Italian Bread

One of my favorite smells is that of homemade bread.  I love everything from the yeasty smell the dough gives off while it’s rising to the smell of the bread baking in the oven, to the scent it has when you break into that first piece.

I have this bad habit of forgetting what I have hidden in my pantry while I’m at the store and end up buying more than I need.  Right now this is the case with flour.  Apparently I thought I’d go through much more than I really did over the holidays (or I just forgot I had some stashed away), so now I’m sitting on 3 full bags in my pantry.  Part of my does this though so that when I have a whim to bake something up, my pantry is not without any of those staple ingredients!  Three bags of flour is kind of a lot though, especially when you add in the fact that I also have a bag of whole wheat flour, another of semolina, and another of almond flour.  I need to do some baking.  First up, a loaf of delicious bread!

Italian Bread, adapted from King Arthur Flour

makes one loaf

Overnight Starter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Dough
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2/3 cup water
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Topping
1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds

The Starter: Mix the starter ingredients in a small bowl, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight.

Manual Method: In a large bowl, combine the starter and the remainder of the dough ingredients, stirring till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 5 to 7 minutes, or until it’s supple, but the surface is still somewhat rough. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes, turning it over and gently deflating it after 45 minutes.

Mixer Method: Combine the ingredients as above, using a flat beater paddle or beaters, then switch to the dough hook(s) and knead for about 5 minutes; the dough should have formed a ball, but its surface will still be a bit rough. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes, turning it over and gently deflating it after 45 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into three pieces. Roll each piece into an 18-inch rope. Braid the ropes (tucking the ends under), set the braid on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise it rise for about 60 to 90 minutes, or till it’s very puffy.

 

Brush the braid with the egg white glaze. Sprinkle it heavily with sesame seeds. Bake the bread in a preheated 425°F oven for 25 to 35 minutes; the longer it bakes, the crunchier it’ll be. Remove it from the oven and cool it on a wire rack (or cool it in the turned-off, door-propped open oven).

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