A dear reader, Karen L., has been patiently waiting longer than she should have had to for me to post this recipe for Italian Bread. After planning on making the bread for more days than I can tell you, I finally did it today.
This is one of those strange bread recipes that rises in the refrigerator. Why that doesn't give the yeast chilblains and cause it to shrivel up and die, I've never been able to figure out. But I do make a few different breads by this method and I always have good luck in turning out nice looking loaves. ("Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die." Who said that?)
So for you, kind and patient Karen, here is my Italian Bread recipe.
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 cups unsifted white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 rounded tablespoons dry yeast
1-3/4 cups warm water (120-130 degrees)
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cold water
In a large bowl thoroughly mix 1-1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and the undissolved yeast.
Using a candy thermometer, warm 1-3/4 cups water and the butter until temp on thermometer reaches about 125 degrees.
Gradually add this water mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl and beat 2 minutes at medium speed of a mixer. Add about 3/4 cups more flour and beat at high speed 2 minutes more.
By hand stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. (Add small amounts of additional flour if needed in order to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Or the floured surface.)
Cover dough with plastic wrap and then a towel. Let rest 20 minutes. (The dough, not you.)
Next I divide the dough into four equal pieces and form each piece into a small loaf and place on a cookie sheet that has been greased and lightly sprinkled with corn meal. Brush loaves with oil or soft lard.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
When ready to bake, remove from refrigerator.
Uncover dough and let stand at room temp for about 10 minutes. Make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts on top of each loaf with sharp knife.
Bake at 425 degrees for about 18 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush with egg white mixed with cold water. Return to oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes longer until golden brown.
NOTES: One of these loaves made into Garlic Cheese Bread . . .
. . . serves 2 people alongside an entree of spaghetti or lasagna. It's also great combined with a large tossed salad for two fresh from the garden in the summer time. OR it can serve only you if you're home alone, really ravenous and want to sit down and eat a whole loaf washed down with a couple glasses of good red wine. (Big cheesy grin!)
I make my Garlic Cheese Bread by combining minced garlic with butter, spreading the butter on both sides of slices of this bread, grating a combination of mozzarella, cheddar and Parmesan cheese which I push in between each bread slice, and over the top of the loaf. Put in a 425 degree oven until cheese melts and starts to get little golden brown spots on it. See if you can wait to eat it until it cools enough so you don't burn your lips, tongue and roof of your mouth.
(You may notice an absence of cornmeal on my cookie sheet in the pictures. I discovered I was plumb out and was too lazy to get out my grinder and corn to make more. Please forgive me.)
I don't put a pan of water in the oven to get a super-crisp crust on my Italian Bread because I almost always make Garlic Cheese Bread with it and don't need the lovely hard crust I might want if serving it plain. But you certainly could add the pan of water during baking as I'm sure it would help in creating a crustier loaf.
When a recipe says to let rise in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours, I've read that the optimum time to bake your bread is after it's risen for 8 hours. Today I baked the loaves after they had risen for 6 hours and I think they turned out great.
So there you have it, Karen, and anyone else who may be interested. I hope the recipe works for you. (Sincere thanks for your patience, Karen!)
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