By Jodee Weiland
Being Italian, I know how important good Italian bread is to complete an Italian meal.
When I was growing up, my parents always had Italian bread in the house. It complemented many different meals in our home from pasta dishes to soups to Italian beef and more. It was even sometimes used as a teething ring for the babies in the family.
That’s true! It seemed that every baby in our family was handed a fresh loaf of Italian bread to gum to death when teething. Of course, they were watched closely as the traditional family picture of the baby was taken holding a loaf of Italian bread to their mouths and attempting to chew on it. The babies were all naturals at this process, and mom and dad were always overjoyed to see them do this. Today, those are fond memories held by all the children and grandchildren.
That’s why making Italian bread is so much more than just making the bread for me. It’s memories of family that go along with this process of baking the bread that make it special for me. So enjoy this recipe and hopefully, you will have some memories of your own that making this bread will bring back to you as well in one way or another.
Italian Bread…Nothing Better than Fresh Baked Bread
3 and 1/2 cups bread flour (the last 1/4 cup or less to be added as needed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 and 3/4 cups warm water (1/2 cup of this will be for the yeast mixture)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 gently beaten egg white
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare parchment paper for baking sheet.
In a small mixing bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast and a pinch of sugar with 1/2 cup of warm water, that is water that is warm to the touch, about 100 degrees. Stir this and let it rest for about 10 minutes until it becomes foamy.
Then in a large mixing bowl, gradually blend together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and water mixture, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and remaining water as you begin to work this with your hands into dough. At first, you may blend the ingredients with a spoon, but as it thickens you will work it with your hands. Once your dough is all blended, continue to work the dough with your hands and begin to knead the dough for about 8 minutes. Do this on a flat surface, where you will add flour as you go to the surface to keep your dough from sticking.
Once done, place your ball of dough into a bowl, smoothing a touch of olive oil over the dough. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a clean towel for about 20 to 30 minutes and let it rest. It should double in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it again before shaping into a loaf. Place your loaf on a parchment covered baking sheet and cover loosely with a towel while it sits. Once again, it should double in size. When it does so, take the gently beaten egg white and brush it on the loaf. You may not use all of it. Then with a sharp knife cut 3 to 4 (1/4 inch deep) slits diagonally across the top of the loaf. Put the bread into the preheated oven and bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes. My loaf took about 34 minutes to bake. Allow bread to cool briefly before cutting and serving.
There’s nothing quite like fresh baked Italian Bread. No matter what meal you serve it with, your family will enjoy it. This bread recipe is a basic Italian bread recipe, but you could add whatever you like to it. This basic recipe can be the base for a cheese bread or olive bread or any type Italian Bread you want. Next time I make it, I am going to make it with a cheese and some jalapenos. Try it out and see how many different ways you can vary it. I think you will like it, even if you just choose to make just the basic recipe. So try it, and enjoy!