For the love of scali bread…

Scali bread. If you’re from Boston, you grew up with it; it was the daily bread of choice for most Italian families. And a common offering in sandwich shops, as in “Ya want that on white, wheat, rye, or scali?” Now, it’s sold at Trader Joe’s. And if you google scali, you’ll find all kinds of recipes and discussion about it.

This shiny, mahogany-brown loaf, heavily coated with nutty sesame seeds, has lots of low-key buzz surrounding it; I’d say it has good mojo. (A word to my son, Nik: if I’m using that word wrong, DON’T bother to tell me. Thank you.) And, I have a personal attachment to scali bread: it was my first “showoff” loaf, made strictly to impress someone—my new husband.

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We were walking through the grocery store hand in hand (remember those days? Grocery shopping as part of the ongoing courtship ritual?), and he casually threw this seedy braid into the shopping cart—without consulting me, the designated shopping maven.

“We don’t need any bread,” I offered, thinking of the Pepperidge Farm thin-sliced sandwich loaf in the breadbox at home.

“We don’t have any bread,” he said.

“We have Pepperidge Farm,” I countered.

“That’s not bread.”

Uh…. I had no rejoinder. Pepperidge Farm, beloved companion of my childhood, not bread? Toasted bearer of butter and jam in the morning, sandwicher of PB & J at noontime, the perfect loaf for grilled cheese—NOT BREAD? I let it slide. We were newlyweds, after all, still testing the waters of potential marital discord.

Later, at home, I asked Rick what he was going to do with the scali bread. I thought there might be some strange Italian food ritual surrounding it. Like, you can ONLY eat spaghetti and meatballs with scali bread.

He looked at me strangely. “Eat it?” he ventured.

“I’m not planning on making spaghetti,” I said.

Mystified, Rick offered that scali bread was eaten with EVERY meal. Just as Pepperidge Farm was my daily companion, scali was his. He toasted it for breakfast, had sandwiches on it at lunch, and wiped his plate clean with it at dinner. Scali bread quickly earned a permanent spot on my shopping list.

And soon, I learned to make it. I was a budding bread baker, and despite its appearance, scali was pretty simple to make. I’ve since tweaked the recipe, adding an overnight starter for flavor, some milk powder for texture, but scali has remained a regular in my repertoire for over 30 years now.

Rick and I are both grayer, slower, and more creaky than we were when I first learned about scali. And we occasionally still grocery shop together, though he’s more interested in browsing the wine section than trailing me through frozen foods. I still love my Pepperidge Farm-style white bread (though I’ve learned to make my own). He still loves his scali. And we still love each other. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Here’s my tried-and-true recipe for Scali Bread.

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As with many crusty artisan-style loaves, we begin by making a starter, a simple combination of flour, water, and yeast. Overnight, this gnarly little ball of dough is transformed into…

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…a lovely, bubbly mass of dough.

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Mix the starter with the remaining dough ingredients.

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That unassuming mixture becomes a lovely, smooth, slightly sticky dough.

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Set it in a greased, covered container to rise for 2 hours.

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Ahhh, VERY nice!

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Next, spray a work surface (here I’m using a silicone rolling mat) with vegetable oil spray. I use Everbake; it’s a good all-purpose spray that, when you use it on your baking pans, doesn’t leave that icky dark goo that some sprays leave. Divide the dough into three equal pieces, and gently pull them into rough logs. Walk away for 10 minutes; you can leave the dough uncovered. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which will make it easier to roll into ropes.

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Gently roll the dough under your cupped fingers to make ropes about 24” long.

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Paint each rope with 1 large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water. This “liquid glue” will make the sesame seeds adhere nicely.

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Sprinkle heavily with seeds, rolling the ropes gently on the work surface to pick up as many fallen seeds as possible.

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Squeeze the three ropes together at one end…

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…and start to braid. Cross the left- and right-side pieces, alternating them, over the piece in the center.

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Keep going, trying not to stretch the dough too much. Stretching it could result in a misshapen braid, as the gluten will want to shrink back again as the braid rises.

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When you run out of rope, squeeze the ends together. Tuck both ends underneath to make a neat loaf.

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Cover the braid and let it rise till it’s very puffy, 1 to 2 hours.

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Bake the loaf to transform it into a shiny gold, seed-studded work of art—scali bread!

Find the recipe online by clicking here: Scali Bread.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. David M.

    I too grew up in New England (I still live here) with both Pepperidge Farm and Scali bread (I’m of Italian decent).

    I am also a bread baker. Just having finished a sandwich on ScalI I figured it was time to try my hand at making my own.

    Right now I’m waiting for my loaves of white bread to rise and put in the oven.

    I’m looking forward to trying your recipe for my dinner party Thursday night – Italian food of course.

    Reply
  2. Rachel Graham

    Your story made me laugh. 18 Years ago I married “Mr. White Bread”, well that’s how I refer to my husband. In his 35 years, he had never seen Scali. I grew up in an Italian home in Rever, Mass (a predominant Italian area) just a short 7 miles North over the bridge from Boston. Scali was all we knew. I had never had Wonder or Pepperidge Farms or any other commercial loaf of bread. Our bread came from the local Italian bakery. Any type of sandwich, even French Toast was made with this wonderful delicacy. Just as your story progressed so has ours, My husband tasted Scali and never went back. It wasn’t til my local Grocery store (now that we have moved to western Mass) which made a wonderful Scali went on strike this summer, did I venture to find your recipe. Now that I have found it, I will continue to practice until I get it perfect. Thank you for a wonderful story and recipe.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      So, Market Basket is responsible for your new-found skill as a scali baker, eh? Well, that’s a happy result. Thanks for sharing your story – and remember, practice makes perfect! 🙂 PJH

  3. JC

    Finally I have searched the web on and off for a scala receipt hard to find and outside the BeanTown area it is impossible to find. But the receipt link is broken?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sorry about that, JC – all fixed. Enjoy that Scali bread – just like the North End! PJH

  4. W.W.Wise

    Thanks for your suggestions, but this loaf turned out to be sinfully delicious, and I a’m munching on it as i type.

    No, it is not the loaf for which I am searching, but I love it.

    I, too, had the problem with dough too soft and sticky, but it turned out perfectly. When the initial 90 minute rising was complete I had no need to gently deflate, as the whole blob simply turned limp upon first touch, so I dumped it onto a parchment paper on my King Arthur bread kneading board, slightly oiled with olive oil, divided it into three rough logs, very difficult to handle, let rest, then formed into very sticky and almost sloppy logs, did the egg white and seed bit, made a bit of a botch transferirng to a dry parchment – should have just left it on and baked it on the oiled parchment. I was sure this was going to be a disaster at this point, but, voila, out it came, a perfect loaf.

    Thanks very much. I always use only King Arthur products, by the way.

    W. W. Wise

    Reply
  5. W.W.Wise

    No, I haven’t tried the challah recipe, as the bread I’m trying to find has no holes in the inside, but is a smooth and elastic consistency. I believe it to be of Italian origin, as I’ve always found it in Italian restaurants. But, it’s been many years now since I’ve been fortunate enough to find it.

    I’m letting the dough for this Scali bread rise now, having started it last evening. And, so far so good, as the starter today looked just like the photo here.

    Thanks for the reply, and I’ll post my results.

    W.W.Wise

    Hope the Scali Bread is what you’ve been looking for; if not, try the challah. It doesn’t have holes, it’s very similar to Scali, but a big “eggier.” Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  6. W.W.Wise

    For years I’ve searched for a particular bread/roll without knowing the name of the type; sometimes w/sesame seeds, sometimes without. Beautiful crust, very smoth, white and elastic interior, sort of a bread version of pulled taffey in consistency.

    Mosca’s Restaurant in Weswego, LA used to serve rolls like this.

    The closest I’ve come – close but no cigar – was King Arthur’s Italian Sesame breaded loaf, which I’ve made for years. But, still no cigar.

    I’m hoping this Scale loaf will be the answer. I’ll post later if it is.

    Thanks, all.

    W.W.W. at idafernwildwood@yahoo.com

    This sounds very much like challah – have you tried our Classic Challah recipe? PJH

    Reply
  7. ogoshi

    Ummmmm, sorry to bother, but i made a boo-boo with this recipe.
    I made it, and it was nicely risen, and then … I had to start kneading it again. if i set it to rise again and it doubles, will it still work?

    Yes, just shape it again; it should be fine. PJH

    Reply

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