Today is a bread baking day. The idea actually started yesterday when my friend, Joanie Manzo, a Loveland reader, brought me a loaf of homemade cinnamon bread. Divine!
So it got me in the bread baking mood. I didn’t have time for cinnamon bread but knew I’d have time to make this easy recipe for Italian bread. I kept one loaf for us and sent the other to Tony and Debbie, our neighbors. With this wicked icy weather, a warm loaf of bread with a bowl of steaming stew is a comforting supper.
Italian bread for beginners and everyone else
I like this recipe for its simplicity. The flavor and texture is like the kind you get at a bakery. The crust is a bit crisp and pale gold. I’m giving detailed instructions here. Check out my blog for tips on kneading and step-by-step photos. If you want, sprinkle poppy seeds on the bread after shaping.
1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
Pinch of sugar to feed yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Stir yeast in warm water, adding a pinch of sugar to “feed” the yeast. It’s ready when it looks foamy on top, a few minutes. Pour into mixing bowl and add sugar, salt and 3 cups flour. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Pour in remaining flour and mix on low to form soft dough. On very lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes or so. It may be sticky at first, but will get smooth, like a baby’s bottom. Place in greased bowl, turning once to grease top.
Bless the dough!
Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour or so.
Punch dough down.
Divide in half. Shape each into a loaf. There are two ways to do this: simply make loaf shape with your hands about 12” long, or roll dough into an approximate 12×7” rectangle. Roll up tightly from long side, pinch seams to seal and place seam side down on sprayed or parchment lined pan.
Cover and let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes. With sharp knife, make four shallow slashes across top of loaf. Bake at preheated 400° for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Brush with butter.
Make this by hand? Of course, and you get a workout, too!
Measure accurately. Flour settles as it sits. Whisk a bit or stir before measuring. Measure by spooning lightly into cup and leveling off with knife.
How warm is 110-115 degrees? Best to use an instant read thermometer, which is inexpensive and accurate. Water is just right when you put some on your wrist and it’s warm enough for a baby to drink from a bottle.
How to tell when dough is doubled. Rising time is a guide only. Use fingers to make indentation about 1/2” into dough. If the indentation remains, the dough has doubled. For the second rise after shaping, make a small indentation in the dough near its side. If the dent remains, the dough is ready to bake.