How does it DO that?!
I mean, there's no yeast in this big, puffy cracker bread. No baking powder, no sourdough, no leavening of any kind.
Yet this simple mixture of water, flour, and salt, rolled paper-thin and thrown onto a hot pizza stone (or hot baking sheet), bubbles and puffs dramatically.
STEAM, baby. It powered riverboats and trains back in the day, and it can turn your cracker bread into a veritable culinary volcano today.
The name of this interesting bread (cracker? flatbread?) is carta di musica, Italian for sheet music: which, ostensibly, you should be able to read through the thinly rolled dough for the bread.
Carta's a little tricky to make, in that you need to use two kinds of flour to get the wild expansion: regular all-purpose, and semolina.
We tried to figure out the puff thing in the test kitchen – why does the combination of semolina and AP flours encourage a stronger puff than AP flour alone?
Frank, one of our test bakers, surmised it was because of the different moisture/protein levels, with the semolina releasing its liquid at a different point in the baking than the AP.
Sue chimed in with “different granulation.”
But we're still not sure – why does the combination of two flours make this unleavened bread puff better than one flour alone? Any baking scientists out there?
What if you don't have semolina? Can you use entirely all-purpose flour?
Well... not really. The carta won't puff as dramatically. Nor be as crisp; they'll tend towards hard rather than light/crunchy.
If you MUST use all AP, reduce the water by 1 tablespoon (to account for semolina's higher protein level), and understand you won't get the same results.
Plus, I have to say – semolina is a wonderful addition to pizza crust and all kinds of yeast breads, so if you're a regular yeast baker, why not add it to your stash of flours?
And, I'll answer this question now because I know some of you may be wondering - can you use part or all whole wheat flour in these carta?
100% whole wheat flour will give you flat, tough crackers. Partial whole wheat - haven't tested it, but I'd presume it would be similar to 100% all-purpose. Not as crisp. Not as puffed. Not the same.
Spring for the semolina – you can get it in the Italian foods section of some supermarkets; or at coop-type food stores.
I LOVE olive oil. Especially Boyajian flavored olive oils. Especially their Moroccan oil, with its assertive fennel, and cumin, and chilies... Carta di musica is the ideal place to sample your favorite oils.
First step: preheat your oven to 450°F, with a pizza stone in the middle or lower part (not top) of the oven.
If you're not using a stone, preheat a baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes before placing breads on it to bake.
Put the following in a bowl:
Like this. It's cohesive, but rough.
Then knead till smooth; this will take about 7 minutes at medium speed, using a stand mixer.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces.
Then, round each piece into a smooth ball.
Cover the balls with plastic wrap, or a large cover of some sort. The clear plastic tops that come on cookie or deli trays from the supermarket make great dough-rising covers. Let them rest for 15 minutes, or longer.
Why the wait? It relaxes the gluten. Your next step is to roll these balls into thin circles, and it helps when the gluten doesn't fight you every step of the way.
Start by greasing your work surface with non-stick vegetable oil or olive oil spray; a silicone rolling mat works well here.
Why use oil instead of flour? You'll be able to roll the carta much thinner on an oiled surface.
Stretch a ball of dough into a rough 3” to 4” circle with your fingers.
Then roll the dough as thin as you can. Your goal is a piece of dough about 8” to 9” in diameter. It'll shrink back to about 7”, but try to get it at least 8” to begin with.
I doubt I could read sheet music through this dough, but it's pretty darned thin.
Then again, maybe if the notes on the sheet music were really big and dark...
Is your oven up to temperature? OK, let's make our first carta.
I like to start with just one. It helps me get my technique and timing down, without fussing with two or three breads at a time.
After a couple of minutes, the bread will start to puff enthusiastically.
A couple of minutes more, it'll start to brown. After about 4 minutes, turn it over.
Whoops - didn't turn it over soon enough. It started to burn.
Anyway, bake the other side for about 3 to 4 minutes, till it's brown, too. Take it out of the oven, and put it on a rack.
Let's try three at a time. It's a bit awkward getting them into the oven; at first I tried picking them up on a peel, and shoveling them in that way; but they stuck. I didn't want to bother with setting them on little pieces of parchment. The solution?
I just basically draped the dough over my spread fingers, stuck my hand in the oven, and lowered the dough onto the stone with my bare hands.
Yes, it was momentarily uncomfortably hot. But no, I didn't burn myself.
This is one of those times when you'll need to figure out your own method of getting floppy pieces of dough onto a very hot stone without too much hassle. One solution is to use a baking sheet instead of a stone; more on that later.
I found a pair of tongs worked well for turning these over midway through. By that time, they're no longer floppy and easy to handle.
Sometimes you fling them and they don't quite reach their mark, and flop over the edge. That's OK; when you turn them, just back them up onto the stone.
If you don't have a pizza stone, heat an ungreased baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Then take it out, lay a couple of dough disks on it, and put back in the oven.
See? They bake up quite nicely.
On the left, a pizza stone carta. On the right, one baked on a metal pan. As you can see, the stone-baked carta got more lift, but I'd say both are acceptable.
Is that not a thing of beauty? Imagine how crisp and light it is, ready to shatter into shards at the first bite.
Now's your chance to sample all those fancy flavored olive oils hanging out in the pantry.
Brush with oil; sprinkle with a touch of salt, if desired; or serve with a dip or spread. All good.
Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Carta di Musica.