Easy Italian Bread
Learn how to make the perfect loaf of Italian bread, just like you'd buy at a bakery. This easy recipe makes two large loaves of bread with a soft, airy crumb and a crunchy, chewy crust.
Servings: 24 slices (2 loaves, 12 slices each)
For the biga starter
- 1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (or instant yeast. If the active dry yeast you are using is old or has been sitting around for a while, make sure it is active by mixing it in the lukewarm water before adding the flour. If it froths and bubbles in five minutes, it is alive. If not, discard it).
- 2 cups lukewarm water (replace 1 cup of water with 1 cup non-dairy milk for a softer crust)
Make the biga
Place the biga starter ingredients in a bowl: flour, yeast and lukewarm water.
Mix with a wooden spoon or in the stand mixer bowl with the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl and set aside overnight on the countertop.
The biga will have risen overnight and dropped again, and it will look very bubbly.
Make the bread dough
Add two cups of flour and salt to the biga. Mix with a wooden spoon. Add one more cup of flour, mix, and transfer to a lightly floured surface or countertop.
Knead the dough until soft, smooth and supple for seven minutes by hand or in the stand mixer, adding more flour as necessary. I needed a total of three cups and two tablespoons (in addition to the flour in the biga). The dough should not be tacky or stick to the countertop, but it should be soft, pliable and not stiff at all.
Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place in an oiled bowl, making sure to coat the top of the dough with oil. Cover and set aside for an hour.
After an hour the dough should have doubled. Remove it to the countertop and punch down briefly to deflate. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a smooth, round ball.
Flip the ball of dough over so the smooth side is on the bottom. Use your hands to shape the dough into a disc, about seven inches in diameter. Begin rolling the disc into a tight cylinder, sealing the seams with the heel of your hand as you roll. Pinch in the seams after the final roll.
Place the loaves on a floured baking sheet, seam side down. Make sure you leave at least four inches between the loaves. Dust the tops of the loaves lightly with flour.
Cover the loaves with a kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they have risen and become very puffy. Use a sharp blade to score the bread. I make two long scores.
Bake the bread
A few minutes before the bread loaves have fully risen, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius.
Bake the loaves in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. The bread should should hollow when rapped with the knuckles. Transfer the baked loaves to a rack and let them cool thoroughly before slicing.
- For a softer crust, replace half the water with any nondairy milk or choice.
- I like shaping this bread into oval loaves because that's how it is sold at my local grocery store. But you can also make boules with this dough, or divide it in three and bake in three loaf pans.
- For a shinier crust, brush the tops of the loaves with a mixture of 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon non-dairy milk.
- Don't go too far over the rise times for the bread. When bread is left to rise for too long, its structure can weaken, causing the bread to fall flat in the oven.
- Be sure to score the bread with a very sharp blade before baking. This helps ensure that the steam created during baking has an outlet to escape, and those scores look so attractive when they expand. If you don't score the bread the steam will just break through the weakest spots in the dough resulting in a loaf that won't look so great.
- Refrigerate: the bread can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
- Freeze: Freeze the loaves of bread or individual slices in a freezer-safe bag for up to three months.
- Reheat: Place the loaf in a brown paper bag and spray the bag with water. Place the bag in a preheated 400 degree Fahrenheit/205 degree Celsius oven for five minutes or until the bread has warmed through. Reheat or toast individual slices in the toaster oven.
Serving: 1slice | Calories: 91kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 0.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.04g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.03g | Sodium: 146mg | Potassium: 29mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 0.5IU | Vitamin C: 0.001mg | Calcium: 4mg | Iron: 1mg