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.”
At least 1, preferably 2, large baking sranes
A baker’s ped (paddle) or a rimless baking sheet
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.