The first time you try Tuscan bread, it feels like someone must be playing a joke. This bland-tasting, pale-crusted, thoroughly un-appetizing bread surely can’t be right. But Tuscan bread it is! In fact, the bread is (quite deliberately) missing one key ingredient.
Tuscan bread is intentionally made without salt. If you need any proof of salt’s flavor-enhancing properties, just try a slice of Tuscan next to a slice of something like ciabatta. Same basic ingredients, completely different breads! Tuscan bread not only lacks depth of flavor without salt, the crust also doesn’t brown and the structure is much more delicate.
There are many theories for why the Tuscans started making their bread this way. The most likely is that salt was heavily taxed during the Middle Ages, and so the bakers in Tuscany started going without. Even after the tax was lifted, the bread tradition stayed.
Salt-less Tuscan bread is really not intended for eating on its own. It’s usually served along with the main meal and is meant for sopping up thick, rich sauces. The bread doesn’t compete with the flavors in the dish, and both are enhanced.
If you’d like to try making Tuscan bread at home, there are good recipes in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and in Local Breads by Daniel Leader. It can be fun to make one loaf without the salt and one loaf with, just to see how different they turn out!
Have you ever had Tuscan bread?