I love making bread at home. And, I think the bread that I use most often would have to be Italian bread. It’s my go-to loaf to make garlic bread, and croutons, and breadcrumbs…great in so many applications. So it was only natural that I wanted to learn to make this favorite at home!
It’s a little time consuming, as it requires a “sponge” that needs to be prepared and let to do it’s thing before the bread is put together for it’s rise and bake. But it’s that crucial step that produces a chewy loaf that’s soft on the inside, yet crusty and crunchy on the outside – essential for a good loaf of Italian bread. You can do it the night before, but I’ve also just done the sponge early in the morning, and then continued with the recipe in the afternoon with no issues.
This recipe turns out two gorgeous loaves. We’ll usually have one for dinner the night that I bake it, and then store on in the freezer so there’s always one on hand. Saves me a trip to the store on those last-minute spaghetti nights when all I need is a loaf of bread. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
For the sponge:
1 cup water
1 cup bread flour
½ tsp. instant yeast
For the dough:
All of the preferment
5 cups bread flour
½ cup nonfat dry milk
1 tbsp. brown sugar or granulated sugar
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups water, at room temperature
To make the sponge, combine the water, flour and yeast in a medium bowl. Mix well to blend, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours and up to 16 hours.
When you are ready to make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the preferment, 4 cups of the flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, yeast, olive oil and water. Mix on low speed until a sticky dough has formed. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time. Continue kneading on low speed until the flour has been incorporated (you may need to add even more than 5 cups) and you have a dough that is smooth and elastic, and no longer sticky. The total kneading time should be about 10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a well greased bowl, turning once to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until approximately doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch down the dough, cover once more, and let rise again for 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough once or twice and divide into two equal portions. Cover the two pieces of dough with a damp towel and allow to relax for 20 minutes.
Shape the two portions of dough into the desired final shape and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat (I used a baguette pan). Cover again with a damp kitchen towel and let rise until approximately doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Just before placing the loaves in the oven, brush or spray them lightly with water. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes before rotating them. Bake another 20-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 F. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.