Traditional Italian bread is a food that everyone can agree on. It is moist, has a thin, crisp crust, and it works with any meal. It also just happens to be very easy to make at home. If you haven't tried baking fresh Italian bread yet, this simple recipe will get you started.
This really is one of the most versatile breads that you can bake. It can be served with lunch or dinner alongside pasta, soups, or any other main dish. You can make delicious hoagies with it or turn it into pizza bread.
At breakfast, Italian bread is perfect for scooping up the egg yellow on your plate. When sliced thin, it can also be used to make delicious little French toasts.
There's no need to hoard this bread, either. The recipe will make two nice-sized loaves so you'll have plenty of bread to go around and it will last for many meals.
Mixing the Bread Dough
Italian bread dough is very easy to mix up and you'll be delighted to know that this recipe requires only a half an hour for the first proofing.
- In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, yeast, and warm water.
- Stir in the soft butter.
- Mix in enough flour to make a soft dough that can be kneaded by hand.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough is soft and not sticky.
- Place the dough in a greased medium-sized bowl and flip dough over so that the top is also lightly greased.
- Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it set and rise for 30 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
Preparing the Loaf
Once the dough has risen, it is time to shape the loaves. Here, you will divide the dough in half and roll each into a loaf. Again, there is just a short proofing time required so your bread will be in the oven in no time.
- Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with coarse cornmeal, if desired.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured table.
- Divide into 2 equal parts.
- Roll each dough half into a 15 X 9-inch rectangle.
- Tightly roll the dough along the 15-inch side.
- Pinch the seams and taper the ends of each loaf.
- Place the loaves on the prepared baking sheet.
- Cover and let rise in warm, draft-free place for only 20 minutes.
Baking the Bread
The key that signature crust on Italian bread is the egg wash. This is done before the last few minutes of baking and is an important step you won't want to miss. Don't hesitate to taste your bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, that's one of the best parts of fresh-baked bread.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F.
- Make 3 deep diagonal slashes on each loaf.
- Bake the bread for 20 minutes.
- Lightly beat the egg white and cold water in a small bowl.
- Remove the loaves from the oven and brush with the watered egg.
- Return to the loaves to the oven for another 5 minutes.
- Serve the finished bread warm or cold.
What Defines 'Italian' Bread?
You may know what it is, but what characteristics can we expect in an Italian bread?
- A thin, crisp crust that is golden brown.
- The inside is moist and thick. It's also very absorbent, perfect for soaking up soup, sauces, and oils.
- Italian bread loaves tend to be an elongated oval shape, not too thin and not too thick.
- Unlike French bread which tends to be sweet, Italian breads often have a savory taste that adds to their versatility.
- Italian bread dough is typically wetter than other doughs because it uses more water or milk and butter or olive oil.
- We also see sugar in many Italian bread recipes and this is surprising because it contradicts the final savory flavor.
- Traditionally, Italian bread is often baked on a stone to give it that signature crust and a wood oven gives some styles a smoky flavor.