While there are many Italian breads, Italian bread as you probably know it, is the loaf with a crunchy exterior and chewy, delicious interior. It is hearty enough to sop up olive oil or the last bit of pasta sauce at the end of your meal.
While many Italian bakeries and restaurants have their own treasured recipes, the bread is SO SIMPLE to make right at home!
All it takes is a few simple ingredients that you likely already have at home! The best part is, no overnight rise! I first made this bread while realizing this past weekend at 3PM that I didn't grab any bread for Easter dinner. I had to act quick and hope the bread rose enough to not be dense, flat bread. WOW, was I surprised!
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
2 1/2 c flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
As I have said before, when there are so few ingredients, there is no place for poor quality ingredients to hide. This is the time to use high quality honey, high quality olive oil and even high quality salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, honey and warm water. Water should be just a touch warmer than your body temperature, but not hot. It should be warm enough to dissolve the coating on the yeast, yet not kill it. As long as it is not piping hot, you should be fine.
Let water/yeast/honey mixer stand until it begins to foam, so you know yeast is alive.
To that mixture add all other ingredients.
Using a dough hook on your stand mixer, beat on medium speed until combined and a clean, shiny dough, about 5 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let rest in a warm, draft free area. The oven with the light on is the perfect spot. After 45 minutes to an hour, the dough should be doubled in size. If it is not doubled, give it more time. This is more about the rise of the dough than the time on the clock. You want a light dough, which means it needs to properly rise.
Once doubled, punch down the dough to expel any gas that accumulated during the first rise. Pour dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead until you have a neat, oblong loaf, tucking any edges underneath.
Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel again. Let rise for about 20-25 minutes, until puffy. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400-425 degrees.
I say 400-425 degrees because if your loaf is longer and narrowed, 425 will be the perfect temperature for a crusty exterior and a center that is fully cooked. If you loaf is more round, like the one pictured, you will need to cook it at 400 to ensure the center is cooked, however, at the end I did turn the oven up to 425 to get the exterior nice and crisp.
Once the dough has risen a second time, take a bread lame or sharp knife, and make a few diagonal cuts in the bread. Not only does this give the bread an artisan appearance, it allows the gases to escape from the bread, avoiding an unsightly bubble or burst in the dough.
Now, bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned on the exterior. Let bread cool before cutting into it and use a serrated knife to assure a nice, clean cut -- without squishing the bread!
Dip into your favorite olive oil and enjoy -- Buon Appetito!