Steam power! Carta di musica

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:

2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup semolina
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup water


Mix with a spoon, or with the flat beater of your stand mixer, just till the dough comes together.

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.

Like this.

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.

PUFF!

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.

IMG_1617

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.

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. Sheila Kleinschmidt

    I made these and rolled them in a garlic herb seasoning (dried) then sprinkled more on top or turned them over and rolled them again to pick up whatever was left on the mat.

    They turned out delightful and I’m looking forward to sprinkling in fresh herbs or cheeses! They are so much fun to make and a good project for a cold/wet winter day!

    I tried cooking them on a crepe pan on top of the stove and didn’t have a much luck. I think a gas bbq would work great! You need to surround them with heat.

    Reply
  2. Sandra

    These seem very similar to a middle-east bread cooked on a stone over an open fire I had while traveling. Could these be cooked on a hot cast-iron flat griddle on top of the stove?

    Not sure, Sandra – give it a try and let us know… PJH

    Reply
  3. Jo Ann

    These were fun and delicious! I used my much-loved KitchenAid pasta attachment to roll them out; they were shaped more like long oblongs rather than rounds, but it was easy and quick. Worked perfectly!

    Good idea, Jo Ann – thanks for sharing! PJH

    Reply
  4. Martin

    How about a comment from a KAF baker?

    Carta da Musica is also my all-time favorite dough for pizza in the wood-burning oven. For home use, I put it on the sheet tray for a couple minutes before adding simple toppings.

    Nice feature!

    Thanks, Martin – readers, Martin is one of the talented artisan bakers in our King Arthur Bakery. When Martin speaks – we listen! 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  5. Jill

    I made these this morning and they were fantastic! Thanks for the detailed recipe and photos – the information you provide is always very helpful. We ate these with a roasted vegetable spread and it was a delicious combination.

    Thanks for your feedback, Jill – always nice to hear about our readers’ successes! PJH

    Reply
  6. Francesca

    Hi, PJH.
    No, it’s “carta da musica”, no plural.
    “Carta” means “paper” so it doesn’t really take the plural when you refer to it as a substance. It roughly means paper for music (paper to write music on) while if you say carta “di” musica, that suggest that the paper is made of music, which doesn’t make sense in Italian. And now I probably managed to thoroughly confuse you. 🙂

    >Thank you for the clearly illustrated recipe.

    >BTW, I believe the correct Italian name of this recipe is “carta da musica” (not “carta di musica”.

    >Thanks, Francesca. So, would it really be carti di musica, then, plural? PJH

    Got it – I’ll go in and change it when I have access- thanks again. PJH

    Reply
  7. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez- Petrópolis, R.J. - BRAZIL

    Anothet tip i want to share here is that the fact of grease the surface of work area, is it that turns easily to roll the dough so thin!!
    I´d greased with some cold butter!

    Reply
  8. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis, R.J. - BRAZIL

    I´d made these crackers…and LOVED A LOT.
    The first crackers i´d baked were not ok. They becomed soggy, not too crispy and then i´d admited: – I needed to roll them so thin, as thin as i could. It worked well. The second sheet turned out absolutely fantastic. The crispy crackers were DELICIOUS and specially with little assortment of bitter-sweet treats i´d made that night. Lots of bitter-sweet cornichons and some mango chutney. I know mango chutney goes well with some meats but in my case with hungry that night, it gone pretty GOOOOD!
    Another example of nice delicious baker goods from world´s corners in this case Italy that surprisingly WE become passionated!

    Reply
  9. Eliza

    just made these – really happy with them, served them with creamy tomato soup. thanks for all your hard work, i love baking after you guys!

    Reply
  10. Judy

    These were so much fun and so fast to make. I always believe in trying it the way the recipe says first, but I did not have Semolina and substituted Durum. They came out fabulous. Next time I roll out with a nummy flavored olive oil to add just a touch of flavor. I made these to go with a candied walnut salad and used the balsamic/olive oil on the crackers as well. These will be a frequent new addition. The other thing I noticed is that if you roll out in a longer shape they puff up very large (like a football) where as if you roll out in a circle they tend to remain more flat with just the little puffs.

    Judy, thank you SO much for sharing your experience here. I’m glad to hear durum works – and how interesting about the shapes, I hadn’t noticed. Most of mine ended up irregularly oblong – so I didn’t have any circular ones for comparison. Cheers! PJH

    Reply

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