Schiacciata is as Tuscan as the leaning Tower of Pisa: you eat it every day, either as a snack mid-morning, or at lunch, or as a mid-afternoon snack, or at dinner. Or - at least in my family - in the morning AND at lunch AND at dinner. Alas, finding a good schiacciata outside of Italy is difficult. And that's what got me into bread and schiacciata baking: the need to replicate the flavors that i couldn't find anywhere else.
|The perfect morning snack. The perfect lunch. The perfect mid-afternoon snack. The perfect dinner.|
At its core, schiacciata is a very simple thing: a flattened bread (schiacciare in Italian means to flatten), containing three basic ingredients (flour, yeast, water). But the infinite ratios to combine these ingredients (and the different quality in the flours and the water), the addition of other elements (olive oil, herbs...), and the climatic conditions mean that 1) a lot of different products go by the same term and that 2) it is very difficult to consistently obtain the same product at home.
As you may have understood from my previous posts about schiacciata baking, this has almost become an obsession of mine. I am spending a lot of my free time baking schiacciate from different recipes, from books, blogs, conversations with old Italian ladies...each one comes out different. Some of them I discard after the first attempt, because, honestly, they suck. Some I spend weeks baking them again and again to make them come out as I want them. I even baked a sweet focaccia with dried fruits and jams as dessert once. (And yes, it was very good).
|Some of the focaccia bread I have baked...|
Today I want to share with you the recipe that got me started, and that I baked and altered, baked and altered, baked and altered, until I consistently started to get what I wanted: a schiacciata with a crisp crust, a moist crumb, tall enough to be sliced open and eaten with cold cuts, but not as tall as to lose its crunchiness and become too airy when eaten on its own.
I developed this recipe starting from the no-kneading recipe given by Jim Lahey in his "My Bread" book. Lahey's method for bread baking calls for a lot less yeast and a lot less kneading (almost none). As a trade off, it requires extremely long rising time, sometimes as long as 24 hours (although this is not the case for this schiacciata). According to Lahey, working the dough less but let it rise longer, develops a bread structure stronger than what you can obtain with longer kneading and shorter rising times. I can confirm this: I baked tens of focaccia recipes requiring longer kneading times, and none of them has given me the same strength in the schiacciata crumbs (I am not saying the no-kneading method is the best for every bread, of course. All I am saying is that it seemed to work for this specific schiacciata I wanted).
Obviously Lahey hasn't invented anything, and he admits it openly: this method was used already in Roman times, and often in Middle Age's Tuscan bread making.
My obsession started now more than 18 months ago. Since then I have actually developed another recipe, with no potato in the dough, which has become my absolute favorite. I will publish it some other time, if you are interested. However, every guest we have seems to prefer this "potato" version, so here you go.
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|The final product will look like this|
For this particular version of schiacciata, in my experience all purpose flour seems to work better than bread flour, which has a higher protein content: the schiacciata comes out less dry. However, if you only have bread flour, it will do perfectly (for Italians I would recommend OO flour). As for the potato to use: russet potatoes seem to work better than Yukon gold: Yukon gold leave the crumbs too moist to my taste, but any yellow potato will do the trick (I even tried it with a sweet potato and it came out delicious...). The potato in the dough serves to moisten the crumbs and to make the schiacciata lighter, since it replaces part of the flour.
I call for honey or sugar in my recipe: both help the flour ferment. I prefer honey because it gives a darker crust, but sugar will work just as perfectly.
Also, this is a no-topping recipe, perfect to be cut open and filled with cold cuts. This is the real deal. For this reason, there are no herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, onions) nor olives added on top. What I am giving you is a "vessel" to transport the cold cuts' flavors, but which is also delicious on its own. But of course you can add whatever herb you want. Keep in mind though, that adding "wet" ingredients, such as onions and olives, will have an impact on the rising times and on the fermentation.
- 600 gr (4 1/2 cups) all purpose or bread flour (or 00 for my Italian readers)
- 600 gr water (2 1/2 cups)
- 1 potato (approximately 200 grams)
- 4 gr sugar (1 tsp) OR 10gr honey (1 tsp)
- 10 gr dry yeast (or 30 grams fresh yeast - lievito di birra - diluted in a finger of water)
- 5 gr table salt (3/4 tsp)
- 10 gr coarse salt (if you don't have it, you can use regular table salt) for dusting the dough
- olive oil: enough to coat the pan and the top of the dough, approximately 50-70gr (1/4 cup)
How to make it
- Cut the potatoes in cubes, put them with the cold water in a sauce pan, and bring to boil, covered, over high heat. Cook until the potato is very tender (you need to be able to cut through it with a fork), about 15 minutes. Keep the sauce pan covered, or else the water will evaporate, leaving you with a dough non wet enough.
- With an immersion blender (or in a blender) pure' the potato with its water. Let the mixture rest until it gets cool enough to touch, but still warm. It will take about an hour.
- In a large bowl, sift the flour, then stir in the yeast, the sugar (or the honey), the salt, the water with the potato. Mix with your hands or with a wooden spoon for about a minute, until you have an extremely wet dough (there is a 1:1 flour/water ratio!). Cover with plastic wrap and put this in a draft-free spot to rise for 3 hours, or until the dough has at least doubled, but preferentially tripled. (Remember that - as for any baking - the rising times and fermentation are heavily conditioned by the atmospheric pressure, the humidity, temperature...this is why a good recipe during the summer may not work as well during the winter. Put the dough to rise in a draft-free spot. The oven is perfect. A trick I sometimes use is to turn the light of the oven on (NOT THE OVEN) and, with a thermometer, I check that the temperature is at 25C/77F. If the temperature goes up, I turn the light off: fermentation above 25C/77F will give a nasty yeasty flavor and smell to your schiacciata - or to any bread, really).
- Oil a 13 X 18 inches (33X40cm) pan (beware: a smaller or larger pan will give you a thicker or thinner schiacciata than the one I took photos of, altering the flavor and consistency: you may even like it more, or less, who knows). Pour the dough onto the pan: it will be very soft, sticky and messy. Oil your fingers, and use your hands to gently press the dough down, so as to extend it to cover the whole pan, creating a surface of an even thickness. (See the photo below).
- Using your fingertips, create dimples in the dough (no long nails, please): this is typical of any schiacciata. Drizzle with olive oil, and spread the coarse salt evenly (table salt will also be fine).
- Let the dough rest around 1 hour, or until it has risen to the (or over the) edges of the pan. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
- Put the pan into the oven on the middle rack, paying attention not to move it too violently, or else the dough will collapse. Baking times vary a lot: from a minimum of 20 minutes to a maximum of 45 minutes. Just make sure you have a golden brown crusted top (see photo below).
- Take the schiacciata out of the oven, let it rest a minute. Take it out of the pan, gently, so as not to break it. Let it rest using a cookie rack or something that lets air pass underneath, or else the schiacciata will become soggy.
- Slice after at least 5 mintues and devour it...
- Schiacciata can be served warm or cold, and can be frozen in air-tight containers.