Italian Bread

Italian bread loaves
Oh yes, this one is good:  Italian Bread.

Not too dissimilar from the First-Rate French Bread, quite honestly, but there are notable differences enough to absolutely add this to your bread baking repertoire.

Such as…this bread is shockingly quick from start to finish.  Even with using dry active yeast instead of instant.  Yes, this calls for dry active. 

So much so quick, I had some serious doubts that the recipe was going to work but all-in I was and lo, standing ovation success.

Not too long ago it was oh about three in the afternoon on a chilly, gray winter day and despite meal planning out the week’s dinners, soup sounded spot on.

What better with soup than fresh baked bread, amiright?! 

But crap Becky, look at you, it’s three in the afternoon and Mike will be home shortly after six.  You’re nuts for thinking fresh baked, homemade bread is an actual, viable, realistic option at this point.

baked Italian bread close up
Bam.  Realistic.
It was that kind of weather day where the two were required though.

Mike:  you made fresh bread for the soup??  You’re kidding.

Scouring my bread recipes, watching the minutes tick away, I landed on giving this Italian Bread a shot.

So glad I did because it’s a definite winner.  Especially on short notice!

Another difference between this and the French Bread is that the loaves are smaller.  True, having big loaves around that you can slice up and freeze is terrific but there’s also a cozy lil’ place for smaller ones too.

Mike:  wow babe, soup and bread?  Exactly perfect for this day, thank you.

The crust on these Italian Bread loaves is thinner, less on the crispy crackly side.  No less awesome by any stretch though.

While you will get a nice golden brown crust here, it’s more on the chew side which is also a totally appropriate and welcome category.

Too, while the bread itself is so soft with such the satisfying mouth-feel, it's less airy, a tighter grain, a bit more dense without being dense.  Soft, so soft.

Jeez, next I should try making them into dinner rolls.

Mike:  oh yeah, this bread is good.  Is there more?  I need more.

I have yet to give this recipe the full workout in the sense of its variety of uses between sandwiches or say, garlic bread or Chocolate Bread Pudding but I can say with authority that it makes outstanding French Toast.  Especially when Mike makes it.  I’ll check his schedule for you.

And don't panic if the instructions look long or complicated as they're not; I just wanted to be clear as day.

Mike:  oh yeah babe, this bread is really good.

You only need a small handful of ingredients here, nothing tricky:  water, sugar, yeast, salt, bread flour, a slip of butter, and an egg white.  Easy peasy.

ingredient prep for Italian Bread
Too, this can be made by hand or by mixer,* your choice. 

Start off by heating your water to temp (a kitchen thermometer* eliminates any doubts), pour it into your mixer bowl, add the sugar and stir that up.

Sprinkle the active dry yeast atop and let that bubble up.

blooming yeast in mixer bowl
Top, starting.  Bottom, blooming and adding butter.
Once that's good to go, plop in that slip of butter.  If you can't mix it in, no worries, it'll get there with the rest of the mixing.

Mike:  (nom nom nom, pause) yeah wow.  So good.  This bread is (pause) so good.

Toss in four cups of the bread flour and the salt here next.  You don't want to over-flour so hold back and drop more in as needed a little bit at a time.  I'm usually at about four and a quarter, four and a half cups depending on the weather.

adding bread flour and salt

mixing dough together
Here's with four cups of flour mixed in.
Knead it up 'til it's smooth, soft, and not really sticky. 

Pop that dough ball into a lightly greased bowl, set in a warm spot, and give it a thirty minute rise.  Yeah.  That's it, thirty minutes.

Italian bread dough in bowl ready for rise
You'll be shocked, it does double in that time.

risen Italian Bread dough
Mike:  babe, is there more bread left?

Now to shape.  Lightly dust your work surface with flour, split the dough in half (you can weigh the halves if you want), then roll.*  You're looking to get to 9x15 so grab a ruler.*  The dough is so manageable, you'll get there quick and easy.

shaping Italian Bread dough
Just like a cinnamon roll dough, roll this dough snugly into logs along the 15" edge.  Plop on a lightly greased baking sheet,* and it's off to rise for a mere twenty minutes.  Yeah, ha.  Twenty.

Before you drop the loaf logs, you can dust the sheet with cornmeal if you'd like though I skip that step.

shaped Italian bread dough on sheet pan
Aaand, time to bake!  Slash the tops about a quarter inch deep with a sharp knife, three diagonals per loaf.  Bake for twenty minutes.

bread slashed and ready to bake
I may have gone a little deep with the cuts.  Oh well.
Pull the baking sheet out, brush* with the egg white wash (key, don't skip this step as it ensures a light crisp plus extra browning), bake for five minutes more.

spreading on egg white wash after mostly baked
Voooiilll-aaah.  Whooo, hot damn.

end of baked Italian bread

end of Italian bread cooling
Mike:  wow babe, fresh baked bread, that was awesome, thank you.

By the way, the soup recipe I tried was eh, meh, not terrific, hence why I’m not sharing it.  Too, further reinforcement that cooking is not my jam, baking is. 

torn in half Italian bread
I will say this Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup is *mwah* delicious.  I make it on the stove rather than in a slow cooker, skip the bay (it makes me uh, sick), and seasoning blend, tossing in whatever sounds good to me but you do you.  Or this Potato Soup is soul-warmingly yummy.

This bread man, yeah, so good. 

And if I, a not-regular-bread-baker, can whip this up so fast and easy, so can you.

After tearing apart one loaf for the photos, I had to tear myself away from eating an entire half.  So good luck!

Italian Bread
Ok!  Happy baking and happy eating!

*The stand mixers, kitchen thermometers, rolling pins, rulers, baking sheets, and pastry brushes are Amazon affiliate links.  Happy baking, thanks!  Please see the "info" tab for more, well, info.

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