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Revolutionary

March 17, 2011

My husband and I honeymooned in Italy. It was heavenly. We rented an adorable home in Florence, and spent a week drinking a fair amount of wine, looking at centuries worth of beautiful art, and eating a ridiculous amount of gelato, prosciutto, Parmesan, and this absolutely fantastic (if you ever go there please, please, find this and eat it) bread called schicciata. We stopped into the little corner bakery on our block almost daily and used our hands to gesture to the ladies behind the counter how much we wanted.

Look, just  look, at this amazing little market tucked into a dim and narrow alley in Florence.

*happy, nostalgic sigh*

Sorry, back to reality. And to the task at hand – schicciata!

Schicciata is similar to focaccia,  but saltier. And crunchier. And much more delicious. And today I’m going to tell you all about how you can make it – at home! With nothing special or fancy! And then you can take a bite of it while it’s still a little warm, and you can chew it and close your eyes and picture yourself standing right outside that adorable little market pictured above. And it will be almost as good as actually being in Italy.

First off, Jim Lahey – have you heard of him? He wrote a book, “My Bread.” And the tagline reads, “The revolutionary no work, no knead method.” I read about it, and I thought to myself, “That is a pretty big claim to make!”

But then I started to cook from it. People, listen up: This book details through recipe after recipe a revolutionary no work, no knead method. For real.

And, in the book, there is  a recipe. A recipe for Pizza Bianca. Which is the same thing as schicciata, only easier to pronounce (say it with me, ski-chee-ah-tah).

You start with the tiniest bit of yeast, a moderate portion of sugar and salt, and a good amount of flour and water; and stir up a sticky, messy, couldn’t knead it even if you wanted to dough. In fact, it’s best to use your hands to mix it up, because it’s just too dense and sticky to successfully use a wooden spoon.

Scrape the dough into another bowl coated in olive oil. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap, and walk away. Hit the road! And don’t come back for 9-12 hours. You heard me! 9-12 hours. See, that tiny amount of yeast and that very wet dough spend all that time developing an amazing flavor, and an oh-so-tender dough that hasn’t been beaten around by your kneading palms.

When you return, you will have much better lighting for your photographs and your dough will look something like this:

Bubbly! Doubled! Well on it’s way to becoming schicciata!

Next, generously dust a work surface with flour. Lots of flour. Remember that wet dough? You want to cook it and eat it, not scrape it off of your cutting board!

Then, using a bowl scraper, or spatula, or handy combo of the two (as pictured above), scrape all of the dough out of the bowl in one piece. It will be loose and sticky and stringy and clingy (insert tasteless joke here). That is good! It means the gluten is happy and developed and ready to make delicious bread.

Fold the dough over itself several times. At this point, Jim Lahey says to nudge the dough into a loose ball, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way to phrase it. So nudge away!

Don’t you just want to rest your head on it? That beautiful pillow of yeasty scented flour and water? See all those air bubbles still in there? Just under the surface? They were uninterrupted by kneading, and will reward a baker by making this bread airy and light and YUM.

Drizzle olive oil over the surface of the dough, and sprinkle with coarse salt. And, this is going to be hard, but walk away. For another 1 to 2 hours; until doubled yet again.

Close to when you’re going to FINALLY! BAKE! THIS! BREAD! preheat the oven, and a pizza stone (alternatively you could use a heavy baking sheet) to 500. That’s very hot! But necessary for optimal schicciata baking (because, see, in Italy they use these fantastic woodfired ovens that cook at like, 1 million degrees! Or 600-900 degrees. Still – hot!).

If you have a pizza peel, generously dust it with flour. If you do not have a pizza peel (I don’t!), grab a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a large, overturned heavy baking sheet. Gently place the ball of dough onto the center. Making a claw with one of your hands,  spread the dough out while creating little finger-sized craters (dimples, if you will!). It is very important that you do not puncture the dough while doing this! Keep working the dough out until it is about 12 inches in diameter. Drizzle with additional olive oil, sprinkle with yet more salt, and top with coarsely chopped rosemary leaves.

Slide the dough into the oven and onto the heated baking stone or pan (if you are not using a peel keep the dough on the parchment. Yes, put the paper in the oven!). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. The crust will be a beautiful golden brown, and the dimples will still be a bit pale and pooled with olive oil.

Transfer to a rack for at least 5 minutes. Find a way to distract yourself while the bread both cools and finishes baking. Drink some wine! Start visualizing Italy! But wait 5 more long minutes.

Slice. Bite. Chew. Enjoy.

Schicciata (Pizza Bianca)

Adapted not at all, followed to the letter, because why mess with greatness, from My Bread

  • 3 cups bread flour *
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast **
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and coarsely chopped

In a medium bowl, combine flour, yeast, table salt, sugar and water. Using hands, mix until dough is wet, sticky and well combined (about 30 seconds). Coat a second (medium sized) bowl with olive oil and transfer dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap (I don’t recommend a towel, as you really want to ensure that this dough doesn’t dry out given the long rise) and let sit 9-12 hours, until surface is covered in bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size.

After initial rise is complete, generously dust a cutting board with flour. Use either a bowl scraper or a sturdy spatula to remove all of the dough in one piece. Dough will be stringy and will cling to bowl – that’s the gluten doing it’s job to ensure delicious bread! Fold the dough over itself several times, and nudge into a loose, flat(ish) ball. Cover the with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt, and let rise in a warm, draft-free space for 1-2 hours, until doubled.

About 30 minutes prior to baking, preheat an oven and pizza stone (or baking sheet) to 500 degrees.

If you have a pizza peel, generously dust it with flour. If you do not have a pizza peel, use a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a large, overturned heavy baking sheet. Gently place the ball of dough onto the center of peel or parchment. Making a loose claw with one of your hands,  spread the dough out while creating little finger-sized craters all over the top of the dough, while taking care not puncture it. Work the dough out until it is about 12 inches in diameter. It is entirely acceptable to gently, very gently, pull on the edges of the dough to help stretch it. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, sprinkle with remaining coarse salt, and top with coarsely chopped rosemary leaves.

Slide the dough into the oven and onto the heated baking stone or pan (if you are not using a peel keep the dough on the parchment). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. The crust will be a beautiful golden brown, and the dimples will still be a bit pale and pooled with olive oil.

Remove from oven, and let cool at least 5  minutes before slicing.

* Yes, bread flour. You will find it in the baking aisle, right there with all the other flours! And Jim says to use it, so please do. He is a revolutionary, people!

** Instant yeast (also called fast-rising or bread machine yeast, among other things) is not the same thing as active dry yeast. There is a difference! I highly recommend that you use instant yeast for this recipe. Please listen to me. And Jim Lahey.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynette permalink
    March 18, 2011 9:49 pm

    That’s just unfair! Here I am — drinking my wine, thinking about Italy, reading your blog and feeling HUNGRY!!

  2. March 19, 2011 2:22 pm

    Well, at least you’re drinking wine! 1 out of 3 is better than none 🙂 .

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