Pane Sciocco

“What does it mean?” is entirely the wrong question to ask of poem. It would be just as silly to ask of a grapefruit, “What do you plan to study in college?” Grapefruits don’t go to college; poems are not written to mean something. This is a particular peeve of mine. Poetry serves a myriad of purposes, but very seldom does poetry lend itself to mere semantics.  Poems evoke. They connote—not denote. So take your poems with a grain of salt, because you won’t be needing salt for this bread.

Sciocco means stupid in Italian. The recipe for Pane Sciocco arises from a time when Tuscany had an exorbitant salt tax (in the age of Dante!), and so most bread was made without. Perhaps at first people thought saltless bread was silly, but it caught on and soon became a point of pride for Tuscans who then poo-pooed everyone else’s bread as “too salty.”

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Pane Sciocco

Sometimes also called Pane Toscano

Adapted from The Italian Baker

Sponge
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm (110°F) water
1 1/3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Dough
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 cup room-temperature water
3 3/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Make the sponge the night before you want to make bread. Stir the 1/4 teaspoon yeast into the 2/3 cup warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the 1 1/3 cups flour and mix well. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. 

The next day, stir the 1 1/4 teaspoons yeast into the 1/3 cup warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the sponge and 1 cup of water. Mix well. Beat in the flour until dough is stiff enough to knead. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a well-greased bowl, turning to coat all sides, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface without punching it down or handling it roughly. Gently form it into a large, round loaf by pulling all the edges underneath, gathering them and squeezing them together, leaving the top smooth. If you have a baking stone, place the loaf on a sheet of parchment paper; if you’re using a pan, sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom of the pan, and place loaf on it. Cover with a towel, and set aside to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Image

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slash the top of the bread in a tic-tac-toe pattern. If you’re using a baking stone, use a peel to transfer the loaf, parchment paper and all, to the stone in the oven. Otherwise, put the pan of bread into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, misting bread with water from a spray bottle three times during the 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes longer. Makes 1 large loaf of bread. Image

This would be a great bread to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner. I am hoping all of you who are travelling over the next few days get safely to your destinations. That you do not wind up in exile, like Dante, and writing three epic books of poetry meanwhile.

“You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man’s bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man’s stairs.” –from the Divine Comedy, Paradiso

But that would certainly be the way I would prefer to spend exile… so I am.Image

In a snow flurry of pages, like the glorious exhibit currently up at Rochester Art Center

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