Happy Belated World Bread Day!

Cheryl here and I’m happy to join you on the blog today with one of my favorite “go to” bread recipes. It just so happens that Friday was World Bread Day. Who knew? Not me, but I won’t argue with any good reason to celebrate a category of food that’s been feeding the masses for 30,000 years. Why celebrate World Bread Day on a BBQ blog? Because man nor woman can live by meat alone. And that’s a fact, Jack.

I’m relatively new to the bread baking scene, having dabbled in it for the past 5 years to varying degrees. Prior to that, I was intimidated at the thought of working with yeast and knew that I didn’t have the patience to spend a day (or more) coaxing and pleading for a handful of simple ingredients to transform itself into a loaf of bread. Or so I thought.

All that fear and anxiety magically dissipated when I happened upon a stepped out recipe from Alex Guarnaschelli for Parker House Rolls, complete with pictures and written instructions so detailed it was if she was holding my hand during the entire process. I made those Parker House Rolls with my own two hands and they were life changing. Not life changing as in “they tasted like angels tap dancing on my tastebuds”. Not life changing as in “I quite my day job and opened a bakery”. BUT…life changing in that those simple Parker House Rolls introduced me to the bread baking process and now I’m smitten. My sister provided the most encouraging words during that first recipe trial, asking “Where did you buy these rolls?”. To which I replied, “I made them.” And she responded, “No, you didn’t. Get the fu** outa here!” I knew right then, this was going to be a long-term relationship.

Since then, I have been fearless with my bread baking endeavors having tackled sourdough, whole wheat, rye, sandwich loaves, crumpets, biscuits, tortillas, pitas, brioche, babka, baguettes, bagels, croissants, etc. BUT…I have an easy “go to” favorite that I make more than any other. It’s a giant Italian Bread Loaf and I have made it so often that I no longer need the recipe. It’s ingrained (no pun intended) in my brain with the same familiarity as my phone number or my social security number and I can recall it with the same ease. I found this recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker Blog, which is overflowing with wonderful recipes. Here’s a link to the original post.

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A few modest ingredients yields such tasty rewards. I didn’t realize I had a creeper in this photo until I edited it. Say “hi” to Chica.
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I’ve provided detailed instructions along with the recipe at the end of this post, but until you get there, I have lots of commentary and photos for you to peruse along the way.

Here’s a step by step description of the process…

Pour about 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Once the yeast is foamy (about 10 minutes), add all of the other ingredients including the remainder of the water. I start off on the first speed of my Kitchen Aid and when the ingredients begin to come together, I switch to the second setting and let the mixer knead the dough for about 7 minutes.

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Turn out the dough on an unfloured surface and knead by hand for 2-3 minutes until you have a nice smooth ball. The dough will feel very dense and not tacky. It will be noticeably firm to the touch. Kneading bread by hand is a glorious tactile experience and while I’m too lazy to do ALL the kneading by hand I do try to incorporate a bit of hand kneading with every type of bread I make.

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Ahhh, so pretty! This gorgeous ball of dough goes into a large, lightly oiled glass bowl to rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a tea towel and find it a nice warm home for 90 minutes. I usually sit it on top of my stove with the oven on at about 180º. I actually have a bread proofing setting on my oven, which is what sold me on it, but in all actuality, I hardly ever use it. Oh well, live and learn.

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During that 90 minutes, the dough will be busy doing it’s thang and will double in size. Remove the plastic wrap and punch the dough down in the bowl. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press into a 15″x11″ rectangle.

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Now for the fun part, beginning at the bottom of the rectangle, gently roll the dough into a tight log, slightly pressing the edge of the roll into the dough after each turn. Use a scraper to help lift the dough from the surface without marring the outside too much.

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Pinch the final seam together.

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Gently move the log (seam-side down) to an upside down sheet pan topped with parchment paper lightly dusted with flour. Lightly dust the top of the log with flour and drape with a clean tea towel. Let rise for 30-40 minutes, until doubled in size. Preheat oven, lined with a baking stone, to 450º. Never place a cold baking stone into a hot oven. I leave mine in there all the time which solves the problem of where to store it. You could bake this loaf directly on the sheet pan, but a baking stone provides a nice hot surface that results in lovely oven spring. If you plan on baking bread with any regularity, I recommend investing in one. It’s well worth it. I leave mine in in the oven at all times. That way I don’t have to worry about storing it and I don’t risk it breaking because I had a brain malfunction and placed a cold stone in a hot oven.

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Now the loaf is really looking good! It’s been rising for about 40 minutes and has formed a good tight gluten skin, which will result in a nice rise in the oven. Brush the flour off the top with a pastry brush then brush with egg wash consisting of one egg white whisked together with a tablespoon of water. Use a bread lame or a serated knife to slash the top of the loaf about a 1/4″ deep. This too will allow the bread to attain an excellent rise in the oven.

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Immediately slide the loaf onto the baking stone and mist the loaf liberally with water from a food safe water bottle. Close the oven door and wait 2 1/2 minutes. Mist again, close the door and wait 2 1/2 minutes. Mist a final time, close the door and bake an additional 35-40 minutes. In my oven, I bake it for exactly 37 minutes after the final mist and it comes out perfect. Why mist? Introducing steam into the oven during the first five minutes of baking allows the loaf to create a deep golden crust. The outside will be crusty while the inside is soft. A wonderful texture combination.

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Hot out of the oven! This loaf will wow your family, impress your friends, and feed an army! But what if you don’t have an army to feed? Here’s a few ideas on how to use this beast up…

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Enjoy it with dinner warm out of the oven.

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Dice into 1 1/2″ cubes and sauté in a skillet with butter, olive oil and a dash of AlbuKirky Seasonings Casa Seasoning for a savory crouton salad topper.

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OR…slice thick and soak in a mixture of milk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar for a delectable french toast. Trust me, you’re not going to find a better french toast in a restaurant.

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Still have bread left over? Never fear! Just pop the remainder into the freezer and save it for a later date to make a sweet french toast bake or a savory egg and cheese strata. A perfect make ahead breakfast casserole that you prepare the night before and then pop into the oven the next morning to feed the masses.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough! Let’s bake!

Italian Loaf Bread

2 cups warm water (110º)

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 pkg)

5 cups bread flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar (light or dark)

3 teaspoons kosher salt

1 egg white

1 tablespoon water

1. Activate the yeast in the bowl of stand mixer by pouring in 1/2 cup of the warm water and sprinkling the yeast on top. Let set for 10 minutes. The yeast should become foamy.

2. Add the flour, olive oil, brown sugar, salt and remaining water to the bowl and mix on the first setting of your mixer to combine the ingredients. Once the ingredients come together (about a minute) switch to the second setting a knead for 7 minutes. You can also need by hand for approximately 10 minutes if that’s your preference.

3. Turn dough out onto a unfloured surface and knead by hand an additional 2-3 minutes until you have a smooth round ball. Dough will be dense and firm to the touch.

4. Brush a large glass bowl with a small amount of olive oil and roll the ball of dough (facedown) to coat. Turn the ball over (faceup) in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel, then move to a warm spot to rise. I turn the oven to 180º and set the bowl on an unused burner on top of the stove. Let rise for 90 minutes.

5. Remove the plastic wrap, punch the dough down, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into a 15″x11″ rectangle.

6. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough into a tight log. Gently press the edge of the roll into the dough with each turn. On the final turn, tightly pinch the seam closed.

7. Flip the log over and move to an upside down baking sheet topped with parchment that’s been sprinkled with flour. Dust the top of the log with additional flour and drape loosely with a tea towel. Place a baking stone in the cold oven and preheat to 425º. Let the dough rise again for 30-40 minutes.

8. Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough using a pastry brush. Wisk together the egg white and the tablespoon of water and brush the top of loaf with the egg wash. Slash the top of the loaf down the middle using a bread lame or a sharp serrated knife about 1/4″ deep.

9. Quickly slide the loaf off the baking sheet onto the hot baking stone. Mist liberally with water using a food safe mister. Close the oven door and set timer for 2 1/2 minutes. Open the oven door, mist again and set timer for 2 1/2 minutes. Mist a third and final time then let bake for 35-40 minutes.

10. After 35-40 minutes bead should be a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

Pass the butter!

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