Fresh Baked Bread! When I hear those words I can almost smell the bread baking in the oven. I absolutely love to make fresh baked bread. To me making bread is a form of therapy. There is nothing more satisfying then watching flour, salt, yeast and water form and rise into a perfect loaf of bread.
I can honestly say bread is my family’s weakness. From the youngest to the oldest, we can eat some bread. As you can see from the picture below, my grandson, Clay walked in while I was taking photos for this recipe and decided he needed to test the bread to see “if it was good enough to eat”. I guess it passed the test.
I know it is much easier to go to the local supermarket and purchase Italian bread but there is no comparison in taste. Don’t get me wrong, in the middle of the summer or when I am really busy, I do not hesitate to either go to Stick Boy Bread Company in Fuquay- Varina, NC or La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC. These two bakeries take bread baking to a whole new level. But when I want to feel fully accomplished and in need of therapy, I pull out the bread flour and yeast.
Yesterday was our first day of cooler weather. After months of hot, humid steamy weather, we awoke to a 56 degree morning. Halleluiah and Amen. While sitting on the soccer field watching the grandbabies play soccer at 8:30 a.m. in the morning (who does that? Play soccer at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning?) I was actually cold for the first time in months. The wind was blowing and the first chill was in the air. My first thought was oh my word it is a soup and bread kind of day. So I came home and made a pot of Zuppo Tuscano Soup and a loaf of Italian Bread. Later that night with family and friends we dived into this simple meal. You would have thought we were eating pate and caviar. With the warm bread and Land of Lakes extra creamy butter, my family devoured an entire loaf of bread. With full bellies, we commenced to discuss how much we all love bread. And we all agreed, that fresh baked bread is definitely a family weakness. But oh so good.
When baking a rustic loaf of Italian bread or French bread, I believe it is very important to use bread flour. My favorite is King Arthur Flour and you can now find this flour in almost all of your local grocery stores. This is just my preference but any bread flour will work. In my opinion, all purpose flour changes the texture of this particular bread recipe. I am always amazed that such simple and inexpensive ingredients can bring such happiness.
With regard to the yeast, I used Fleischmann’s Instant Dry Yeast because that is what I had in the pantry. I have found that with most bread recipes you can substitute instant yeast without any real issues.
Also, when I making bread I also use my kitchen aid standing mixer. I prefer this option because it makes my life easier but please feel free to use your hands.
This recipe produces a Italian bread with an soft interior and perfect crusty exterior. When you take your first bite, your mouth and heart will sing with happiness.
Easy Crusty Italian BreadCourse: BreadCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Easy
2 cups lukewarm water – 100 degrees F
2 1/2 teaspoons Instant Dry Yeast (One Package)
5 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur )
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil (I use garlic infused olive oil)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg white (lightly beaten)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Stir the yeast into ½ cup of the lukewarm water. Let sit and proof while you are preparing the the dry ingredients.
- Combine 5 cups flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture, remaining water, and olive oil. Using a dough hook attachment, mix on the lowest speed of electric mixer until the dough starts to form, adding more flour as needed (this could be up to an additional 1/2 cup). Knead on low speed for 6 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, or until a smooth firm dough is formed.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and spray the dough with a thin coating of olive oil. Wrap the bowl with press and seal (or plastic wrap, but I detest plastic wrap) and set aside to proof in a warm draft free location for about 1½ hours or until doubled in size.
- Remove the press and seal, punch down and flatten the rounded dough with the heel of your hand. Roll the dough up tightly, sealing the seam very well after each roll. The dough should be long and oval-shaped, with rounded ends.
- Place a baking stone on the center oven rack and preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a metal baking pan on the lowest rack.
- Place the dough on parchment paper heavily dusted with flour. Allow the dough to proof and rise loosely covered with a floured dish towel, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Using a sharp knife or bread scorer cut the dough lengthwise about 1/4 inch deep.
- Right before you place the bread in the oven, pour 1 cup of water into the metal pan you placed on the bottom rack of the oven. Transfer the loaf on the parchment paper to the stone in the oven. Mist the top of the dough with water using a spray bottle before you close the oven door. Wait ten minutes and mist the dough again. Reduce over temperature to 400 degrees.
- Bake the dough until golden brown and a hollow thud is heard when tapping the bottom of the bread (it should register at least 195 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer), about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.
- Bread Flour – I am a huge advocate of bread flour for this recipe; you can find it in nearly all grocery stores or can buy it online. I believe that all-purpose flour changes the texture of the bread.
- Mixing by Hand – While using a stand mixer with dough hook makes this easier, you can absolutely mix and knead by hand.
- Extra Flour – This recipe states you may need to add a little extra flour during the mixing process to get a dough to come together. This may vary during different times of the year. If it is warmer and humid, you may need more flour.
- Metal Pan – It is very important that if you use a metal pan that you place on the bottom rack of the oven to create steam.
- Baking Stone – I use a pampered chef baking stone in this recipe. I have used this stone for years and it looks used and abused exactly the way it is supposed to look. If you can use a metal baking sheet (you do not need to place the baking sheet in the oven during preheating).