The Pau bakery

by admin on 27/09/2012

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All peoples have bread which tells their story. The carasau bread tells the story of the Sardinian people. The carasau bread, unmistakable due to its flat shape and brittle consistency, is one of many types of bread only produced in Sardinia, with the carasau bread being the most known because of its peculiarity.

Francesca Pau and her family produce this very special kind of bread at their bakery in Siniscola where we were kindly allowed to watch the various phases of the making following ancient traditions using machines only when absolutely necessary.

Having arrived at the bakery half past seven in the morning, the Pau family had already been working for more than two hours. When we arrived, they were preparing small, round pieces of dough and we noticed soon their sure  movements, making difficult work seem easy because of their dexterity.

Francesca remembered that the whole making of this type of bread was considered a religious ritual. Like her grandmother said, the sacredness of the bread required scrupulous attention and religious respect. Making the carasau bread was done by women, a work which required at least three. Women from the neighbour’s household were asked to join, starting the procedure in the middle of the night. Before they started working, they made the sign of the cross next to the workbench, during the work they made a sign of the cross on each bread before the leavening and baking. In addition, the cross should always point towards the oven. Francesca has vivid and fond memories of moments full of intense warmth and affection during these familial rituals. She adds that the carasau bread is a bread of love because all of  its contents is useful: the food, the taste, the substance and the passion.

The carasau bread, carasatu in the local dialect, takes its name from the verb carasare, which means to toast. It is also known as “music paper” because of its resemblance with the parchment on which was written sacred music.

The origins of the carasau bread go back to ancient times, and due to utensils which have been found in archaeological excavations, some researchers think it was already made in the Bronze Age and it may have been made by the Nuragic peoples.

Flour is forming the fundamental part of bread and it is controlling the consistency of the dough, the fragrance and taste of the finished product. The grain from which flour is derived presently is the Sardinian durum wheat being called grain hats because of the long ears of the grains.

From ancient times to about 100 years ago, carasau was essential for the shepherds who led their flocks up in the mountains in summer and down in the valleys in winter. Being far away from human habitation, the carasau bread was their main diet together with milk and cheese from their animals.

Instead, the women and their children stayed at home, making carasau bread for all the family and for the men who had to stay outside for entire seasons. Naturally, they required a bread which was easy to carry and which retained its taste and brittleness for a long time. In short, the carasau bread was ideal for nomads and shepherds having to stay outside for long periods.

Naturally, this type of bread is a result of techniques which have been refined gradually during thousands of years, whose making must have varied according to the requirements of those who ate it.

The women also controlled the cultivation of the durum wheat and all other foods necessary to feed the family. They also cultivated flax and hemp, plants from which they extracted  fibres using them to weave their dowries and, in particular, for weaving cloths, called “sos pannos” in the local dialect. Those were used for covering the workbench where they laid the breads for leavening, and in covering the breads with another layer, such that additional breads could be laid on top of the next cloth. “Sos pannos” also constitute the fundamental and characteristic element in preparing the carasau bread in the Pau bakery.

The main ingredient in carasau bread, is durum semolina which is the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat. This is mixed with certain amounts of water, salt and brewer’s yeast and mixed in a kneader. When the dough is ready, a part of it is taken to a workbench where it is re-kneaded by hand before being flattened manually. Using mainly their fingers, hands and forearms, they make flat cylinders of dough with a diameter of about 30 cm.

When about 40 of these discs of dough have been made, they are brought to another workbench already covered with a cloth of linen mixed with hemp and left to rest for a couple of hours, and covered with the same cloth which favours leavening of the discs.

After the leavening, the discs of dough are transferred to a conveyor belt and transported to a compressing machine, which by letting the dough pass through it several times, will form thin, wide and mostly round discs. When the discs are flat enough, they are brought back on the conveyor belt and laid on a workbench. Then, a round metal gauge is pressed onto the dough and the dough outside the gauge is removed and reused later. After having removed the gauge, a round disc remains. The round discs are laid on the workbench with the cloth again, while another set of discs are being prepared in the same way.

Having made a large number of discs and let them leaven for a certain time, they are put one by one on another conveyor belt which transports the discs towards an oven. When they exit the oven on the opposite side, they resemble baseballs, forming two round bodies united by a joint extending around the whole ball. This effect is mainly due to the remaining water in the dough being turned to water vapour which will expand because of the heat. When the “baseballs” are exiting, they are punctured with a knife and the two parts constituting the “baseball” are separated such that two very thin, hot and soft layers of bread are formed. Although it seemed easy, this operation has to be done quickly and accurately, else the two parts will be rejoined.

The two layers of the disc are put one of top the other, forming a heap of breads after some time. Having attained a certain height, a wooden board is placed on the top of the heap and all the breads are compressed. The breads are passed through the oven once more such that they have the wanted crispiness. Finally, the carasau breads are packaged and ready for sale.

In addition to making the carasau bread, another type of bread, called the spianata and meaning bread for the workdays, is also made. It’s prepared in the same way as described above, but it’s thicker and it’s baked only once.

Contrary to the carasau bread, the spianata bread exits the oven as one solid object resulting in a soft bread and dimensions with less variation than the carasau bread.

Besides baking, the Pau bakery has also contributed to recover a confectionary product based on cooking an endemic citrus fruit, called pompia (Latin name: citrus mostruosa, English name: unknown), in Sardinia. Francesca is responsible for the Slow Food presidium of this delicious food in the region of Baronia, having been the main force by reintroducing a typical Sardinian product whose name is “pompia intrea”. The preparation of the “pompa intrea” is quite complicated and long-lasting: 6 hours are required to make it ready. This very popular fruit, whose origin is uncertain, it was in use at least 300 years ago. Nowadays, the families of Siniscola prepare the “pompia intrea” for anniversaries, etc.

The pompia is a rough, wild citrus fruit with unknown origins which grows spontaneously in this region. The plant doesn’t need any care and the fruits are picked by hand from the middle of November to January.

The Pau family working at the bakery wants to maintain and bring on the art of making the carasau bread, and the preparation of the pompia fruit using traditional methods and only as much machinery as is required. Their intention is to preserve the memory of making bread and the “pompia intrea” for posterity since these traditions are in danger of being forgotten by modern civilization.

Their pride is to always try to make good food for all those who still require hand-made food whose ingredients are Sardinian.

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