Who doesn’t love a warm loaf of Italian bread? Well, now you can make one just as good as any bakery….for pennies!
I’ve adapted America’s Test Kitchen Italian Loaf recipe to make it even easier and, IMO, tastier. The process in a nutshell: the day before, mix the ingredients in a bowl (no kneading!!!), cover, then at least an hour before serving, bake. You’ll never want to buy bread again.
Note: I highly recommend weighing your flour rather than using measuring cups – there’s too much variety, depending on how you pack in the flour.
Note: You’re going to need a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, or a Dutch oven, with lid. Make sure the handle and lid knob can withstand 450º Fahrenheit. I prefer using the 4 quart saucepan because it’s smaller in diameter thus producing a taller loaf. However, if you prefer a squatter but wider loaf, use a Dutch oven.
ITALIAN LOAF – makes 1 round loaf
- 15 oz (about 3½ cups) all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
- 7 oz water
- 3 oz (3 T) beer (I prefer a pale beer)
- 1/2 oz (1 T) white distilled vinegar
The day before you plan on serving the Italian Loaf, prepare the dough.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the water, beer, and vinegar. Mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Cover bowl with a plate or tea towel and let the dough rest on the counter 18 – 24 hours (the longer, the better flavor). You’ll notice a significant change to the dough – it will become wetter and bubbly:
About 4 hours before baking, empty the dough onto a floured surface. Knead dough about 6 times to firm up, then form a ball.
Cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to line a 3-4 quart saucepan with corner ‘ears’ sticking up. Rub paper with a light coating of vegetable oil and lightly sprinkle bottom with flour. Place dough in center of paper then lift the dough into the saucepan by the 4 corners of the parchment. Cover with lid and let rise on the counter for 4 hours.
After the 4 hour rise, make a 1/2″ deep slash across the center, edge to edge. (I use kitchen shears rather than a knife.) Spritz 2-3 squirts with plain water. (This delays the crust from forming too soon while baking, thus adding more oven rise.) Cover with lid and place in cold oven. Immediately turn oven on to 450°F. (As the oven slowly heats, the dough will yield more oven rise.) Set timer for 1/2 hour. After 1/2 an hour, remove lid and continue baking without the lid until the temperature of the interior of the loaf reaches 209°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, do a visual check – the top should be well browned. Remove the loaf and the bottom should be browned, too. Remove loaf from pan to a wire rack to cool. Let loaf cool at least 20 minutes (this takes some will-power) before slicing in order to get a cleaner slice.