by Stefan Lonce
Finally, a loaf of Italian bread with a crusty exterior and a soft interior just like it came from your favorite bakery…but from your own oven! And…it’s easy!
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, I baked. This is mostly due to laziness…I work from home, so there’s no just stopping for a loaf of bread on the way back from the office. If I want bread, it’s either a special trip out, or I fire up the oven. I know, it’s very “Little House on the Prairie” of me.
This is actually a very basic recipe which I put my own twists to, like replacing the white sugar with brown, using different toppings, adding herbs to the mix, etc. It takes almost 3½ hours total, but really only about 20 minutes of active time…perfect for people working from home, or taking on projects at home on the weekends.
I hope you enjoy!
- 2 cups Lukewarm Water (about 110°)
- 1 package Active Dry Yeast (2.25 tsps. Instant yeast can be substituted here without any modifications)
- 5 cups (+/-) Bread or All Purpose Flour (bread flour will give it a chewier interior, but either works well)
- 1 tbl. Brown Sugar (light or dark)
- 2 tbls. Olive Oil (vegetable oil can be used)
- 2½ tsps. Table Salt
- 2 tbls. Herbs/Spices of Choice (optional…you can use any combination of your favorite herbs or spices, or nothing at all. I used basil, oregano and dried garlic)
- 1 Egg white (lightly beaten)
- 2 tbls. Sesame Seeds (or any topping you like…caraway seeds, sea salt, poppy seeds…I used dehydrated onions on this loaf)
- Stir the yeast into ½ cup of the warm water. Let it sit and proof as you measure out the dry ingredients.
- Combine 5 cups flour, the sugar and the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the proofed yeast mixture, remaining water, and oil as well as any herbs you will be adding. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on the lowest speed until a dough starts to form, adding more flour if needed, up to an additional ½ cup. Kneed on low speed for about 7 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, or until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed. You will feel the texture change as you kneed it. Form the dough into a tight ball. (if you prefer, or if you don’t have a stand mixer, or you have a lot of aggravation to work off, all of the kneeding can be done by hand…don’t worry how sloppy it looks, it will come together)
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to coat it in the oil. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1½ hours, or until doubled in size. (my house tends to be cold, so I leave it on my stove top with the hood lights on for warmth)
- After it has risen, remove the plastic wrap and flatten the dough with the heal of your hand to an approximate 12” x 16” rectangle. Starting at the 16” end, roll the dough up tightly, sealing each roll with the heal of your hand and rounding the ends by tucking them under and sealing.
- Cover a dark baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of corn meal. Place the dough on the prepared sheet, cover loosely with a dish towel, and set aside to rise for an additional 30-45 miutes, or until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, place a METAL baking pan on the bottom rack of your oven and position the other rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 425°. You want the oven…and that pan…HOT, HOT, HOT!
- After the loaf has risen, brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle whatever toppings you’re using over the top. (the egg white will help your toppings adhere, as well as help with the browning) Using a razor blade or sharp knife, slash the loaf lengthwise about ¼ inch deep, keeping the blade at a 45° angle.
- Just prior to placing the bread in the oven, pour 1 cup of hot water into the metal pan you placed in the bottom of the oven. BE CAREFUL…YOU’RE CREATING A STEAMY ENVIRONMENT PROMOTING A NICE CRUNCHY CRUST…WATCH FOR BURNS! Then, place the prepared loaf on the center rack and close the oven door. You want to retain the steamy environment.
- Bake the loaf until golden brown and a hollow thud is heard when tapping the bottom of the loaf , about 35-45 minutes (it should register around 190° on an instant-read thermomether) Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack before slicing. I recommend thick hearty slices. (OK…I’m not going to try to fool you…the bread never cools here. It’s sliced hot and is half eaten before dinner is ready!)