Rustic Italian Bread

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I started out in January of this year on a mission to perfect bread baking.  I thought, “How hard can it be?”… until I realized that not everything you read on the internet is true.  I know…surprising, right? Not every recipe is foolproof. Not every recipe tastes good.  I went through quite a few recipes, trials and tribulations, and drove all of my friends on Facebook crazy as I posted picture after picture of my attempts.  Over a few months, and a  lot of practice, I learned the techniques, timing, and ingredients that worked for me, and this bread recipe is the result.  I’m happy with it, and I hope you will be too.

The first thing you need to know is that this bread takes a few hours from start to finish. What you also need to know is that it is worth your time.  Double the recipe and bake another loaf to share… or eat the first loaf before everyone gets home, and use the second loaf for your family! No one will be the wiser!  I certainly won’t tell, otherwise my secret will be out of the bag.. Yeah…a double batch is the way to go..

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I did learn that that before you add the yeast to the water, it really does its best between 95° to 100°… I used to do the “dip my finger in the water” test to see if it felt lukewarm, but what felt like lukewarm to me, was really too cold. It’s best to use a thermometer to check the temperature.  Otherwise, if the water is too cold, it will take a very, very long time to proof, and probably not enough to get the yeast to do it’s thing during the bread making process. If it’s too hot, you’ll just kill off the yeast.  I learned that the hard way!
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Feed your yeast.  Add some sugar, honey, or for this recipe, both, to the water before you add the yeast. It will bubble and foam, first, proving that the yeast is still alive, and most importantly, helping the bread to rise.

Knead the dough for at least 20 minutes.  I say that, but I’m also lazy, and take advantage of the dough hook on my KitchenAid. But, at the same time… beware!  You can under-knead, and you can over-knead.  I’ve done both. The dough of my first loaf of bread was definitely under kneaded.  It came out flat as a pancake, it soaked up every last drop of the olive oil from the bowl it was rising in, so it was greasy, smelled like burned oil; and it was really tough.  And then…I couldn’t ever figure out why my loaves had this really white, dry type of texture in the middle, and I found it was because I over kneaded the dough!

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Letting my dough rise three times produced the highest loaf of bread that I’ve ever made, and it is perfectly chewy in the middle, and wonderfully crusty on the outside.   If you don’t like the crustiness, you can store it in a gallon size zip lock plastic bag.  Otherwise, store it in a paper bag to retain the crusty outside.

Another very important lesson that I learned is that when the dough is kneading in my mixer, the bowl gets very tight and takes a little muscle power to get it undone.  When trying to unscrew the tightened bowl from the mixer, do not leave an open bottle of olive oil behind it. The bowl comes loose in an abrupt manner. Your hand will hit the bottle. The bottle will fall over, spilling more than half of the olive oil. Still shaking my head at the mess, but I’m still enjoying the softness that olive oil gave to my hands while cleaning it up!
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The most important lesson of all I’ve learned in the last month or so…is that if I’m going to take the time to bake this bread, then I’m making fresh butter to go with….I made it for the first time about a month ago.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make, and how absolutely delicious it is.  It takes only a few minutes, there is hardly any clean up afterward… it’s a no brainer…Make the butter, you won’t be sorry.
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Ok, and while we’re at it…let’s make a little fresh jam to add to the mix.  Since I had two beautiful red pears and oranges in my fridge, and dried cranberries in my cupboard, then cran-pear marmalade it turned out to be…

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Rustic Italian Bread

The Bread
1-1/4 cup warm water, between 95° and 100°
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp honey
1-1/2 tsp salt
3  cups bread flour
2 tsp olive oil
1 egg white
2 tbsp milk

Grease the inside of a large mixing bowl with vegetable shortening or olive oil. Set aside.
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In a small bowl, add the warm water, sugar, and honey.  Let it sit for about three to five minutes.  The yeast will bubble up and begin to foam in the bowl.  At that point, it’s ready to add to your mixing bowl.   Add one cup of the bread flour and the salt to the yeast, and mix until it’s well blended.  Let it sit for about 2 minutes.   Add the remaining flour to the flour mixture, and mix until it’s completely blended.  It’s not going to look very happy at this point.  It will be sticky, dry, and flaky…  At that point, get your hands in the bowl, and continue to mix it all together, and form the dough into a ball.  Just leave the dough ball right in the bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rest for about 15 minutes while the ingredients get to know each other.

After the 15 minutes is up, the kneading process needs to begin.  If you are going to knead by hand, you’ll have to knead for about 30 minutes on a very floury workspace.   If you are going to knead in your mixer, use the dough hook, and no extra flour (on “stir” if you’re using a Kitchen Aid). Pour one teaspoon of the olive oil over the dough ball, and begin the kneading process. After 10 (or 15 if kneading by hand) minutes of kneading, pour the second teaspoon of olive oil over the dough, and continue kneading for another 10 (or 15 by hand) minutes.

**One thing I have to watch while using my KitchenAid mixer to knead,  is the lock on the back of the mixer tends to want to slowly move to the unlock position while it’s kneading.  It’s probably because the poor thing is over 15 years old, and has been used constantly throughout those years.  He’s starting to sound tired, and been a wonderful helper, and I’m starting to think that maybe he needs to retire to the cabin, and get some well-deserved rest. He will be happy down there, doing simple tasks such as cake or cookie batter, and whipped cream.**

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Once the dough has been kneaded, start working it with your hands to make it into a tight ball.  Place it in the greased bowl, and cover with a towel.  Let it rise for about 2 hours in a warm place.
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After 2 hours, it should have doubled in size.  Punch it down making sure to get all of the air bubbles out of the dough.  Form it into another ball, re-grease the bowl, place it back into the bowl, cover it with the towel, and put it right back into that warm spot you had it before. Let it rise for another hour.

After an hour, it should have doubled in size again.  This time,  pull it out of the bowl, form it into yet another ball, or long loaf, and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover with the towel, and put it back to that warm spot one last time.  Let it rise for one final hour.

After the dough has doubled in size, very carefully with a very sharp knife (I keep an Exacto Knife in my kitchen drawer),  lightly score the dough about an inch or so apart across the top of the dough. Make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg white and 2 tbsp milk.  Brush all over the dough with a pastry brush.

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Preheat your oven to 375°.  I prepare a Bain-marie (a steam bath) for the oven so that the crust comes out thin, golden, and crunchy.  Pour boiling water into a metal cake pan placed on the bottom rack of your oven while your bread is baking will do the trick.   Place the cookie sheet with the loaf of bread dough on the middle rack in your oven.  Close the door and don’t open it again until the bread is finished baking.  Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes; until golden brown, and when you lightly tap on the bottom of the loaf, it should sound hollow.

Enjoy the aroma, it’s a “close your eyes and breathe deep” type of aroma…

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The Butter

It really doesn’t matter how much heavy cream you use, just remember that you’ll end up with half butter than when you started out with heavy cream.   So if you use 2 cups of heavy cream, figure that you’ll get 1 cup of butter.  This really isn’t a money saving event either…Heavy cream is expensive, and it’s much cheaper to just buy a pound of butter.  This is just a fun and delicious way to enjoy that hot bread right out of the oven!

A stand mixer is the best for making butter. You’ll also want to cover your mixer with a towel, because when the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk, it starts to spray out of the bowl!

2 cups heavy cream
¼ tsp sea salt, totally optional

Pour the heavy cream into a large mixing bowl.  Begin mixing on high as if you’re making whipped cream. Keep on mixing even after you hit whipped cream stage.  The first time I made butter, the cream hit this funky looking stage that was at the point of no return for whipped cream, and it was lumpy and curdled looking.  At that point, I almost stopped mixing thinking that I failed…but I didn’t!  Very soon after that, you’ll notice that the butter and buttermilk begin to separate.  It actually accumulates in the whisk attachment of the mixer, which is very easy to remove in one clump.

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Once the butter has separated from the buttermilk, fill a bowl with very cold water, and place the butter into the bowl of water.  Begin to knead the butter to clear any remaining buttermilk left.  The water will be very cloudy, so you’ll want to change it a couple of times during this time. Continue to knead the butter until the water is clear.  Personally, I keep the bowl in the sink, and keep a slow steady stream of cold water running into the bowl while I’m kneading.  It’s just easier to watch the water go clear.

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Squeeze any remaining liquid out of the butter.  Put the butter-ball into a bowl that will be big enough to mix the salt in.  I like to spread the butter thin around the bowl, and then sprinkle the salt over the top, and stir it in with a spatula.  Taste the butter…add more salt to your taste.

That’s it! You’re done!   The butter will last in the refrigerator for a week, and up to two weeks depending on how well you cleared the buttermilk.  The beauty of this butter is that you can go as crazy as you want… add any type of spice that tickles your fancy!

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The Cran-Pear Marmalade

1 large pear
1 naval orange
¼ cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp sugar
½ cup water

Peel, core, and chop the pear, and add to a small pan. Grate about a tablespoon of the orange peel into the pan with the pear.  Squeeze the juice of the orange into the chopped pears. Scrape the pulp of the orange, and add that to the pan.  Add the cranberries, sugar and water to the pan.  Bring to a boil on high heat stirring occasionally.  Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.   At this point, the jam is ready…you can eat it chunky, or in this case, I threw it in my blender and pureed it.

Warm bread, fresh butter, and warm jam… it just doesn’t get any better… Enjoy!

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23 thoughts on “Rustic Italian Bread

  1. This looks delicious!! My first yeast mixture was a failure. I was trying to make donuts that time. Glad my friend was with me to take the ‘yeast work’. 😉 I haven’t tried it on my own, but I will someday. ;D

  2. Hahaha, I laughed at your olive oil “lesson.” I once spilled oil all over my floor…ugh. For future reference, sprinkle flour or baking soda on the spill- they absorb it right up! Your bread is gorgeous, and I really need to try to make fresh butter!

    • Thank you Amy! ❤ Now I never thought of that….what did come to mind was kitty litter, because I know that's what they use on gas and oil spills from cars!! Not that I would have used it either way, but I don't have a cat, nor did I have any kitty litter! Flour and baking soda…I'll remember that. Hopefully there won't be a next time!

  3. I hear you. I love bread above all and I don’t think it is that easy to make good bread. I see you went for the whole nine yards … the bread, the butter and the marmalade. Everything looks really yummy. 🙂

    • Thank you Francesca! I love bread too…as a matter of fact, my husband and I went out for dinner last night, and naturally, I filled up on the bread (dipping it in oil) so much…that I could only take a few bites of the meal when it finally came! That’s ok, that will be dinner tonight! Thanks so much for stopping by… ❤

  4. ooo theres nothing more satisfying than making your own bread 🙂 I know exactly what you mean about trial and error though – it takes the longest time to suss it out! This recipe looks great – I love all your tips, plus that marmalade sounds delicious. Pear, cranberry and orange who knew! Will defo have to give that one a try. I don’t have a stand mixer so kneading bread can be a bit of a pain, but I think I will give this a go this weekend along with the jam 🙂 Also I don’t envy you cleaning up your kitchen after all that oil – bet you’ll never do that again 😉

    • You are so right, Claire. I love making things from scratch… it’s so therapeutic for me… especially when it’s a success, and you feel as though you’ve mastered something! Oh that pear, cranberry, and orange jam was stupendous…and I admit to eating it with a spoon afterward. That little bowlful didn’t last long at all! ❤

  5. I really admire people who just wake up and make the bread without procrastinating for months, like me. The bread looks so fresh and absolutely delicious. Thanks so much for the step by step instructions too. You’ve inspired me to stop procrastinating. Have a lovely week!

  6. Bread is something I have never been able to master. Or even get close! You have some very good information here Prudy! Your bread is lovely looking and I know I may polish off a whole loaf too if given the chance. Maybe one day I’ll dive in and try my hand with dough again. Great post!

  7. Oh how I love this post. I am terrible at making bread, I’ve tried so many guaranteed ‘no-fail’, ‘no-knead’, ‘easy’ and ‘foolproof’ bread recipes around the internet and they’re definitely not all what they say they are! This looks great though, perfect crumb and beautiful soft interior. I can imagine how good it’d be with that fresh butter, mmm! I have tried making my own butter a few times and it’s ridiculously delicious. Yum! xx

    • You know what, Laura? What I did learn over those few months of practice, is that what might be foolproof for some people, just isn’t foolproof for others. I had to learn what worked best for me. It was a ton of trial and error, but I finally got it!
      Oh we are in total agreement about the butter… it’s so darn easy, and just delicious.. ❤ I want to make it all the time now…

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