Sunday, January 13, 2013

Italian Bread - From Scratch


We were spoiled. After years of serving homemade garlic bread alongside every pasta dish, we couldn't eat our pasta without the bread. I always headed straight for the clearance section in the grocery store bakery department to get the Italian bread I used to make my garlic bread. They would have the previous day's baked goods marked down - everything from doughnuts and cookies to artisan breads and croissants.

But management at our grocery store must have gotten better. Food waste was down and the selection of leftover baked goods was starting to get smaller and smaller. More often than not, I was having to pay full price for our Italian bread. Full. Price. And with pasta dishes being a frequent thing in our household, those full price pennies started adding up quickly.

As fate would have it, we needed bread one day and snow kept me from the grocery store. When I mentioned it to Mr. LH, he said "Why don't we just try to make some?"

Italian bread is one of those things I was intimidated to try making myself. I don't know why. Yeast dough no longer bothered me but for some reason, I just didn't make Italian bread. I guess because it wouldn't come out of my bread machine looking like it should. I searched the internet for a simple, easy-to-follow Italian bread recipe...and I found it.

I wasn't looking for "authentic" Italian bread. I was looking for something that tasted like Italian bread and looked like something I could make in an afternoon.  The recipe I originally found was adapted from a Basic Italian Bread recipe by Emeril Lagasse on FoodNetwork.com. Of course, I had to make my own changes as well to adjust for the ingredients I had on hand, the altitude, etc. What you see below is my revised version. You can find Emeril's original version on FoodNetwork.com

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Homemade Italian Bread

Ingredients

2 cups water, lukewarm
Pinch of granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast (or one package dry active yeast)
5 cups bread flour plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon brown sugar - I used light brown sugar because it's what I had on hand. The original recipe calls for dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil - I used regular vegetable oil because that's what I had on hand. The original recipe calls for extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten - optional though necessary if you want a golden "shiny" crust. The picture at the top had the egg white applied. The picture at the bottom did not.


Directions

Place the water, granulated sugar and yeast in a bowl/large glass measuring cup and set aside for 5 minutes.

Using a dough hook attachment on a stand mixer, combine the 5 cups flour, brown sugar and salt. Add the yeast/water mixture and the oil and mix on low speed until a dough starts to form. Mix the dough at a medium-low setting (I use #2 on  a KitchenAid mixer) for 5 to 7 minutes, or until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed.

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 until doubled in size. Remove the plastic wrap, punch down and flatten the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle (if you are going to make 2 smaller loaves, divide the dough evenly and press into 2 smaller rectangles). Roll the dough up tightly into an elongated, oval shape. Seal the seam well.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the dough seam side down on an inverted baking sheet dusted with flour or covered with a silicone mat (if you are making two loaves, you will probably need 2 baking sheets or one large baking sheet). Allow the dough to proof, loosely covered with a towel, until doubled in size. Brush the dough with the egg white (optional). Using a razor blade or sharp knife, score three or four (1/4-inch deep) slashes across the top of the dough at a 45 degree angle.


Spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle and place in the preheated oven. 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). Bake the dough for 45 minutes*, or until a hollow thud is heard when the bread is whacked with the bowl of a wooden spoon. Allow the bread to cool slightly before serving.

* I found I preferred my crust a little "less crisp" so I only sprayed the dough 2 times. I also only needed to bake the loaves for about 30 minutes instead of the 45 minutes called for. You may want to check your bread around the 30 minute mark.

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I am a believer.  Homemade Italian bread is possible...and the results...outstanding! It was crusty on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. We didn't even make it into garlic bread...we just sliced it and served it with butter. Oh, I wished my mom was still visiting so she could celebrate this bread with me. It was SO GOOD! I don't think I will ever buy a loaf of Italian Bread from the grocery store bakery again.



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