Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. ~ Leviticus 2:13 (NIV)
“What makes Tuscan bread unique in the bread lexicon is that it is salt free….” So begins Peter Reinhart’s description of the 38th recipe in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. If ever there was a way to get me excited about trying a new bread, well, this wasn’t it.
As we have learned throughout the Challenge, the four basic components of bread are flour, water, yeast (wild or commercial), and salt. You can adjust the quantities of these components, or add other ingredients. But you don’t leave out any of the four basic ingredients. So I was fairly suspicious of this bread from the beginning. I mean, wouldn’t salt-free bread be as bland as, well, salt-free food? Ah, well, it was next on the list, so I would press on.
Other than not using any salt, this bread is unique in that it calls for a flour paste, which is made by mixing flour and boiling water. This mixture is allowed to sit out overnight (or up to 2 days). The mixture does not ferment, as there is no yeast added to it, but the boiling water causes the starches in the flour to gelatinize, which (theoretically) adds flavor to the finished bread.
In addition to the flour paste, the dough consists of flour, yeast, oil, and water, all of which is combined and kneaded by hand or mixed in a stand mixer.
The dough had a really nice feel to it, about the texture of French bread dough. After mixing, the dough is placed in an oiled bowl and allowed to ferment for about 2 hours.
Another function of salt in bread, besides the obvious one of taste, is that it tempers the action of the yeast. So it didn’t surprise me that this dough, sans salt, rose really fast. In fact, I had to knead it down about halfway through the fermentation stage to keep it from rising too much.
After the dough had fermented, I shaped it into two boules, which I covered with plastic wrap and set aside to proof.
Again, the dough rose like crazy, and within about 60 minutes, the loaves were ready to bake.
In another departure from prior BBA recipes, instead of adding a cup of water to a steam pan when the loaves are loaded into the oven, the oven is preheated to 500 degrees with 2 cups of water already in the steam pan. The loaves are baked for 20-30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.
The bread looked great and smelled fantastic. And when I cut into a loaf, it had a nice, tight crumb.
But, the big question was, how would it taste? Could a salt-free bread really stand up to the other amazing breads that have come out of the BBA Challenge? Would the flour paste make such a huge flavor difference that, as PR suggests, I might decide to incorporate it into other bread recipes?
In a word — meh.
The bread was every bit as bland as I feared it would be. It tasted, quite frankly, like a loaf of bread from which the salt had been omitted. I tried it plain, with salted butter, with butter and a sprinkling of sea salt, with marmalade, jam, and jelly — all to no avail. This bread was for the birds, both figuratively and literally. (On the plus side, the birds didn’t seem to mind the lack of salt.)
Oh, well, it was worth a shot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I guess at the end of the day, I have to agree with the poet George Herbert, who said, “Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.” I’m sure he never considered eating salt-free bread.
I’m pretty sure I won’t consider it agian, either.