Saturday, January 3, 2009

Italian Bread

This Christmas, with money being tight, and me cooking more, I decided to make homemade gifts for my family. The traditional route for homemade food gifts at Christmastime is to do something sweet. But I opted for the complete opposite figuring that most people's sweet tooth would be already soothed.

I decided to make homemade noodles, sauce and Italian bread.

The bread was actually the easiest thing to make out of the three. My Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer did most of the work and I just tried not to burn the bread.

Now, I have always had a weakness for a good old loaf of bread. If all I ever had to eat and drink were bread, wine and cheese, I would die a fat and happy girl. But now that wine and some cheese is off the menu while I am cooking up The Good Baby, my only comfort is copious amounts of bread. It is also worth noting that my pregnancy stomach seems to handle milk and bread only right now.

Since this was really my only third attempt at bread making, I can say that I am very pleased with the results. I learned from the mistakes I made when making French Bread and White Sandwich Bread it, indeed, helped me to produce a better product this time around.

First off, I wasn't gentle in kneading this dough. Before I was scared that I would overwork the dough. Not so this time. This time I kneaded that thing to high heaven and was able to get all my aggression out.

Secondly, I really pinched the seams together so that I wouldn't have the visible seams like I had with the White Sandwich Bread. I also improved my slashing technique.

Lastly, I used more than just one cup of water in the pan to create steam. The recipe called for spraying the bread in 3 minute intervals but I opted for the lazy route and placed a roasting pan with water on the bottom rack of the oven. I think I used closer to 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water. The single cup of water evaporated too fast and I don't think the bread benefited from any of the steam.

I used the recipe I found from the Brown Eyed Baker's website. Her notes on the recipe are very helpful. This recipe did produce a HUGE loaf but it was oh so very good.

Italian Bread by the Brown Eyed Baker (Adapted from Dawn’s Recipes)
Makes 1 large ginormous loaf

2 cups lukewarm water (~100°F)
1 package active dry yeast
5 to 5¾ cups bread flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2½ teaspoons salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

~Stir the yeast into ½ cup of the warm water. Let proof as you measure out the dry ingredients.

~Combine 5 cups flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the yeast mixture, remaining water and olive oil. Using a dough hook attachment, mix on lowest speed of electric mixer (stir setting on a KitchenAid) until a dough starts to form, adding more flour as needed.

~Knead on low speed (2 on a KitchenAid) for 7 minutes. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and need by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, or until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed.

~Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and spray the dough with a thin coating of cooking spray. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to proof in a warm, draft-free place for 1½ hours or until doubled in size.

~Remove the plastic wrap, punch down and flatten the rounded dough with the heel of your hand. Roll the dough up tightly, sealing the seam well after each roll. The dough should be elongated and oval-shaped, with tapered and rounded (not pointed) ends.

~Preheat the oven lined with a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles to 425°F.

~Place the dough on a baker’s peel heavily dusted with flour, or alternately on an inverted baking sheet. Allow the dough to proof, loosely covered with a floured canvas cloth, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

~Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, slash the dough lengthwise about 1/4-inch deep, keeping the blade at a 45 degree angle.

~Spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle and place in the oven on the baking stone. Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes. Open the oven door and spray the dough again with the water bottle. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 3 minutes before spraying the dough for a third time (the spraying of the dough will ensure a crisp golden brown crust).

~Bake the dough for a total of 45 minutes, or until a hollow thud is heard when tapping the bottom of the bread. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

recipe by: The Brown Eyed Baker

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