough.
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