CRUSTY ITALIAN BREAD

Crusty Italian Bread, by Tika
Crusty Italian Bread, by Tika

Heavy crust outside and soft on the inside, this bread recipe can also be used to make sandwich rolls, sub rolls, focaccia or pizza crust.  Doubles easily.  Can make a loaf of bread and some rolls or pizza dough. Often, I will time and a half the recipe and make one large loaf.  It seems better for sandwiches.

This is my favorite Italian bread recipe.  The dough is EASY to work with and you will get so much pleasure out of feeding your family your own bread.  And, guess what’s in it?  Just flour, salt, water, olive oil and flour.  NO JUNK!  Breadmaking takes practice, but you will be an expert in no time.  My recipe and photo instructions may be a bit wordy for the experienced bread maker, but the beginners need details.  Do NOT be afraid to give this a try.  I love to knead start to finish by hand, but I don’t always have the time or I’m lazy.  You can start this bread with any mixer, but unless you have a heavy-duty motor like Kitchen Aid, for instance, don’t kill your mixer.  Once it starts lagging, finish kneading by hand.

Yield: Makes 1 loaf

INGREDIENTS:    

  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/4 cups bread flour*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tsp room temp butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt

PREPARATION:

  1. Combine yeast, sugar, and 1 cup warm water** in bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes. This makes the sponge. Add 2 cups flour, oil, and salt to bowl, and beat at low speed, using dough hook attachment, 1 minute. Gradually add additional flour until dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl and pull together. (Note: The dough will take on a rough, fuzzy appearance as the flour is being added, but this will change as flour becomes incorporated. When enough flour has been added, the dough will look soft and smooth, not wet and sticky or overly dry.  Press lightly with your finger throughout the mixing process and you will feel the change.
  2. If you are adding any goodies, such as ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp thyme, ½ tsp rosemary, ½ tsp basil or anything you do care to add, do it now. We love rosemary and garlic.
  3. Increase speed to medium, and beat 5 minutes or knead by hand. Cover bowl of dough with greased plastic wrap, or parchment paper and a dish towel, and let stand in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  4. Punch dough down, and let stand 10 minutes. (Please don’t really punch it. I saw Julia Child do it on an old video and nearly fainted).  Make a fist and use the back of your fingers to press firmly on the dough to release trapped air bubbles).
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead for one minute. The dough should feel smooth, slightly sticky (because of the olive oil you greased the bowl with), and very elastic.  It will feel so delicious to the touch.  With hands, shape dough into a 12-inch loaf, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet (or silicone sheet or parchment paper). Let rise for about 15 – 20 min.  Cut 3 – 4 (1/2-inch deep) slits across top of dough with a pair of scissors.  Using a knife often deflates the dough and I don’t care for that. (The slits release interior steam and prevent the loaf from blowing apart at the sides.)
  6. If desired, brush top and sides with olive oil and generously sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, basil or any other seasoning you care to add. (Again, my laziness calls for pouring a teaspoon at a time of olive oil into my fingers and smearing the olive oil all over the bread).
  7. If you like a really heavy crust, place a pan with boiling water on the rack under your baking bread. Bake bread at 425° for approx. 25 minutes or until good and brown. Cool on a wire rack.
  8. SANDWICH ROLLS: don’t shape into balls that are more than 1” high. They rise a lot when baking and they will be too thick. Bake rolls for 20-25 min. until deep golden brown
  9. Herbed Focaccia: Proceed with recipe as directed, shaping dough into a ball instead of a loaf. Roll dough into an 11- x 14-inch rectangle on a lightly greased baking sheet. Press handle of a wooden spoon into dough to make indentations at 1-inch intervals. Drizzle dough evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning. Bake at 475° for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Pizza Crust: Proceed with recipe as directed, shaping dough into a ball instead of a loaf. Roll dough into an 11- x 14-inch rectangle on a lightly greased baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, or spread with pesto or pizza sauce, and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake at 475° for 20 to 25 minutes.
Dough is coming together and started to form a ball. It has left the sides of the bowl.
Dough is coming together and started to form a ball. It has left the sides of the bowl.

*Why use bread flour?  Bread flour has more protein.  When you mix and knead your dough, the gluten will become elasticized (stretchy).  This is due to the gas bubbles produced by the yeast.  These gas bubbles will expand in the hot oven, giving you a higher, fatter loaf of bread.

*Water temperature guide for bread making.  My well-tested and absolutely scientific method for deciding if the water is the right temperature is this:  I stick the bent knuckle of my pinky finger in the water.  If I can barely feel warm, it’s perfect.  Too cold and your bread won’t rise.  Too hot and you’ll k

ill the yeast.

And there's the ball! If there are any bits stuck to the bowl, scrape the bowl and add to the ball.
And there’s the ball! If there are any bits stuck to the bowl, scrape the bowl and add to the ball.

2015-08-14 12.30.31

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise for a good thirty minutes.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise for a good thirty minutes.
Done!
Done!
Using the back of your fingers, press down in three to four places. (This is called punching the dough down)
Using the back of your fingers, press down in three to four places. (This is called punching the dough down)
Let rest for ten minutes.
Let rest for ten minutes.
Begin kneading. Oh, so much fun!
Begin kneading. Oh, so much fun!
Fold dough over on itself and turn it 1/4 turn. Knead, fold, turn. Continue for one to two minutes.
Fold dough over on itself and turn it 1/4 turn. Knead, fold, turn. Continue for one to two minutes.
Begin to shape the loaf
Begin to shape the loaf

2015-08-14 13.14.47_crop

2015-08-14 13.14.45_crop
Keep it nice and uniform.
Coat entire dough with olive oil and whatever seasonings you want. Cut your slits.
Coat entire dough with olive oil and whatever seasonings you want. Cut your slits.
Now try to control yourself for a few minutes. It's hot!
Now try to control yourself for a few minutes. It’s hot!
Yep, you did it. You made bread.
Yep, you did it. You made bread.

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