Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Italian Bread for Beginners

It's the third anniversary of Cora Cooks and I made some of my very favorite, very easy Italian Bread to celebrate! Oh, yeah, and some ooey, gooey cheesy lasagna!

This is one of the very first - very best - and easiest recipes in my files. I guess I've been making "artisan" breads since ... well ... a very long time. When I got this recipe from a friend of my mother's, I was never concerned with the "science" of bread baking, I just loved the fact that I could make my own at home, without any baking experience.

My favorite newlywed dinner menu -- made about a gazillion times for company while we were stationed in Texas for pilot training -- was homemade lasagna, including sauce from scratch, a great big salad and this homemade Italian bread.

I'm not sure which was better -- the lasagna or the bread -- but everyone seemed to love them both, so I made them with the reckless abandon of a beginning cook, who thought nothing of spending a whole day in the kitchen making everything from scratch. In those days, no recipe was too complex, as long as the ingredients were readily available from our tiny base commissary and yielded a dish that reminded us of the comforts of our homes, far from the wide open spaces of west Texas.

Whether you are a beginning baker, or you've been making bread at home for years, I don't think you'll ever find an easier recipe that results in such a beautiful and satisfying loaf. In fact, in my humble opinion, it is easier than the no-knead artisan loaves that have been all the rage for the last couple of years. Though I've never made a study of the ingredient ratios, perhaps someone did way back in the beginning. Or maybe it was concocted by someone for whom bread making was a deeply ingrained instinctual task. I like that idea better!

No matter how it came to be, it is delicious -- a crispy, deep brown crust with just enough tooth, a light chewy center filled with little holes, bigger holes and a very nice crumb. Real artisan bread from my very own kitchen -- or yours!

The not-too-thick-or-thin crust and the moist, tender center of the loaf slices easily with a serrated bread knife, even though I try to let it cool just slightly before tearing ... er, a ... slicing into it. Whether you like it slathered with creamy butter or dunked into a fruity olive oil mixed with herbs, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

The good -- so easy to measure the simple ingredients into a bowl and stir them all together.

The better -- mixing bowl to slicing in just under 3 hours.

The best -- one recipe, one bowl, two loaves. One to enjoy and one to share!

I think it would even make wonderful garlic bread to go with my lasagna tonight, if it lasts that long, that is. A double recipe might have been a good idea! Maybe then at least one loaf would last long enough to slice and fill with a velvety butter and garlic mixture spread on each slice, wrap in foil and heat in the oven. Mmmmm ...

Tonight I'm serving lasagna and Italian bread for my class reunion committee. Cooking for them has been so much fun, I almost hate for reunion weekend to arrive later this month. I'll be without a table full of friends to feed once a week. Maybe they'll just show up for dinner, even if we don't have any business to discuss.

I wonder if there is anyone else I know who might like to come over for homemade lasagna and Italian bread? I could ask around, I guess.

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. sugar
4 1/2 tsp. dry yeast (I use SAF Instant)
6 - 7 cups flour (all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and bread flour)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well by hand. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Oil a large bowl and place dough inside. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise 1 - 1.5 hours. Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over a few times. Pat into oblong shape and cut in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Place loaves, cut side up, on a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. (Can also be baked on a baking stone place on lower shelf of oven.) Preheat oven to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 40 minutes. Bread is done when outside is evenly browned and loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Allow bread to cool some before slicing -- or not!


MtnLvrLakeLvr said...

Well, Cora, since you invited us … I really don't think the drive to Carbondale would be too long, for a slice or two of that bread.

MtnLvrLakeLvr said...

Well, Cora, since you invited us … I really don't think the drive to Carbondale would be too long, for a slice or two of that bread.

MtnLvrLakeLvr said...

Well, since you invited us, I don't feel shy about mentioning that I would love to drive to C-town to have a slice of your hot bread. --Lisa H

Stacy said...

I've been making bread a long time, but I've never made Italian Bread. Thanks for a great, easy to follow recipe! I use King Arthur White Wheat Flour and they turned out fabulous!

~Stacy @ Stacy Makes Cents