Good, crusty, slightly chewy bread has to be one of my favorite things to eat. Bread and jam. Warm bread and butter. It doesn’t get much better than a simple slice of bread.
I’ve passed my love of bread on to my boys. One night when they were complaining about what was for dinner I said, “Stop complaining or you’ll get bread and water.” To which they promptly said, “Okay, can we have butter too? I love bread!”
As much as I like to eat bread, for a while, it was my biggest challenge. It would mock me as I tried to make it. It would turn out dense and hard. Several times a loaf would go practically from oven to food processor so I could turn it into breadcrumbs, not fit for a little butter to keep it company.
I am picky about my bread and spent months tweaking the recipe to get it to turn out just right. I tried throwing ice on the bottom of the oven (possibly not the brightest idea) and cooking it with a pan of water underneath. I have come to believe this loaf of bread is the best I can do without a commercial bread oven. It is a pretty damn good loaf of bread.
Okay, so this recipe may seem like it’s complicated, but really, it isn’t. It takes some time, but most of that time is really turning the dough, once an hour. I usually make this recipe (2 loaves) once a week-easy peasy and so tasty! Hope you like it, and let me know how it turns out for you.
Rustic Italian Bread
This recipe is originally from Cook’s Illustrated, republished by Cookography, then underwent modification by me…several times. I have added my notes, and made multiple changes while striving toward the perfect loaf. I don’t remember how close to original it is anymore, especially since I’ve converted to grams and kept making slight changes.
This recipe requires a standing mixer to make the dough, a spray-bottle filled with water for spritzing, and a pizza stone. It also requires a bit of patience. The recipe says the biga, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made. I have, however, made the biga the night before, left it on the counter overnight and proceeded in the morning- about 9 hours later (and no refrigeration). It turned out just as good.
- 312 grams bread flour
- ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
- 230 grams (1 cup) room temperature water
- 265 grams white bread flour
- 203 grams wheat flour
- 4 grams (1 tsp) instant yeast 4 grams
- 307 grams (1 ⅓ c) water room temperature
- 16 grams (2 tsp) table salt
For the biga:
Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed (stir on KitchenAid) until it forms a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer biga to medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until beginning to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate biga at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
For the dough:
Flour should total 468 grams-this is a good mix of bread/wheat. If only using bread flour, you will need a bit more flour. If using all wheat flour, it will probably be dense and not light and fluffy – that’s been my experience.
Remove the biga from refrigerator and place it on the counter while making dough.
To make the dough, combine flour, yeast, and water in the stand mixer bowl. Knead the dough on lowest speed with bread hook until rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes.
Turn the mixer off and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. (This allows protein in the dough to relax, making for a stronger dough that can rise higher, with a better crust).
Remove the plastic wrap over the dough, and add the biga and salt to bowl. Continue to knead on the lowest speed until ingredients are incorporated (dough should clear the sides of the bowl but should stick to the very bottom), about 4 minutes. If it needs more flour to form a good ball of dough add it. This recipe is very resilient.
Increase the mixer speed to low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) and continue until the dough forms a cohesive ball, about 1 more minute.
Transfer the dough to a large bowl (at least 3 times the size of the dough) and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a cool, draft-free spot away from direct sunlight, until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour. I like to throw mine in the oven with the light on, but oven off.
Remove the plastic wrap and turn the dough following illustrations below on Turning the Dough. Replace the plastic wrap and let the dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise 1 hour longer.
Dust the work surface liberally with flour. Hold the bowl with the dough at an angle over the floured surface. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the work surface (the side of the dough that was against bowl should now be facing up).
If you want two smaller loaves, split the dough into two equal halves. Use a knife or bench scraper.
Dust the dough and your hands liberally with flour and, using minimal pressure, push dough into a rough 8- to 10-inch square. If you are making two loaves, shape each piece into a smaller rectangle.
Shape the dough following the illustrations below on Shaping the Loaf, and transfer it to a large sheet parchment paper. Dust loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, and place a baking stone on the rack. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Using a single-edged razor blade, or sharp chef’s knife, cut a slit 1/2 inch deep lengthwise along top of loaf, starting and stopping about 1 1/2 inches from the ends. Lightly spray the loaf with water. Put the loaf on preheated pizza stone. If you are not using a pizza stone, simply place the baking sheet in the oven.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and quickly spin loaf around half way.
Continue to bake until deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 210 degrees. For one large loaf this will be about 35 minutes longer. For two smaller loaves this will be closer to 20 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
When the bread is done, transfer it to a wire rack. Now the toughest part, cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.
(The awesome folks from Cookography traced the illustration from the recipe)
Turning the dough: Slide plastic bench scraper under one side of dough; gently lift and fold one third of dough toward center. Repeat step 1 with opposite side of dough. Finally, fold dough in half, perpendicular to first folds. Dough shape should be a rough square.
Shaping the dough: After delicately pushing dough into 8- to 10-inch square, fold top left corner diagonally to middle. Repeat step 2 with top right -corner Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom.Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log.Roll dough onto its seam and, sliding hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper.Gently shape dough into 16-inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath.