Sardinian Sheet Music Bread

Pane Carasau Ovvero Fogli di Musica

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • 16

    Wafer-Thin Round Sheets of Carasau Bread

Appears in

The crackling, paper-thin, flavorful bread that Sardinians call carasau, “cooked twice,” has many uses. In its native island, you will find it on every table, both at home and in restaurants. It will be offered to you plain, in full-size sheets, crisp and warm from the oven, or broken into shards and drizzled with a mixture of olive oil, chopped rosemary, chopped garlic, and cracked black pepper, or slivers of another Sardinian specialty, the luxuriously delicious dried mullet roe, bottarga, will be sandwiched between two irregular, cracker-size pieces of it spread with butter. It can even be cooked like pasta and served with a lamb ragù.

I have never seen a good workable recipe for making pane carasau at home, either in Italian or in English, and I can’t conceal my pleasure at having succeeded in developing one, a pleasure that I hope will be yours too when, by following the directions, you will have made it in your own oven.

The traditional bakers of the bread are the women of the Barbagia, a rugged, austerely handsome mountainous district of eastern Sardinia. I went there, to a village called Oliena, to watch them do it. Four or five women meet once a week at the house of one of the group who has a wood-burning oven. There they bake bread to sell to restaurants and shops as a source of small supplementary income. To produce enough to make it worth their while they start at midnight, fulfilling the quota they have set themselves shortly before noon.

Not counting the building of a blazing wood fire in the oven, there are five stages from the kneading of flour and yeast to the stacking of the finished circular sheets of bread. First, golden hard-wheat flour is kneaded with yeast and water into a ball and set aside to rise. By the time the last of the dough is kneaded, the first ball is ready to be rolled out into a thin disk—the second stage. At this point the oven is red-hot and the first disk is slipped in on a long-handled paddle—the third stage. On contact with the fiery brick oven floor, the disk swells into beach-ball size, the edge of the original disk forming a seam around its middle. Fourth, it is immediately retrieved and pulled apart at the seam to produce two circular sheets. When all the dough has gone through these four steps, the fire is banked, the heat of the oven is allowed to abate slightly, and then, one by one, the partly baked disks are placed on the oven’s brick floor to toast briefly—the fifth stage.

It was obvious why this is called “twice cooked,” but why “sheet music,”fogli di musica? I asked. One woman replied that it was because of the snapping sound it made when you bit into it. Another came up with a lovelier explanation. When they used to work into the early evening to make great quantities of bread, there were stacks of it everywhere, even in the bedroom, waiting to be wrapped on the following day. After the family had gone to bed, the stacked, still tepid disks contracted as they felt the cool mountain air, making crackling “night music.”

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Ingredients

  • cups semolina flour, often sold as pasta flour, plus more for sprinkling dough and work surfaces
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
  • teaspoons active dry yeast or, if you wish to shorten rising time by about ½ hour, quick-acting yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt

At least 1, preferably 2, large baking sranes

A baker’s ped (paddle) or a rimless baking sheet

Method

  1. Put the cups flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Run the steel blade for about 1 minute, until the ingredients combine into a soft, but not sticky mass. If portions of the dough are stuck to the processor’s bowl, loosen them with a spatula to incorporate them into the mass. If the dough is not soft enough, add 1 more tablespoon of water, running the blade again briefly. The dough should be soft, but not so gummy that it sticks to your fingers.
  2. Turn the dough out from the processor’s bowl onto a work counter. If it is very soft and somewhat sticky, sprinkle a little flour over the counter. Knead the dough briefly with your hands (photo A), shaping it into an oblong, slightly tapered mass.

    Pick up the mass, holding it by one of the tapered ends, lift it high above the counter, and slap it down hard several times (photo B), stretching it out in a lengthwise direction to a length of about 10 to 12 inches. Reach for the far end, fold the dough a short distance toward you, then push it away with the heel of your palm (photo C), flexing your wrist. Fold it and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. Turn it 90 degrees, reach once again for the far end, lift it up, and slap it down again on the counter (photo D). Then repeat the kneading motion with the heel of your palm and your wrist, bringing the mass close to you once more. After working the dough in this manner for 5 minutes, shape it into a salami-like roll, about 15 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches thick.

  3. Divide the roll of dough in half, then divide each half into two, and continue thus until you have sixteen small, equal lumps (photo E). Shape each lump more or less evenly into a ball.
  4. Sprinkle flour lightly over a surface, or if more convenient, over one or more trays where you can accommodate all the balls of dough, keeping them about 2½ to 3 inches apart. Cover the balls with one or more overturned large mixing bowls, using as many bowls as you may need to cover all of them. Allow the dough to rest for about 3 hours. It will rise to somewhat less than double its original volume.
  5. At least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put the baking stone on a rack placed in the upper third of the oven. If you have two baking stones, put one on a rack placed in the lower part of the oven and the second one on a rack placed as high up in the oven as it will go. The two stones refract heat between them in a manner that approximates that of a brick oven. Turn the oven on at the highest baking setting your thermostat allows.
  6. Dust a pastry board with flour, place one of the balls of dough on it, and using a rolling pin, thin it out into a flat disk about 4 inches in diameter.
  7. Take another ball of dough and repeat the operation.
  8. Sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of flour over one of the thinned-out disks, place the other one on top of it (photo F), and roll both disks out as one, more than doubling its diameter so that it is now over 9 inches wide. (Sardinian women slip a single sheet of dough into the oven, relying on the wood-burning oven’s intense heat to puff it up. I devised the double-layer-of-dough method to achieve the same result in a home oven.)
  9. Repeat the operation until you have used all the remaining dough. As you finish rolling out each double disk, slip it inside a folded dish towel or another cloth. Once covered by a towel, the disks can be stacked.
  10. Sprinkle very little flour on the baker’s peel or the rimless baking sheet, remove one of the disks from the towel, place it on the wooden peel or metal sheet, and slip it into the very hot, preheated oven. Perform this step without keeping the oven door open too long, so as not to lose too much heat.
  11. Remove the dough after 1 minute and 20 seconds. It should swell up like an inflated ball (photo G). Although it is scalding hot, you must quickly pry apart at least a small section of the two sides at the edge to let all the hot air escape (photo H). Sardinian women use a paring knife to separate the edges of the two sheets of dough, but I have found it easier to trim away a sliver all the way around the edge using scissors. As soon as you can comfortably handle the hot dough, separate the two halves completely, helping yourself by using a knife to loosen them at those places where they are stuck together. Shake any loose flour away and stack them with what was their inner side facing up. Press them down lightly to flatten them.

    Alternate Baking Method: (I discovered this more comfortable method by accident during the photography session.) When you have removed the inflated ball of dough after the initial 1 minute and 20 seconds, do not open it yet. Wait 8 to 10 seconds, letting it deflate slightly, then return it to the hot oven for another 10 seconds. Remove it, and if it deflates again, return it to the oven after 8 to 10 seconds and bake it another 10 seconds. When you remove it, it should maintain its shape without deflating. Let it cool off until it is very comfortable to handle, and pry it apart. You may not even need scissors.

  12. After you have done three or four of the disks in succession (do not sprinkle more flour on the paddle after you have done it the first time), wait a few minutes before doing more to let the ovens heat build up again to maximum.
  13. When all the disks have been done and pried apart into separate rounds, turn the oven thermostat down to 325°. As soon as the oven’s heat has fallen to 325° place as many of the rounds inside as will fit on the baking stone(s) without overlapping. Toast them for 1 to 4 minutes until they have become crisp, remove them, and repeat the operation until all the bread has been done.

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