Every now and then I try to get a bit fancy pants with bread, but really nothing can beat a good crusty white loaf. There are of course, encompassed within that header, hundreds upon hundreds of different recipes, techniques and variations. So today I’m going to try one that is a bit new on me, this lovely scrumptious crusty Italian loaf.
One thing that appealed to me about this recipe is that gorgeous crust; no soggy bottoms here, no siree! There are a few techniques here that I’d never tried before but don’t be put off, it’s really not as scary or complicated as you think. And if I can do it, anyone can…
One thing I have to say about this crusty Italian loaf is that it is huge. I mean it. HUGE. The dough expands and expands and then it expands some more in the oven, and at one point I was a little worried that it would take over my entire kitchen and swallow me whole. Thankfully this didn’t happen, and I got to stuff my face with it instead, but this is just a note that you could probably halve the ingredients and still get a decent loaf out of it.
Now you will see that I use steam in the oven. The reason for this is that the moisture gives the loaf that incredible crunchy crust that we’re looking for, so while it is a bit of a pain, do try to do all the water spraying that I mention. However if, like me, you don’t have a spray bottle handy (who does?) simply flick water over the bread with your fingers. I am nothing if not a consummate perfectionist.
This crusty Italian loaf is the perfect accompaniment to hearty Italian fare: a rich tomato-based pasta dish would be the best place to start. For me, it’s an ideal match for me home-made veggie lasagne. Cover it in butter and use it to mop up all that lovely sauce.
Crusty Italian Loaf – Ingredients (Makes one – very large – loaf)
- 2 cups lukewarm water (approx. 100°F)
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 5 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
Crusty Italian Loaf – Method
- Stir the yeast into ½ cup of the warm water and set aside.
- Sieve the flour, sugar and salt into a large BrightSpring mixing bowl and stir well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually add the yeast mixture along with the remaining 1 ½ cups water and the olive oil, mixing together to form a dough. If the dough is too sticky to form a ball and pull clean from the sides of the bowl, add a little more flour. Turn out onto your BrightSpring silicone baking mat and knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Transfer the dough to a clean, 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 for 1½ hours or until doubled in size.
- Remove the plastic wrap, and turn back out onto your BrightSpring baking mat. Punch down and flatten the dough until it is in a large, thick rectangle. Roll the dough up tightly, sealing the seam well after each roll. The dough should be elongated and oval-shaped, with tapered and rounded (not pointed) ends.
- Preheat your oven to 425°F and place a clean metal pan, such as a roasting pan, in the bottom of the oven.
- As the dough is already shaped on your silicone mat, simply slide the whole thing onto a cookie sheet.
- Loosely cover the loaf with a floured tea towel and leave to proof for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Brush the dough with the egg white. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, slash the dough lengthwise about 1/4-inch deep, holding the blade at a 45 degree angle.
- Immediately before transferring the loaf to the oven, take a cup of cold water and pour it into the hot roasting dish in the bottom of the oven. Try to keep the door shut as much as possible to stop the steam from escaping.
- Spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle (or just wet your fingers and flick it if you don’t have a bottle) and place in the oven. Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes. Open the oven door and spray/flick the dough with water again. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 3 minutes before spraying/flicking the dough for a third time.
- Bake the dough for a total of 45 minutes (so another 39 after the final spray). To check that the loaf is done, tap the bottom; it should sound hollow. Allow the bread to cool before slicing but serve slightly warm.