I wanted to make some homemade bread over the weekend and of course I opened up Essentials of Italian Cooking to the bread section. This basic white bread caught my eye mainly because I had all of the ingredients home. It takes a LONG time to make though. Not so much a long amount of active prep, but lots of rising time, about 6 hours 30 mins. A lot, right? But I did it and it was worth the effort. It has a deliciously crusty exterior and a crumby interior. For dinner last night, I made chicken salad sandwiches using this bread along with leftover chicken from the crock-pot recipe from the other night and lettuce from my garden. Yum.
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water, divided
1/4 tsp sugar
5 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
baker’s peel or cookie sheet
pastry brush or spoon
1- Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and the sugar. Let stand for about 10 minutes.To this add 2 cups flour and 3/4 cups lukewarm water. Mix with a wooden spoon.
2- Pour the contents onto a lightly floured surface and knead for exactly 10 minutes. Incorporate more flour if the dough is sticky. By the end of the 10 minutes, you want the dough to be smooth and elastic.
3- Place the dough into a lightly floured bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let it rise for 3 hours, or until doubled in size.
4- Pour the remaining 3 cups flour onto the counter. Place the risen ball of dough onto the flour. Punch the dough down and open it into a bowl shape with your hands. Pour the remaining 1 cup lukewarm water over it and add the salt and the olive oil. Work quickly to incorporate all the ingredients. Knead for another 10 minutes.
5- Return the ball of dough to the lightly floured bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for another 3 hours, or until doubled in size.
6- When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard until it is stretched out lengthwise. Reached for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, fold it, push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. It will have a tapered, roll-like shape. Pick up the dough, holding it by one of the tapered ends, and slap it down on the counter several times, stretching it out in a lengthwise direction. Repeat the folding process you just did. Work the dough in this manner for 8 minutes.
7- Divide the dough in half and shape each into a loaf (thick in the middle and tapered at the ends). Sprinkle the cornmeal onto the baking sheet or peel. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes. At this point pre-heat the over to 450 degrees. Make sure the baking stone is in the oven. You can bake the bread on the cookie sheet, but results will be more desirable with the stone.
8- After the 3 minutes have elapsed, take a knife and make a single lengthwise cut, about an inch deep, into the bread. Brush the tops with water then slide the loaves from the peel or the cookie sheet on the preheated stone. Bake for 12 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn the oven down to 375 and bake for another 45 minutes.Transfer loaves to a cooling rack and let the bread cool completely before cutting and serving.
7- Wrap remaining bread in saran wrap and store on the counter.