Monday, March 10, 2014

Giant Italian Bread

I recently offered to bring fresh bread to a dinner party.  I am trying to get better at baking bread, so the more I make, surely the more I'll learn, right?  I hope so, anyway.  They asked for Italian bread, so I found a recipe that got rave reviews and went for it.  And boy, am I glad I did!  I wish I had photographed the bread with a ruler or something nearby, because this loaf of bread was ginormous!  Next time, I will make two loaves and maybe freeze one but for the dinner party, having this one giant loaf was perfect.  I found the recipe at Food Network, and it is from Emeril Lagasse.  I wouldn't necessarily have searched out an Emeril recipe for bread, but obviously his skills extend way beyond my imaginings.  This bread was a great success!

Yeast blooming in a mixer bowl.  This is always a good way to start a bread recipe!  This recipe actually called for cake yeast, but I used active dry yeast instead.  So instead of 1 3/4 oz. of cake yeast, I used 4 1/2 teaspoons (or 2 packages) of active dry yeast.  I have never seen cake yeast in the supermarket, but I will keep my eye out!

Ah, we have attained the soft, squishy look of risen dough!  It rose for 1 1/2 hours, not bad!
I took that lovely squishy dough, shaped it into this long roll, and let it rise again, but for only 30 minutes this time.  Now I have this giant loaf, which I brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Then I made these slashes in the top and popped it into the oven.

Emeril has you go through a process of having the temperature in the oven really high, spraying the loaf with water, letting it sit for 3 minutes in the hot oven, and repeating the process several times, then allowing the loaf to bake in peace.  After reading many many reviews, I adapted his process a little, which worked!  Instead of doing the spraying and leaving the dough several times, he leaves the oven really hot and bakes for 45 minutes.  I turned down the temperature after the last spray and baked for 30 minutes, and it was perfect.  Complete success and really, very do-able.  Here is the recipe, so you can see for yourself!

Basic Italian Bread
adapted from Emeril Lagasse, Food Network
yield 1 gigantic loaf, or 2 normal sized loaves!

2 cups lukewarm water
4 1/2 teaspoons OR 2 packages active dry yeast
pinch of white granulated sugar
5 3/4 cups bread flour
1 TB dark brown sugar
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
1 TB salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 TB sesame seeds
water in a spray bottle

Place the water and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer and gently stir.  Add a pinch of white sugar, stir, and allow the mixture to rest for about 5 minutes, until the yeast blooms and looks creamy.  Using a dough hook attachment, slowly add the flour and brown sugar to the yeast mixture and mix on low.  It helps to drape a tea towel over the top of your mixer when adding the flour, and add in small doses.  This will help avoid the big puffs of flour from covering every inch of your kitchen!  Once the dough starts to come together, add the olive oil and salt and beat on medium speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, firm, elastic dough.

Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil.  If you have olive oil spray, it works perfectly here.  Place the dough in the oiled bowl and spray the top with a thin coating of olive oil or cooking spray.  Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for approximately 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.  Remove the plastic wrap and punch down the dough.  Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and flatten the dough with the heel of your hand.  Roll up the dough tightly, pinching the seam well after each turn.  The dough should be long and oval-shaped.  Turn the ends of the dough under a little bit so they are nice and rounded, not pointy.

Preheat the oven with a pizza stone to 425F.  If you do not have a pizza stone, use an upside-down baking sheet or sheet pan.  Whichever you use, let it heat up in the oven.

Move the dough to a bakers peel that has been heavily dusted with cornmeal or semolina flour.  This is to help you later to get the dough off of the peel and onto the stone.  If you don't have a bakers peel, you can use a large cutting board or a rim-less baking sheet, or another upside-down sheet pan.  Allow the dough to rest and proof, covered loosely with a damp tea-towel, for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.  Brush the top of the dough with the egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Score the top of the bread several times with a sharp knife or razor blade, making 1/4 inch deep slices at a 45 degree angle to the bread.

Spray the dough generously on the top and sides (not underneath!) with water.  Pull the oven rack with the stone out and slide the dough from the bakers peel onto the stone.  If you have a dough scraper, use that to shimmy the loaf from the peel the the stone.  You can also use a spatula.  Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes.  Open the oven door, pull out the rack and spray all around the dough with water again.  Close the oven door and bake for 3 more minutes.  Spray the dough a third time.  Doing this spraying and high-temperature initial baking helps to ensure a crispy golden crust.  After you do the third spray, close the oven door and reduce the temperature to 350F.  Bake for 30 minutes, until a hollow thud is heard when the bread is thumped with your thumb or a wooden spoon on the bottom.  You can also take the temperature of your bread by inserting an instant-read thermometer from the bottom.  Most breads are done at 190F.

Allow the bread to cool slightly before serving.
Printable Recipe
I am not sure why I would ever purchase Italian bread when I could just make this!  Oh, and now that I have made it, next time I think I'll jazz it up a bit.  Maybe add some rosemary to the dough, or some asiago or Parmesean cheese.  Mmmm.  And can I just talk a little about how amazing your house smells when you are baking bread?  It makes me swoon.  It must be genetic, as it also makes the clever girl swoon.  And when Mr. Clever Mom came in that day, he said "wow, it smells wonderful in here!"  I am not saying that I need accolades all the time, but it is definitely nice to hear them every once in a while!

Oh, and that gigantic loaf?  Yeah, we served it warm with some European-style butter and almost the entire loaf disappeared that night.  We just couldn't help ourselves!  There were 10 of us, by the way.  With the few leftovers, I used the bread for morning toast and for a sandwich, both of which were divine.  This bread is great.  And really, it is not hard at all.  You can do it too!

1 comment:

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