Last week for Bread 41, I made Italian Bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice again. I was visiting my family in Amarillo for an early Christmas, and since I started blogging in 2010, it’s become tradition that I make bread to go with Christmas dinner. It happens that our Christmas dinner is lasagna, and Italian Bread is the perfect thing to turn into a garlic bread accompaniment.
I first made this recipe in 2011, but I generally prefer it over the French Bread I made the year before since Italian Bread makes larger loaves for larger slices of garlic bread. This recipe, like the French Bread, still involves you starting part of the dough the evening before you want to bake the bread – but trust me, it’s well worth the time you take to do that.
- 2½ cups bread (or all-purpose) flour
- ½ teaspoon yeast
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons to 1 cup water, at room temperature
- 2½ cups bread (or all-purpose) flour
- 1⅔ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
- Mix together 2½ cups flour and ½ teaspoon yeast, and add the ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons water. Add more water or flour if needed to make a dough that’s neither too stiff nor too sticky. Knead on a lightly floured surface (or in the work bowl if you'd rather) for about 6 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable. The dough should be tacky – it wants to hold on to your finger, but doesn’t leave any dough behind.
- Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl, coat dough with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 2-4 hours, until doubled in size. If the dough doesn't quite double and you're out of time, that's ok. Degas the dough, return it to the bowl, and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 pieces and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill. (I've skipped cutting up the dough before, and that's ok too. Be sure to let it warm to room temperature. You may have to knead it a few minutes more.)
- Add all remaining ingredients to the dough and mix with a wooden spoon until a ball forms. Add additional flour or water as necessary to create a slightly soft and sticky dough, but it’s better for it to be too wet than too stiff because it will absorb additional flour as you knead.
- Place dough on floured surface (or knead in your work bowl) and knead for about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is tacky and soft, but not sticky. The dough should pass the windowpane test. Place in an oiled bowl, coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours or until dough doubles in size. If your kitchen is cold, preheat your oven for a minute or two, turn off the oven, and place the dough there to rise.
- Gently divide the dough in half, deflating the dough as little as possible. (If you do degas it a lot, it shouldn't harm it.) Shape the dough into batards, which are torpedoes/ shortened baguettes. Gently pat dough into a rectangle. Without degassing the dough, fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold remaining dough down over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. It is very important to have surface tension for these loaves to get them to rise properly.
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to let the gluten recover, and then stretch the loaves out to about 12 inches in length. Place loaves on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or flour (although you can skip the cornmeal if you want). Coat the loaves with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let proof for about an hour, or until loaves have grown to about 1½ times their original size.
- Preheat oven to 500F about 20-30 minutes in advance and place an empty pan on the bottom rack of the oven (so you can pour water into it later to make steam). Score the bread with several short, diagonal slashes.
- I baked my loaves directly on the sheet. If you don't have a spray bottle or mister, sprinkle a little water on the loaves. I put the loaves in the oven on the middle rack, and poured hot water into the hot, empty pan on the bottom rack. If using a spray bottle, mist the loaves after 30 seconds, and again after another 30 seconds. Lower the temperature to 450F and bake the bread for about 20 minutes, rotating the loaves once. Let bread cool completely before slicing.
As always, this recipe did not disappoint. The bread was soft on the inside, and was still chewy even though I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour. The crust was flavorful. The loaves were easy to cut into slices, and the crust wasn’t too hard once the bread was toasted. Overall, this is still an excellent recipe. When I first made it three years ago, I commented that it’s way better than anything you can buy at a supermarket, and that’s still true. It’s definitely a recipe worth taking the time to make.