Crusty breads with soft, airy crumbs are my favorite, and here’s an Italian loaf that I absolutely adore and bake up every chance I get.
This bread needs three rises, including an overnight rise, so this is one of those recipes you want to plan ahead for. But all that rising is what rewards you with a great bread, plus most of it really is idle time when you are not doing anything. I also love how versatile this bread is. You could use it for bruschetta, slice it up for a sandwich, tear up pieces of it with your fingers to dunk in your soup, or you could even slather some PB and J on it.
The recipe makes two loaves, which is perfect because I have enough bread to last us the whole week. You can freshen it up before you serve it by placing it in a brown paper bag, spraying the bag with some water, and placing in a hot oven for about 5-10 minutes. It will be like new.
Also feel free to play around with the look of this bread. I like shaping it into oval loaves but I have also shaped it in rounds in the past and sometimes I’ve made three or four smaller loaves with this recipe.
So get that oven going: fall/winter is a perfect time to bake up some bread and get your house smelling like heaven.
Mix the yeast and the warm water in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the whole-wheat flour and ¾th cup of all-purpose flour to the bowl and mix with the dough hook or with a wooden spoon until everything’s thoroughly mixed together.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand overnight or for eight hours.
Now add the salt and the remaining all-purpose flour to the bowl, a cup at a time, kneading and mixing. Drizzle in the olive oil. You want a smooth but not stiff dough. Continue to knead for another eight minutes.
Shape the dough into a smooth ball and then place in a greased bowl, turning over once to coat the top with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set it aside to rise in a warm place for an hour or until it has doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and divide into two. Shape each half into a loaf by punching it into a round about eight inches in diameter and then rolling it up into a loaf. Pinch the seams together and tuck them underneath.
Sprinkle some cornmeal on a lightly greased baking sheet. Place the loaves as far apart as you can on the sheet, giving enough room on all sides for the loaves to rise.
Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside for two hours. The loaves should double in size. In the last half hour of rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a baking pan with water in the bottom rack of the oven.
Just before you place the loaves in the oven, make two or three sharp slashes on the top of each loaf using a very sharp knife. You want to use a swift motion so as to not deflate the bread.
Bake the bread for 40 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Remove the baking sheet to a rack and cool 10 minutes, then transfer the loaves to the rack and continue cooling them.
The more I bake with whole wheat and wholegrain flours, the more I’ve become a fan of using durum wheat flour– called atta in Indian kitchens – to bake breads. You have already seen me use it to make my whole-wheat french bread, among other bread recipes. The reason I love durum wheat flour so much is because breads made with it have an airier texture– and a lighter color– than breads baked with regular whole-wheat flour. Even without the added binding and raising power of vital wheat gluten.
Also not everyone wants to use vital wheat gluten because it can make crusts a bit chewy. And many, including readers in India, don’t have access to it. So to give my bread a lift and a rise, I used sourdough. It is easy enough to make sourdough– you do need a few days to get your starter going if you haven’t already got one. But trust me, it’s completely worth making it so you can make this bread, and more. See my recipe for a sourdough starter if you need help.
Other than the sourdough, this recipe needs nothing more than flour, yeast, water, salt and a tiny bit of sugar. All ingredients that are no doubt sitting in your pantry already.
You’re going to love this recipe. Have a great weekend, all!
Mix together the yeast, sugar and water in a bowl and let it stand about 5-10 minutes until the yeast turns frothy.
Add the flour, one cup at a time, mixing with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer or with your hand. Once you have a thick but somewhat liquid mixture, add the salt and continue to mix in the flour.
Use just as much flour as is needed to get a smooth but not sticky dough. You want a pliable dough that’s not as stiff as the dough you’d make for a chapati.
Knead the dough for 8 minutes on medium-low speed or by hand. Turn it out onto a flat surface, form into a smooth ball with your hands, and place in an oiled bowl, turning over once to coat the top with oil.
Cover the dough with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to double, about an hour.
Once the dough has doubled, punch out the gases and divide into two. Shape each portion into a round loaf, tucking any seams underneath the loaf.
Lightly oil a baking sheet and scatter some sooji rava or cornmeal on it.
Place the loaves, about four inches apart, on the baking sheet. Dust the tops with some flour, then cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let the loaves rise for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just before putting the loaves in the oven, use a very sharp, preferably serrated knife to score the tops of the loaves. I scored them in a crosshatch pattern but you could do diagonal slashes as well.
Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the bottoms sound hollow when tapped with your fingertips.
Remove the baking sheet to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then remove the loaves from the sheet and continue cooling them on the rack.
Nutrition information is for one slice of bread, with 16 slices per bread.