Like most major U.S. cities, my home town, Boston, is a wonderful mélange of people from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Boston’s North End, rich in colonial history, is today home to a vibrant Italian-American community. One of my favorite activities has always been to stroll along the narrow streets of the North End enjoying the commotion (I did, after all, spend my childhood years in Brooklyn, New York) while, along the way, sampling the fare at a few of the many Italian eateries, specialty food stores and, of course, bakeries.
The signature bread of Boston’s Italian-American community is Scali, a braided, olive oil-enriched Italian bread sprinkled with sesame seeds. Scali has a soft crust and a relatively tight, although quite light, crumb. The formula used here is an adaptation of one described on the King Arthur Flour website. To obtain the lightness of crumb characteristic of Scali, the double flour addition technique was used.
- 120 g King Arthur Organic Select Artisan Flour
- 75 g Water
- 1/8 tsp. Instant Yeast
- 240 g King Arthur Organic Select Artisan Flour
- 145 g Water
- 8 g Salt
- 2 tsp. Instant Yeast
- 10 g Non-fat Dry Milk
- 2 tbs. Olive Oil
- 195 g (all of the above) Biga
The night before baking, the biga is prepared by mixing the flour, water and yeast until all the ingredients are well incorporated, then hand kneading briefly until a smooth dough is formed. The biga is then placed in a covered container and allowed to rest at 70ºF overnight until mature, about 12 hours.
The next day, the flour, salt, yeast and non-fat dry milk are combined. To the bowl of a stand mixer is added the water and olive oil. Using the whisk attachment, the water and olive oil are whisked together on speed 3 of the mixer. Slowly, enough of the flour mixture is added (~40 g) until a stable, aerated emulsion is formed. The mixer is then stopped and the remaining flour mixture is added along with the biga. Using a spiral dough hook, the mixture is mixed on speed 3 until a firm, medium developed dough is achieved, about 6 minutes. The resulting dough is then covered and allowed to ferment at 76ºF for 1 hour, 15 minutes.
After the first fermentation, the dough is turned out onto a lightly-floured surface and is divided into three equal-weight pieces. Each piece is preshaped into a short log and allowed to rest for 10 minutes. After the rest period, each log is then extended into a tapered strand using the same technique used for shaping baguettes, as shown in the video here. Shaping into a 3-stranded braid is then accomplished as shown below:
The braided loaf is then placed on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, brushed with an egg white wash, made from one egg white and 1 tbs. of water, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The loaf is then loosely covered with lightly oiled plastic wrap and allowed to proof at 74ºF for about 1½ hours. The loaf-bearing parchment paper is then slid off the baking sheet and placed onto an oven peel. The parchment paper and loaf are then slid directly onto the baking stone of a preheated oven and allowed to bake at 425ºF for 35 minutes, under steam for the first 15 minutes of baking.