Italian Bread (posted 04/14/2020 by Paul T)
I found the base for this recipe on the internet. With a few tweaks, it has become a favorite.
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
cornmeal for dusting (optional)
Combine yeast, water, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 cup of flour in mixing bowl. Allow to rest for 10 minutes until the yeast starts bubbling and giving off a "yeasty" smell.
Add the remaining flour, sugar and salt and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add the olive oil and knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, coating the dough all around with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a wet tea towel and place in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in volume -- 45 minutes to an hour or more, depending on temperature.
Punch down the dough, roll into desired loaf shape, cover with plastic again and allow to rise until doubled in volume.
Place a bowl of water in the stove and pre-heat to 425°. Turn down to 400 when you put the bread in. Bake 20 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on shape of loaves. Bread is finished when it makes a hollow sound when you thump on the bottom with your thumb.
Dissolve the yeast in a quarter-cup of warm water. You should actually check the temperature of the water. Too cold and it won't activate, too hot and you can kill the yeast.
Give the yeast a few minutes, until it starts bubbling, then mix it in with the rest of the warm water.
Add the flour, sugar and salt and stir.
Don't add the oil until after you've worked the water and flour together. Otherwise the oil will coat the proteins and prevent gluten formation. Gluten lets the dough stretch when it rises, making it light and chewy instead of crumbling like cake.
After mixing the oil in, turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface to knead.
Stretch the dough away from you, fold it back, turn a quarter turn and repeat. Once the dough is well incorporated, slap it on the surface a few times. This will encourage more gluten production leading to a lighter, airier bread.
When the dough is smooth and silky, continue kneading for another several minutes. You can work it with both hands and keep turning the dough, or just hit it from opposite angles with each hand.
Once the dough is thoroughly kneaded, place it in an oiled bowl. Toss the dough around so it is coated with oil all the way around.