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Crusty Italian Bread

 

The New Year needs to start off right – and that means a fresh loaf – or two – of bread.

I love my fresh-baked bread. There really is nothing better for making a dinner complete. It amazes me a bit that – after all of the thousands of loaves of bread I have made in my lifetime – I still enjoy making it so much. But I do. I really do.

This particular dough needs to slow-rise in the refrigerator overnight, so make the dough before you go to bed and bake it the following day! The slow rise adds character to the bread by allowing the yeast and bacteria to develop flavor. There’s also talk that slow-rising, as well as using sourdough starters, are beneficial to people with issues with commercial breads. I dunno, because I have no food allergies or intolerances, but, if ya do, you may want to look into it.

This is a really basic bread – flour, water, salt, and yeast – my favorite four ingredients. It’s rather amazing how these same ingredients can be combined just slightly different, shaped differently, and have such dramatic differences in flavor, crust, and texture. It’s one of the reasons I love bread-baking so much.

This really is an easy bread to make and the dough is easy to work.

The origin of this particular bread eludes me. I have a ton of recipes on my computer dating back to the early days of home-computing – most in .txt files. Some of them are transcribed from a cook book my old Tahoe roommate Steve Johnson and I were once trying to write. It was the “Scraped off the Wall Cook Book” and the original files were lost in a computer crash in the early ’90s. While some of the recipes survived, I’ve never been able to get up the energy to start it, again. This could be one of them. Or not.

Crusty Italian Bread

Makes two 14-inch loaves

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • cornmeal

Combine the yeast and water in a mixing bowl and allow to proof. Add the salt and flour and mix, forming a somewhat smooth ball. Continue mixing about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto the counter, knead by hand for a few seconds, shape into a ball, and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turn it to completely coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 24 hours. The dough will double in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to bake, return the dough to room temperature.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut it into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450°F.

Pat 1 ball of dough into a rectangle about 4″ x 5″. Fold in half, sealing the dough with your palm. Spin, and fold in half, again, also sealing with your palm.

Fold the resulting piece in half, again, sealing the edges with your fingertips. Roll into a 14-inch-long cylinder with slightly tapering ends.

Place on peel that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal.

Repeat with the remaining ball of dough.

Cover with a towel and set aside to rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Make three diagonal slashes with a very sharp knife. Sprinkle lightly with flour and slide onto the baking stone.

Lower the oven temperature to 425°F.

Bake the bread for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp, misting with water from a spray bottle 3 times during the first 10 minutes.

Cool the bread on a rack and serve at room temperature.

Eat one loaf tonight and freeze the other for another time when you want a quick loaf. Reheat in the oven – wrapped in foil – about 10 minutes at 350°F.

01-01-15-italian-bread-2

Edited to add…

WOW! This is one crusty and light loaf of bread! The slow-rise – along with the misting in the oven – gave it a great crust and texture. I’ll be making this one, again, for sure!

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