April 6, 2012
by Loretta Gatto White
I love baking breads of all kinds. I find the process by which a slightly gooey lump of flour, water and leavening can change – thanks to the human hand and the application of heat – into a magnificent, complex and ultimately satisfying invention. I don’t think that professional bakers, much less home bakers, ever tire of witnessing this transformation, as they pull from their ovens a beautifully domed, golden-crusted creation exuding the comforting maternal aroma of soft, yeasty warmth.
But the vertical expansion of dough isn’t really dependent upon yeast, baking powder or soda – the common leavening agents of risen bread in the Western World. For millennia, cultures all over the globe have relied solely upon steam and high, direct heat to puff up their, otherwise, flat breads. This method, of course, creates bread with more horizontal surface and crust than interior crumb – perfect for the purposes of scooping up humus and babaganoush, dipping into meat dripping, wrapping around roast meats and falafel, and as a conveyance for cheese, eggs and roasted vegetables! Their varieties and names are legion; bannock, pita, tortilla, lefse, matzo, naan, chapatti, aiyish, injera, piadine, carasau and, yes, the common soda cracker – to list but a few.
Of the many I’ve baked from that list, the most romantic, if bread can be romantic, is the Sardinian carasau or Carta Musica, as it is called in the rest of Italy. Why romantic? Well, as I work the dough, I stretch it and gently encourage it into a round with the desired thickness of 1/8 inch (30 mm). It is so thin that when I hold it to the light, I can see my hand through it – as a 17th century composer could the parchment upon which he wrote his musical notation. I imagine the Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi scratching out the lyric line of the strings in Spring in his famous suite, The Four Seasons. This powerful suggestion always sets me humming, as I slide each tender round onto the hot baking sheet. Watching carefully for the perfect golden moment beyond which it will burn, I survey my own fine symphony of the stack of thin golden, bubbly, crisp Carta Musica and I am happy.
Loretta Gatto-White is a Nova Scotia food writer, columnist and essayist whose work has appeared in various newspapers, anthologies and on the internet at her site www.saveurfaire.net
Carta Musica (makes a dozen)
Two cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour; 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil (don’t substitute with regular olive oil); 3/4 tsp. kosher salt; 1/2 cup of warm water. Optional: 1 tsp. of either cumin seeds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds (my favourite), or anise seeds.
Add all dry ingredients (including optional one) to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times to aerate. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and water until emulsified (thick). With the processor on low, slowly pour the emulsion into the flour and process until it forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead briefly until smooth.
Cut dough into 12 pieces. Cut pieces in half, then cut each half into 3 pieces, then each piece into half again. Rest pieces under a slightly damp cloth for 20 minutes. Heat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a heavy baking sheet or pizza stone on the middle rack to heat.
Meanwhile, on a lightly floured board (you want the bread to stick a little to aid stretching), take a piece of rested dough and gently flatten into a disk. Then roll out from the centre to the edges, resting briefly between each pass, until it is the desired shape and very thin. For best results use a 20” length (50 cm) of ½’’ thick (2 cm), wooden dowel for rolling. Put aside and cover with a slightly damp cloth while you work the rest of the dough.
Place two to three breads on the hot baking sheet. Return to oven and watch closely while they bubble and brown lightly. Remove immediately and cool on a baking rack. Note: lower oven temperature to 475 degrees if breads are browning too quickly. Repeat with remaining dough.
Carta Musica will keep in a cool, dry place in a waxed paper-lined biscuit tin for at least one week.