Adventures Without Salt

I approached this week’s bread with a little trepidation, for a few reasons.  One, its a two-step bread, which I’ve never made before.  Two, Evan now has the pre/half flu that I had last week.  One of the many inevitabilities of cohabitation.  You find yourself only wearing his socks instead of your own, going to grocery store alone feels weird, you don’t ever have to kill a spider by yourself again, you share one parking spot and when he moves his car so you can park there it’s the greatest thing in the world, and you both get sick when the other one gets sick.  Pros and cons, people.  Anyway, I rely on Evan’s support in the kitchen, by helping me make sure I’m not doing something stupid, and he’s really been great at taking photos of every stage of my dough making process.  So baking bread with him out of commission was a little nerve-wracking.  Luckily for me, he rallied and was able to help, which was awesome.

Which brings me to the real reason I hesitated to make this bread.  It’s salt free.  And that is something I fundamentally disagree with.  If you know me, you know how much I love salt.  Here is an incomplete list, in no particular order, of things that I like to put salt on:

  • Spaghetti
  • Eggs
  • Bagels
  • Bagel and egg sandwiches
  • Roast beef sandwiches
  • Caramel
  • Chocolate
  • Corn – on the cob and off
  • Peas
  • Mac and cheese
  • Steak
  • Chicken
  • Pork chops
  • Onion rings
  • Potatoes – mashed, baked, boiled, roasted or frenched and fried
  • Green beans

So, salt is kind of my thing.  To leave salt out of bread, that’s madness!  But it’s not, I suppose.  This is a recipe from a time in Tuscany when salt was hard to come by, so people had to learn to live without it.  And this bread, in turn, has come to be used primarily as a base for other things – used as bread for flavorful sandwiches, as the bread in panzanella and pappa al pomodoro.  So it’s got history and purpose, and those are things I can get on board with.

Here’s the recipe, again, from Bread, by Nick Malgieri.

Pane Sciocco, or Salt Free Tuscan Bread



  • 1/3 cup or 75 grams of room temperature water
  • 1/4 teaspoon or .75 grams of fine granulated active dry or instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon or 75 grams of unbleached bread flour


  • 1 cup or 225 grams of room-temperature tap water
  • 1 teaspoon or 3 grams fine granulated active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon malt syrup, optional
  • 2 and 3/4 cups or 360 grams of bread flour
  • One heavy cookie sheet or pizza pan dusted with cornmeal, plus a spray bottle filled with warm water.

This bread leaves out salt, which is one of most important and essential ingredients in bread, right?  Yes. Salt helps the dough come together and creates dough structure, regulates the yeast fermentation, influences the way that flavors develop and plays a role in crust coloring. (note: click on the links if you’re really interested, they’re both good sources of information, and pleasantly succinct, explanations of salt in bread dough).

To get around the lack of salt, this is a two-step, yeast based bread.  That means there are two different types of dough that are used in the bread.  There’s a pre-ferment which gets mixed into the final dough.  This process adds enzymes to the dough, which conditions it so that the dough is smoother and easier to handle – both things that adding salt to the dough would have taken care of.  Making the pre-ferment separately and then adding it to the dough also helps cultivate flavor and texture that dough would normally only acquire after a longer fermentation time – or with salt.  It’s a really interesting way of getting around the lack of salt in the dough.  Also, the pre-ferment has a fun name, “poolish” and it looks weird, which makes baking bread using it a little more fun.


  1. For the poolish, whisk the yeast and water together, then stir in the flour until smooth.  Cover and let ferment at room temperature until more than doubled in bulk, about 4 hours.
  2. For the dough, whisk the yeast into the water, wait 30 seconds and whisk again.  Whisk in malt syrup, if using.  Stir in the poolish, then  mix in the flour.  Make sure there is no flour on the side of the bowl.
  3. Mix the dough on the mixer until the dough comes together, 1 -2 minutes.  Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Increase the mixer speed, mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 2 – 3 more minutes.
  5. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl, and turn the dough over so the top is oiled.  Cover and let rest for 30 minutes until it starts to puff.
  6. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands, and pull the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, the roll the top towards you, jelly-roll style.  Invert, flatten and repeat.  Let it ferment until it has fully doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
  7. To shape the dough into a boule loaf, round the dough by pushing the bottom all around with the sides of your hands with palms held upward.  Place the dough on the prepared pan and cover it loosely with a piece of oiled plastic wrap.  Let it rest until it starts to puff again, about 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  9. Once the dough is proofed to about 50% larger than its original size, gently flatten it to about 1″ thick.  Cut a slash across the diamater and generously spray with water.  Place in oven.
  10. Wait 5 minutes, open the over, generously spray the loaf again.  Reduce the temperature to 425 degrees.
  11. Bake until the loaf is well-risen and golden, and the internal temp is 200 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes.

What Really Happened:

First, I admit, I had Evan make the poolish.  I was in a rush and so I contracted it out.  I’m sorry if this has disappointed any of my devoted readers.  Usually I do all my own stunts.  But, here is the poolish that Evan generously mixed for me.  It looks like something that belongs on the moon, in my opinion.  Apparently that’s how it’s supposed to look, so, good!  This photo is about half way through the fermentation process.


I skipped adding the malt syrup, because I don’t know what purpose it would have served.  Also I’m not sure if we even had any.  So as soon as I saw optional in the directions, I immediately shut it out of my mind and moved on.

So I started mixing the dough, which started with more yeast.  Observe:


Then I added the water.  I had measured it into a measuring cup, but then Evan gently suggested that I weigh it.  Which turned out for the best, because it is more accurate, and the few moments I spent looking around for the scale and what not allowed the water to cool to the ideal room temperature, about 75 degrees.  Then it gets mixed with the yeast:


Then I added in the poolish.  Fun fact about poolish, it’s quite sticky.  Next time I make a two-step bread that has a pre-ferment, I’m going to oil the bowl before I set it aside to ferment.  Or, really, I’ll forget the next time but hopefully I will remember the third time. That’s reasonable.


Then I added the flour.  I swear, it was 360 grams.  The thing with measuring flour by the gram is that the slightest thing can make it differ by a gram or two.  So the scale read 360 grams, then I breathed quietly in the kitchen and it changed to 361.  It turned out okay anyway.


Then I mixed in all the flour until the dough looked like this:


Here, the recipe called to mix the dough for 1 – 2 minutes until it came together.  Last week, we kneaded for about 7 minutes for this part of the recipe.  My advisor recently told me that the first time, a measurement or category is arbitrary, but as soon as it’s replicated, then it’s an accepted standard.  So what was arbitrary last week is now a standard that we can go ahead and replicate.  Trust me, it’s science.  After 7 minutes of kneading, the dough looked like this:

IMG_0971*Note the debut of my new bench scraper!

Then the dough went into an oiled bowl, to rest and rise for 30 minutes.  I have a tend to over-oil the bowl, which is why the dough looks slightly too shiny and green.  Refer to the previous post for a pic of the olive oil that we use – it’s California Olive Ranch brand, which is made from real olives.  It’s green and it smells grassy and it’s awesome.


After a half hour rest, the dough looks happy:


Then I pulled the dough to a rectangle, pulled the sides together so the overlap, and rolled it up towards me.  Flatten it out and repeat.  Then it’s this fun roll that looks like this:


Rock and roll, bread!  Shout out to the King Arthur flour bag in the background.  Even though we live in the great city of Buffalo, NY, home to an actual General Mill’s mill, which makes the city smell like Cheerios (which is awesome. just think about what that would be like. it’s awesome. one more way we’re living the dream in Buffalo and I am absolutely completely serious), we opt for King Arthur flour.  Not completely because package design is fun and the catalog is cool, but those are contributing factors.  Anyway.  The rolled dough, ready for it’s next rise and rest:


After that rest, all puffed up!


Then I shaped it into a loaf, which went better than last time.  The bottom of the loaf looked weird, and not a complete even sphere, but then Evan pointed out, who cares what the bottom of the dough looks like?  Good point.

The loaf, ready for it’s final rest before baking the loaf:


After a rest:


Flattened out to an inch thick – accurately.  We measured it, using my new bench scraper, which has remarkably convenient inches and measures marked on it.  I’m not trying to give a bench scraper sales pitch here, it’s just that I don’t get excited about kitchen utensils very often, but I am now! #benchscraper

With the appropriate slash across the dough:


And, 25 minutes later, our very first loaf of pane sciocco!


Close up of the crumb:


And, per my mother’s request, a slice with some butter melting on it.  Trying to get a good photo of this meant not immediately devouring it, and seriously, the 15 second wait was a challenge.  But, we honor requests here on this blog, and so we had to have this photo! (Brig, your request for a gluten free loaf is in the works, we promise!)


Warm, and smothered in butter, this bread was pretty good.  I did miss the salt, though, I’m not going to lie.  The bread has an interesting flavor.  It’s not quite bland, it’s a unique flavor that I wasn’t quite expecting or used to.  It’s a little yeasty, if that makes any sense.  It was tasty and I can see how this bread makes a good accompaniment for other foods.     It’s a little spongy, and the crust was crisp, but not exactly crunchy.  And the crust itself was smoother than the picture in the book suggested.  The loaf itself also was a little bit flat.  Not as flat as my first ill-fated bread, of course, but this loaf wasn’t as nicely rounded as I think I would have liked.   But, then again, I suppose when you are just putting the bread in a bread salad or a base for soup, it doesn’t really matter.

Stay tuned for next week, when there will be….more bread.

This entry was posted in Baking, Bread and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Adventures Without Salt

  1. Just Jules says:

    Love it. When you are craving salt on salt less bread try finishing salt after you put on the butter. Nomnomnom. Finishing salt is a very flat sea salt

    Here you go. the French salts and the Celtic grey are my favorites.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s