Monday, February 18, 2013

Italian Bread!

Oh man, do I love vacation!  I have been cooking and baking like nobody's business and it's only Monday!  Yesterday, Tracy, Gary and Kelsey came over for the afternoon.  They are having a really tough week, so I knew that I wanted to really cheer them up with some great food.  I planned out a long grocery list and lots of exciting meals for the week, shopped, and then came home and then got right to work.  I made mostly repeat recipes: fluffernutter cookies, which Mom and Alex had been begging for, and which everyone was devouring at the most insane rate (they're all gone today!); strawberry shortcake cookies, which was my attempt to give Kels her request for shortcake when I feel too strongly that it's a summer dessert (most of those went too!); and Mexican lasagna for dinner, which got rave reviews from everyone.  Gary even took my turn getting logs in return for my cooking!  The whole meal went great, actually, and I got lots of compliments on everything.  In fact, Kelsey said that she usually eats food at a meal according to how much she likes things, but she was having trouble deciding which part was her favorite!  However, besides all those great recipes, I made something else yesterday that was a new one for me, and I am so excited to share it today, because it was awesome.

It is no secret that I love bread.  I love eating it, I love making it, I love smelling the yeast activating  (is that weird?).  And I have made a lot of breads this past year.  But one thing I never made is Italian bread, which strangely enough is one of my favorites.  I recently pinned two different recipes for it, and when Tracy requested homemade bread, I knew it was the right time to give one of them a try.  And I am thrilled that I chose the one that I did.  This is my new go to bread recipe.  Yup, that's right, folks.  The bread lover has found her favorite bread recipe for your everyday bread to go with dinner. It was really easy, only needed to rise for an hour and a half, and it was delicious: salty, soft, with the most gorgeous brown crust.  I am so happy about this bread!

Another great thing about it is that it makes a lot of bread.  The loaf is rather enormous.  Okay, it is plain humungous.  And you slice it down the middle before you bake it to let it "bloom," and so it spreads out ever larger.  It ended up growing the size of the sheet I baked it on! 

Two things you don't want to forget to do: first, don't skip the egg wash.  I skipped the sesame seeds, but the egg wash really helps it to brown up beautifully.  Second (and this was a tip from the blog I got the recipe from), put a pan in the oven when you preheat it.  Then, when you put the bread in, pour a couple cups of water into the pan.  This lets the steam out right away and helps to keep the crust moist and perfect. 

This bread will be made again soon in the Tucker house.  Most of it went yesterday, and it is still pretty good today, which is kind of rare for breads.  And it is soooo good!


Italian bread
from Browneyed Baker

2 cups lukewarm water (~100°F)
1 package active dry yeast
5 to 5¾ cups bread flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2½ teaspoons salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1. Stir the yeast into ½ cup of the warm water. Let proof as you measure out the dry ingredients.

2. Combine 5 cups flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the yeast mixture, remaining water and olive oil. Using a dough hook attachment, mix on lowest speed of electric mixer  until a dough starts to form, adding more flour as needed. Knead on low speed for 7 minutes. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and need by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, or until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and spray the dough with a thin coating of cooking spray. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to proof in a warm, draft-free place for 1½ hours or until doubled in size.

4. Remove the plastic wrap, punch down and flatten the rounded dough with the heel of your hand. Roll the dough up tightly, sealing the seam well after each roll. The dough should be elongated and oval-shaped, with tapered and rounded (not pointed) ends.

5. Preheat the oven lined with a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles (or not... I just threw in a pan that I planned to pour water in later) to 425°F.

6. Place the dough on a baker's peel heavily dusted with flour, or alternately on an inverted baking sheet (I just used a baking sheet, not inverted). Allow the dough to proof, loosely covered with a floured canvas cloth, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

7. Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, slash the dough lengthwise about 1/4-inch deep, keeping the blade at a 45 degree angle.

8. If you are going to use the water pan trick, put the bread and the water in the oven.  If not, spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle and place in the oven on the baking stone. Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes. Open the oven door and spray the dough again with the water bottle. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 3 minutes before spraying the dough for a third time (the spraying of the dough will ensure a crisp golden brown crust).

9. Bake the dough for a total of 45 minutes, or until a hollow thud is heard when tapping the bottom of the bread. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

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