If you have ever been to Italy, you’ll remember the taste of the homemade bread which is served in their typical restaurants. If you feel like baking your own Italian bread, here’s how:
You’ll need one package of dry yeast, one and a quarter cups of warm water (between 105° and 115°), three cups of unbleached flour or all-purpose flour, two teaspoons of sugar, one teaspoon of salt, one tablespoon of olive oil and cornmeal for the dusting afterwards.
How to go about it
First of all, you are going to dissolve the yeast in a quarter cup of warm water. Please check the temperature of the water. When it’s too cold it won’t activate, and when it’s too warm you can kill the yeast. Give this a couple of minutes, until the water starts bubbling. Then you mix this yeast water with the rest of the water you had ready.
Add the flour, the sugar and the salt and stir the mixture. Only add the oil when water and flour are well bound together, otherwise gluten formation will be prevented. Gluten allows the dough to stretch when rising, which makes it light and chewy.
After you have done this, you must turn out the dough onto a clean, floured surface and begin to stretch the dough away from you, fold it back, turn a quarter turn and repeat. When the dough is well incorporated, slap it a couple of times. This will encourage even more gluten production and your bread will become airier.
Once the dough is thoroughly kneaded, you can place it in an oiled bowl. Toss around a few times so that the dough is coated with oil all the way around. Then cover up the bowl with some plastic wrap and put it somewhere warm, to allow the dough to rise. It should double in size and this will take around one and a half to two hours.
Preheat your oven to 425° and place a baking sheet upside-down on the bottom rack.
While the oven is heating up, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and punch down to knock out most of the air. Don’t try to make a pancake, though! Then roll it out into a loaf shape and cut it in half. If you prefer a big loaf, turn these two halves into loaf form. Otherwise, divide each half into three and form littler loafs. Cover the formed loafs with plastic and allow to rise for another forty minutes. They should again double in width.
Before you put the bread in the oven, cut in each loaf with a sharp knife. This cut must be a quarter inch deep and this will prevent the bread from bursting open while baking.
Bake the breads at 425° for a good ten minutes, then turn the oven to 400° and let them bake another twenty-five to thirty minutes. To check if they’re done, pick up one loaf and thumb on the bottom. If this has a hollow sound, it’s done.