Been thinking about learning to bake bread at home?
Then give this classic Homemade Italian Bread a shot!
Flour. Salt. Yeast. Water. That’s it. Homemade bread only requires 4 ingredients. It’s really pretty darned simple. Sure, it takes time to make just because you have to let the yeast do it’s thing…but there’s not all that much actual work required to make homemade bread. Now that the new year has begun, what new skills would you like to learn in the coming months? If you have any interest in cooking and baking (and you probably do, or else you wouldn’t be reading this, right?), then may I suggest polishing up on your homemade bread making skills? This Homemade Italian Bread is one of the most basic bread recipes…which makes it a great one to start with. (Italian bread also just so happens to be one of the most delicious breads ever in my opinion!)
Bread baking is one of the oldest professions in the world. Seriously. While today’s bakers are making all sorts of tasty artisan breads, bread baking started with our ancestors thousands of years ago. Back in the days of Fred Flintstone (~1000 BC, folks, not the 1960’s), cavemen would grind up wild grains and then cook them over an open fire or on hot rocks. But those cavemen were pretty darned clever. They realized that if they let the grain paste sit, it would collect wild yeast from the air. I’m not sure they really knew it was yeast, but they did know that it leavened the bread. This was pretty much the beginning of sourdough bread. Those cavemen were pretty smart folks.
Fast forward 3,000 years. Bread baking is now much easier. We can buy ground grains (i.e. flour), yeast and salt. We can turn on the sink to get water. And that’s it. I typically add a bit of malt syrup or honey to my bread dough, too. The syrup is packed with sugar, and yeast loves to eat up this sugar…especially when it’s placed in a warm location. (FYI: I found my malt syrup at a local organic grocery store, but honey works well, too.) Just think of the malt syrup (or honey) as an extra sugar rush for the yeast. But enough nerdy talk about yeast and ingredients. Get in the kitchen and bake up some Homemade Italian Bread. But don’t blame me if you eat the entire loaf when it comes out of the oven.
So I’ve heard from a lot of readers that you have a fear of yeast. Here’s the thing: you can make bread. That yeast isn’t going to jump and bite you. Just make sure you use active, dry yeast (not the rapid rise stuff) and make sure it’s fresh. The only other thing you need is a nice warm place where your yeast can play. Ideally, you’re looking for somewhere about 80-85°F. In the winter, I turn my oven on, and as soon as it hits 100°F, I turn it back off. Now I’ve got a nice warm place for that dough. (I also re-warm it after folding the dough.) In the summer, I can usually just put the covered bowl out on the back porch depending on the temperature.
So what’s the deal with mixing up some of the dough and then letting it sit overnight? It’s all about flavor. Yup, the extra long fermentation period creates extra flavor in your loaf of baked bread. That’s why most commercial bakeries will take a portion of each day’s dough and add it to the dough for the next day. My pizza dough recipe even includes a starter. It doesn’t take more than about 2-3 minutes to mix it together, and the effort will absolutely pay off in the end. (One time, I forgot to do this for my pizza dough and just mixed everything together at once. The dough baked up just fine, but it was lacking in flavor. True story.)
There are many versions of Italian bread out there. Focaccia is one of my favorites. (I just realized I’ve never posted a focaccia recipe…I’ll have to get on that!) Grissini (i.e. crispy bread sticks) also count as another Italian bread. But this recipe is for a classic Homemade Italian Bread. It’s got a crisp, chewy crust, and it’s perfect for dipping in olive oil. I’m fairly certain I could eat an entire loaf of this bread with olive oil…especially when it’s fresh out of the oven. (I’ve never actually tried this…yet.)
Have I convinced you to give homemade bread a shot? One more tip to mention is a pizza stone. Stones are great for baking pizza, but they’re also great for bread baking. If you have a stone, make sure to put it in your oven while it preheats. If you don’t have a stone, no worries…but I suggest picking one up. My baking stone pretty much permanently lives on the bottom rack of my oven. Enough talking! Whether you’re a bread baking newbie or you’ve been baking homemade bread for years, I think you’ll be pleased with this Homemade Italian Bread. It’s a relatively simple recipe that produces one heck of a tasty loaf (or two) of bread. Enjoy!