What follows are two Italian bread recipes. The difference is in how they are baked. The first is baked in a conventional way producing a bread with a soft crust. The second recipe incorporates steam to make a crusty bread. 

This bread is wonderful, but it does take a little planning. The biga should be made one to three days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. The biga is easy to make and the bread made with the biga is easy. Though this description uses a stand-type mixer with a dough hook, the bread can be made by hand if you prefer. Simply mix and knead as you would other breads.

Italian Bread Recipe

Ingredients

For the biga

  • 2 cups or more of good quality, unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup water at 80 degrees

For the bread

  • 2 2/3 cups good quality, unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup high heat baker’s dry milk
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup, more or less, water at 100 degrees
  • the biga

Directions

  1.  For the biga, mix the flour and yeast together in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the water and mix with the dough hook for five or six minutes. As the dough comes together, the dough ball should be soft and tacky but not too sticky. Check the dough ball one to two minutes into the kneading and add more flour if needed. (If the dough ball is too dry, dribble in a bit of water.) Complete the kneading. 
  2. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let stand on the counter at room temperature for two or three hours or until nearly doubled in size.
  3. Punch the dough down and refrigerate it overnight or for up to three days.
  4. An hour before you make the bread, remove the biga from the refrigerator and cut the dough ball into eight to ten pieces, cover, and let stand for an hour at room temperature to begin to warm.
  5. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, optional dry milk, and yeast together in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the oil and water and the biga and mix with the dough hook for about eight minutes. As the dough comes together, the dough ball should be soft and tacky but not too sticky. (Check the dough ball one to two minutes into the kneading and add more flour if needed. If the dough ball is too dry, dribble in a bit of water.) Complete the kneading.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let stand on the counter at room temperature for two or three hours or until nearly doubled in size.
  7. Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal or semolina flour. Using a knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into two equal pieces for loaves or smaller pieces for rolls. Form the loaves or rolls and place them on the baking sheet. Cover and let stand until they are nearly doubled in size, about one hour.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread is browned and the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Crusty Italian Bread Recipe

This difference in this bread recipe and the proceeding recipe is in how the bread is baked. Steam in the oven creates a chewy crust. You create the steam with a pan of water on the lowest shelf in the oven and a mister spray bottle. Enjoy your bread. 

Ingredients

For the biga

  • 2 cups or more of good quality, unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup water at 80 degrees

For the bread

  • 2 2/3 cups good quality, unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup high heat baker’s dry milk
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup, more or less, water at 100 degrees
  • the biga

Directions

  1. For the biga, mix the flour and yeast together in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the water and mix with the dough hook for five or six minutes. As the dough comes together, the dough ball should be soft and tacky but not too sticky. Check the dough ball one to two minutes into the kneading and add more flour if needed. (If the dough ball is too dry, dribble in a bit of water.) Complete the kneading.
  2. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let stand on the counter at room temperature for two or three hours or until nearly doubled in size.
  3. Punch the dough down and refrigerate it overnight or for up to three days.
  4. An hour before you make the bread, remove the biga from the refrigerator and cut the dough ball into eight to ten pieces, cover, and let stand for an hour at room temperature to begin to warm.
  5. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, optional dry milk, and yeast together in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the oil and water and the biga and mix with the dough hook for about eight minutes. As the dough comes together, the dough ball should be soft and tacky but not too sticky. (Check the dough ball one to two minutes into the kneading and add more flour if needed. If the dough ball is too dry, dribble in a bit of water.) Complete the kneading.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let stand on the counter at room temperature for two or three hours or until nearly doubled in size.
  7. Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal or semolina flour. Using a knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into two equal pieces for loaves or smaller pieces for rolls. Form the loaves or rolls and place them on the baking sheet. Cover and let stand until they are nearly doubled in size, about one hour. 
  8. For crusty bread, bake according to the instructions below.

To Bake A Crusty Italian Bread

The thick, chewy crust that you can expect from most artisan loaves is created in a hot, steamy oven. You have to be careful and quick or else you risk burns, but the taste is worth the risk. Capture the hot steam in the oven and bake the bread until all moisture has been driven from the loaf and the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees. For directions on how to bake a crusty bread, you can read this article.

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