11Italian Bread

Italian Bread

This is the first bread post by my husband.  He jokingly referred to this as Dave’s Bread Corner, but admitted that he wasn’t really interested in making his own “wing” on my blog.  What this means to you is that bread with yeast and other things that could make it scary to make or otherwise super complicated are now possible.  In other words, you guys get a different variety of recipes that fall outside my comfort zone, my husband gets an audience and an excuse to make bread, and I get “free” posts that I didn’t have to cook (although I still took the pictures).  Sounds like a win for everyone.

The instructions for this recipe were written with the absolute bread beginner in mind.  My husband did everything he could to take some of the mystery out of dealing with yeast.  Fair warning before you get started though, this recipe involves quite a bit of time, a stand mixer, and a little bit of “feel” for what you are doing thanks to yeast being a living thing.  Needless to say paying careful attention to what you are doing as you progress through the steps will make it easier.  To miss something along the way can have really weird effects on the outcome.

With that said, I leave you in good hands with my husband for his awesome step by step tutorial on how to make the best Italian bread.     :)

10Italian Bread

Italian Bread Recipe
(Serves a zillion.  This makes a BIG loaf.)
Note: This recipe requires between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours for rising and proofing.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 packets of yeast
  • 5 and 3/4 cups bread flour Measure your flour correctly!
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare the dough:

  1. Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature it will allow and then turn it off.  If that temperature is above about 100 F leave it open for a while to cool down again.  You do NOT want to dry out or cook the dough.  The perfect temperature for dough to rise in barely feels warm at all.  Your goal is a draft free warm place to put the dough.
  2. Pour the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the yeast.  Allow the yeast to bloom for 5 minutes before adding anything else.
  3. Put the dough hook attachment onto the stand mixer and turn it to low speed.  (I use 2 on my Kitchen Aid mixer.)
  4. Add 1 cup of the flour and then the brown sugar to the mixer bowl.  Then add the remaining flour (4 and 3/4 cups).
  5. Drizzle the salt and then the olive oil into the mixer bowl.
  6. Turn the mixer up a little and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes.  (I use 3 on my Kitchen Aid mixer because higher than that actually causes the mixer to walk around the counter.)  Once the dough is done kneading it should be smooth looking and have an elastic texture.
  7. While the dough is kneading, spray a large bowl with cooking spray.  It needs to be at least twice as big as the dough so there is room for it to rise.
  8. Form a ball with the dough, transfer it to the greased bowl and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  9. Place the dough into the warm oven you prepared above for around 50 minutes to rise.  (Do NOT turn the oven back on!)  You should allow the dough to roughly double in size.  The amount of time this takes depends on your yeast, the humidity in the air, and the temperature of where it is rising, so you should keep an eye on it and adjust the amount of time you give it accordingly.

Proof the loaf:

  1. Remove the bowl from the oven, remove the plastic wrap (keep it for later use), and punch down the dough.  You are basically trying to return the dough to the size it was before it rose.
  2. Heavily dust an upside down baking sheet with corn meal.
  3. Roughly flatten the dough and then tightly roll it up into a roughly oval shaped loaf.
  4. Place the loaf into the middle of the dusted baking sheet and spray it with hot water from a squirt bottle.
  5. Lay plastic wrap over the wet loaf and then cover it with a towel and allow it to proof for roughly 30 minutes sitting on the counter.  It should double in size.  If it needs more time to get back to doubled size you should give it the time it needs.
  6. While your loaf is proofing preheat the oven to 425 F.

Bake the bread:

  1. With a sharp non-serrated knife slice 3 diagonal cuts into the top of the loaf.  They should be roughly 1/2 inch deep.  This should be done gently to avoid disturbing the rising that occurred while proofing the loaf.
  2. Spray the loaf with hot water from a squirt bottle and place the prepared baking sheet with the loaf on it into the oven.
  3. Bake it for 3 minutes.
  4. Open the oven, pull the rack with the bread on it out a little and spray it with hot water from a squirt bottle for a second time.
  5. Return the rack to its normal position and bake for an additional 3 minutes.
  6. Open the oven, pull the rack with the bread on it out a little and spray it with hot water again.  (All the spraying of water on the loaf helps to create an amazingly chewy crust.)
  7. Return the rack to its normal position and bake the bread for about another 28 minutes.
  8. The loaf should be a dark golden brown and should sound a little hollow if you smack it with a wooden spoon.
  9. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately remove it to a wire cooling rack.  (Leave your oven mitts on for this, the bread will be very hot.)
  10. Let the bread cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.  It should be making a subtle crackling sound while it cools.  (You can of course eat it immediately out of the oven if you so desire, but I find it tends to have a yeasty flavor that settles down as it cools.)

Avoid wrapping the loaf of bread for several hours to keep it from sweating.  If you wrap it too soon the crust will end up soft instead of crispy.  Once you wrap it, use tin foil and wrap it loosely.

 

A few notes about making this bread.  First, if you don’t have extra-virgin olive oil, any kind of oil should do the trick.  Being Italian bread though, the hint of olive flavor the oil brings to the party is desired, so use it if you have it available.  Second, yeast is very fragile with temperature.  If your tap water comes out too hot you will kill your yeast instead of allowing it to bloom.  This will be obvious only after you’ve wasted all the ingredients and realized it’s not rising.  If this happens to you, I recommend the garbage can for the failed experiment.  To bake it anyway will result in a loaf of bread that would be better suited as building material.  (This has happened to me, and the brick I got out of the oven wasn’t very appealing.)  Third, you really should use bread flour for this recipe.  The extra amounts of protein in the flour help to give it the structure needed to rise properly and give it that fantastic chewy texture.

This part of making bread looks a little bit like a science experiment.  The best part is that it actually is a real live science experiment!  Talk about fun, you actually get to be a mad scientist for a day and when you are done you have some fantastic bread to enjoy.

01Italian Bread

Once all the ingredients are in the bowl and mixed together it will look like almost any other dough or thick batter you’ve ever made.  Fear not though, after a bit of kneading (conveniently done by your stand mixer) a magical transformation occurs.  It turns the gooey dough into a stretchy rubbery substance that looks smooth and silky.

02Italian Bread

Now the yeast gets to go to town on your dough.  Hiding all mixed into that innocent looking ball is living yeast that has been woken up from a long nap and is now both hungry and surrounded by food.  That’s a great way to wake up if you ask me.  The little guys eat the sugars in the dough (both from the actual sugar that was added, and the naturally occurring sugars found in the flour) and produce carbon dioxide.  The same gas that makes a soda fizzy is now being pumped into your dough from the inside!

03Italian Bread

Given some time to do its work in a warm place your dough will look like it’s trying to take over the world…  Or at least your kitchen if you’d let it.     :)  If all went well up to this point, the ball of dough that you put in a bowl in a warm place should now be double the size it was before.

04Italian Bread

Next you need to squish it back down.  This part always makes me a little bit sad.  You aren’t harming the yeast in the process, but it does feel a bit like you are ruining all their hard work.  Fear not though, they are still in there and they are still excitedly pumping out the carbon dioxide.  Once you squish it and shape it into an oval loaf you just have to spray it down, cover it up, and give the yeast time to do their thing again.  (This is called proofing the dough.)  This period of time happens to be remarkably similar to the amount of time needed to preheat your oven to 425 F so you aren’t even really wasting time.

05Italian Bread

After 30 minutes, your oven should be nice and toasty and your bread should once again look like it wants to take over your kitchen.  Remove the towel and the plastic wrap and marvel at what science can do in your kitchen.  Evil laughter at this point is okay.     ;)

06Italian Bread

Gently slice some cuts into the top of the loaf with a very sharp knife.  I’ve found that if you forget this step it’s not the end of the world but you will get presentation points if you do it.  Pop that bad boy in the oven and get ready for an amazing smelling house!     :D

07Italian Bread

After not even a whole half hour you will have a real live loaf of bread that you made yourself.  No weird preservatives, nothing you can’t pronounce in it, just honest to goodness bread that only required six ingredients.  Seven if you count the butter you probably want to spread on it before you eat it.

08Italian Bread

Just look at that amazing crust.  (See the style points I was talking about before?)

11Italian Bread

There is something great about slicing your own homemade bread with your own hands.  You get amazing thick slices with just a little bit of rustic charm.

09Italian Bread

How about that beautiful cell structure?  (That’s the tiny pockets inside the bread that were made by the yeast.)

12Italian Bread

Bread.  Part mad scientist, part kitchen voodoo, all delicious. What’s your favorite kind of bread?

 

Rating:

5 Hats

 

Adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse for Food Network.

 

The only other “bread” that I’ve made is this awesome tasting quick bread, Beer Bread.

07Beer Bread

Italian bread goes great with Italian Meat Sauce

07Italian Meat Sauce

And loads of soups, like this Italian Tortellini Soup.

05Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup

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