Italian Bread

Gave up on the previous recipe. Went back to the Sunset Italian Cookbook adobe oven bread, that Pamela used to make and Mark Richards used to make at Finagle’s Freehold (my first house in Minneapolis). Have yet to have results anywhere near as good as I remember, but getting better. One problem was clearly old yeast (the old jar was a year out of date, and the new jar performed better; I assume letting it reproduce with sugar for a while before adding the flour would have made up the difference, though).

And have tried a few experiments, which I haven’t been that fond of.

So, here’s the current version. This is actually 1/2 the quantity of the original, sized for our mixer (I’m going to try increasing this by 1.5x to make three loaves, though). Instructions are detailed for my kitchen; you’ll have to adapt it to your environment, same as me.


  • 2t active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 2 t sugar
  • 2 c water at 110°
  • 5 c unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 T salt


Dissolve yeast and sugar in water.

In mixer (with dough hook) add salt and flour. Do not forget to add the salt! I find I have to intervene manually a lot to get it really mixed, including taking the dry scraps at the bottom of the bowl and burying them in the middle of the dough ball. (I’m starting to consider making a minor increase in salt, perhaps to 2t.)

Knead a minute or two in mixer, possibly adding up to 2c flour. (My experience has not yet involved adding more than ½c flour; perhaps in more humid weather?)

Form ball and put in oiled bowl. Cover with cling wrap and place in lower oven on “proof” (100° I believe; which is hotter than most recipes call for for yeast to rise; I’m considering trying a lower temp, but this one is very easy to attain with my equipment) for 75 minutes (until doubled).

Punch down, knead a bit (last chance to correct consistency), divide into two long loaves.  (Or you can make smaller rolls, etc.)

Shake yellow cornmeal onto ungreased baking sheet. Place loaves on sheet.  Cover with floured cloth. Place in oven on “proof” again to rise for 30-40 minutes. (Original recipe had cloth under as well as over, but I find handling the loaves that much is risky, so I’ve dropped the bottom cloth.) (I’ve tried a dual u-shaped pan which is supposed to make better crust, but it’s a very minor difference, and that pan doesn’t fit the upper oven either.)

Preheat oven to 350º. (I use the top little oven; but you could just take the sheet out of the oven and preheat it, wouldn’t hurt anything.) (I tried 400º, more in line with recipes in The Breads of France, but found it got too close to burning the bottom.)

Remove covering cloth. Slash the tops of the loaves with a sharp knife to release steam. Place in oven.

After 10 minutes, spray loaves with water.

After another 10 minutes, spray loaves with water again.

Bake for 40-60 minutes, until done.  (Total baking time is thus 60-80 minutes.)

Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing (although, with a really good bread knife, you can get away with earlier).

Also, Bread

I’ve never actually made bread before (I’ve made pie crust, and baked a couple of cakes, but not much baking in general). So I decided I wanted italian bread tonight.

To me, that means a white bread, somewhat freeform loaves (but tending more towards oval than circular). A tight, somewhat chewy crumb. And fairly heavy crust, though thinner and less crunchy than “French bread”.

I started from this basic recipe.

On first making it, I ended up using about 2 ¾ cups of flour. I may have left the dough slightly too moist, but not disastrously. I had to scrape it down off the sides of the bowl and off the dough hook of the mixer a couple of times, which Pamela says is normal. I didn’t feel it had risen enough in half an hour, so I gave it another half hour, and then punched it down. Rising was in the lower oven on the “proof” setting, I didn’t measure the actual temperature, but it felt reasonable.

I didn’t do anything to emphasize the crust, no basting, no pizza stone, no water pan in the oven.


1 envelope (¼ oz.) active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

1 cup warm water (100° – 110°)

2 to 3 cups bread flour (I used unbleached general purpose)

2 TBS olive oil

1 tsp salt


Combine yeast, sugar, 1 cup warm water in mixer bowl. Let stand 5 minutes (and check for yeast activity).

Add 2 cups flour, oil and salt to bowl. Beat on low (I used the lowest speed on our KitchenAid) with dough hook for 1 minute.

Gradually add up to 1 cup additional flour until dough leaves sides of bowl and polls together (dough goes through a “shaggy” stage in here). With our mixer we have to push flour into the dough hook some. Add flour until the dough is the “right” consistency, which is soft and smooth, not wet, sticky, or overly dry with a rough surface.

Increase speed to medium and beat 5 minutes (I used the second-lowest speed).

Get dough off hook and make a ball in the bottom of the bowl. Cover this closely with plastic and let rise 30 minutes in a draft-free place at about 85° (I used the bottom oven on the “proof” setting). Let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk (I ended up giving it an hour), then punch down.

Start oven preheating to 400°.
Punch down and let stand 10 minutes (I put it back in the oven under plastic).

Take dough from bowl (it may have been a bit too moist, it tried to stick just a bit) and place on lightly floured surface. Form into loaf, about 12 inches long.

Place dough on lightly greased cookie sheet

Make 3 ¼” deep scores across the top with sharp knife to let the steam out (mine had kind of crude slashes, the dough tended to stick to the knife; and steam blew out one side of the loaf).

Bake at 400° for 16 minutes or until golden brown. Should make a nice hollow sound when rapped on the bottom. (I ended up at about 20 minutes).

Cool on wire rack.

Slice and eat!


I liked the way the bread texture came out. The crust is too thin; it even looks wrong from outside. Taste is tolerable (at least when fresh). This kind of tastes like what I think of as good bread machine results, i.e. mediocre, but fresh bread is always good.

Next time I want to try something to increase the crust, maybe painting it with water.

Minn-StF Meeting at Our House This Saturday

We’re hosting the Minn-StF meeting (which means “party”) at our house this Saturday.  Nominally 2pm until late, though in practice few people arrive before 4pm most times.

I’m making split pea soup (non-vegetarian and vegan versions), and Pamela is making bread.

We have cats, confined to the back of the house so the front area is less catty, enough to help allergic people somewhat.  They don’t get to shed on the furniture up there. No smoking in the house. Not especially child-proof (delicate / dangerous things somewhat exposed), children welcome under parental supervision.