Is there a better way to start a blog about Italian food other than with the most basic recipe for Italian bread? In my family, bread has always been one of the key elements on the table. It’s always there, in its own little basket, ready to be torn into pieces to accompany the meal, or to be used as a soft, yet crunchy surface for a delicate slice of prosciutto crudo.
Since my family and I used to live a bit far from the town’s center, the main bakery delivered fresh bread to us and other families in the neighborhood every day. The bakery van would drop off a bunch of brown paper bags full of bread of all kinds at the house of signora Catina, a 2 minutes’ walk from my old house. Walking there to fetch our bread was one of my summertime chores. It was easy to tell our bag apart from the others from far away, as it was the biggest one with a French baguette sticking out.
After several years, the bakery stopped delivering bread, and eventually my mother decided it was just better to make our own bread. This turned out to the best idea ever. Have you ever lived in a house that smells like fresh baked bread, 4 days a week? Oh my gosh, it’s like living in heaven. It’s one of the most comforting and compelling aromas I know. It’s the smell of plenty and love.
Shortly after I arrived in the States, I realized I missed the delicious scent of my mother’s bread pervading the house. It didn’t take long until I decided to follow my mother’s steps and start baking bread regularly. Here I’m sharing one of the most basic recipes. The sky’s the limit when it comes to bread. Different types of flour, longer resting times, and the addition of ingredients such as olive oil or seeds yield a variety of textures and flavors.
There are many ways to use bread. My favorite? Fare la “scarpetta”–cleaning up the sauce from your plate with a piece of bread. I realize it isn’t very classy…but why would you let so much goodness go to waste?
Yield: 1 big loaf (12 slices) | Prep time: 2 hrs | Baking time: 30-40 min
Note: This recipe requires a scale.
500 gr (1.1 lb) Italian “00” flour or all-purpose flour
300 ml (10 oz) lukewarm water
7 gr (1 packet) active dry yeast
8 gr (1 1/2 tsp) salt
12 gr (3 tsp) granulated sugar
1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar together in a glass of lukewarm water. Sift the flour in a medium-sized bowl and add the yeast/water/sugar mixture in it. Work the dough with your hands until all ingredients are incorporated.
2. Take the dough onto a clean working surface and start kneading. Add salt. Keep on kneading for about 10 minutes, until it reaches a soft, slightly sticky, smooth texture. Take the dough and bang it on the counter, 6-7 times. Score a cross on the dough ball and place in a bowl, covered by a clean dishtowel. Let it rest for an hour in a dry place.
3. Once the dough has risen in volume, give it the shape you prefer without working it too much. Transfer it onto a baking tray, cover it again, and let it rest for 40 more minutes.
4. Turn your oven to 425°F.
5. Make a couple of incisions on the top of the loaf and dust the surface with some flour, spreading it with your hands. Bake in the oven until it reaches a nice golden color (about 30-40 minutes). If you’d like to get a very crunchy crust, you can glaze it by lightly spraying the bread surface with some water, for a couple of times while it’s baking.
6. Test for doneness by tapping the bottom (if it sounds empty, it’s done).
7. Remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack.