You won’t believe how easy this Italian bread recipe is to make! With its soft interior and crusty exterior, it tastes like a loaf straight from your favorite bakery. With hardly any hands-on time and a very forgiving dough, this is a perfect beginner yeast recipe. Be sure to have a lot of softened butter ready to slather on these slices!

Loaf of Italian bread with sesame seeds on top, with four slices sliced off and laying in front of loaf with napkin and knife to the side.

Well over a decade ago, I had planned to make spaghetti and meatballs on a Sunday afternoon when I was suddenly hit with the craving for a loaf of Italian bread to soak up all of the extra sauce on the plate.

Not wanting to venture to the grocery store while in the middle of the meal, I began looking up recipes. I mashed a couple together and ended up with the most enormous, most delicious loaf of homemade Italian bread. For the very first time making Italian bread, I had seriously hit the jackpot. I’ve never wavered from this recipe and it remains a favorite of many of my friends.

It’s easy to see why – with a perfectly crisp outer crust and a soft, chewy interior with a tight crumb, it’s a bread dream come true!

Why We Use Bread Flour

If you’ve made my favorite white bread recipe, you may remember that I opt for all-purpose flour because it produces a super light and fluffy bread.

In contrast, we want to use bread flour for this Italian bread due to its higher protein content, which will create a bread that is chewier in texture and a bit denser. Since this is a free-form loaf of bread, using bread flour also helps the bread to retain its shape while rising.

Creating Steam for a Crisp Crust

The one unconventional step to this recipe comes during the baking step. While the oven is preheating, you’ll place a metal baking pan on the bottom rack of your oven. Once you place the bread in the oven, you’ll pour a cup of water into the pan, which will create a ton of steam, resulting in a wonderfully crisp crust on the bread.

Important Note: Please be sure to use a metal pan, NOT GLASS. If you pour water into a glass pan that has been heated, it has the potential to shatter. Go ahead and ask me how I know this ;-)

Loaf of baked Italian bread on a wire rack on a counter.

How to Make This Italian Bread

You won’t believe how many times I’ve received the comment, “I couldn’t believe how easy this was to make, and it was just like a loaf from the bakery!” It truly is incredibly simple and mostly hands-off; even better is that you can have fresh-baked homemade bread in just a few short hours.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Three-photo collage of mixing together bread dough, then allowing it to rise in a glass bowl.
  1. Combine the yeast in warm water, then add it to the flour, salt, brown sugar, and olive oil in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Mix on low speed until a dough starts to form (you may need to add more flour here!).
  3. Knead for 7 minutes, then do a couple of minutes by hand for a smooth, firm, and elastic dough.
  4. Rise! Put the dough in an oiled bowl and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in size.
  5. Shape & Rise – The bread dough will be shaped into a torpedo and left to rise once more until doubled in size again.
  6. Top & Bake – Brush the dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if desired), then pop it into the oven.
Shaped bread dough on a wooden peel, before and after rising.

Tips for Bread Success

  • Bread Flour – I outlined above why I’m a big advocate of bread flour for this particular recipe; you can find it in nearly all grocery stores or can buy it online. If you substitute all-purpose flour, the bread will still turn out, but there will be a definite difference in texture.
  • Yeast – This recipe calls for active dry yeast, but you can substitute instant yeast without an issue or any modifications.
  • Mixing by Hand – While using a stand mixer with a dough hook makes this easier, you can absolutely use a large mixing bowl and mix and knead entirely by hand.
  • Extra Flour – Note that the recipe states you may need to add a little extra flour during the mixing process to get a dough to come together. I find that this varies during different times of the year, as well as what the weather is like. If it’s warmer/more humid, you may need more flour. When it’s colder and drier, I rarely, if ever, need to add more flour.
  • Metal Pan – I want to emphasize once more that the pan you place on the bottom rack of the oven to create steam needs to be METAL and not glass. If you don’t already have one, I recommend this one.
  • Baking Stone – This is the baking stone that I use, and this is the pizza peel you see pictured above. If you don’t have a baking stone, you can flip a baking sheet upside down, put a sheet of parchment paper on top, and bake the bread on there (you would not need to place the upside-down pan in the oven during preheating).

Freezing Bread Dough and Baked Bread

You can successfully freeze both unbaked bread dough and completely baked bread. Below are instructions for both:

Freezing Bread Dough  

You can freeze the unbaked bread dough by following steps #1-4 in the recipe below, finishing with shaping the dough. 

Immediately place the shaped dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for 12 hours to freeze completely. Once completely frozen, remove the dough from the baking sheet, wrap the frozen bread dough tightly in plastic wrap, then in a layer of aluminum foil, and place in a ziploc freezer bag. Freeze the dough for up to 3 months.

When ready to bake, remove the dough from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator and proceed with step #5, getting the oven ready and allowing the bread to do its final rise. It may take a little longer for that second rise since the dough will be cold. Bake as directed.

Freezing Baked Bread

Once the bread has cooled completely, you can decide to freeze it sliced or unsliced. I prefer to freeze my loaves sliced, which makes it easier to remove just a couple of pieces at a time, but you can do either. 

If you want to freeze the whole loaf unsliced, simply wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then place in a ziploc freezer bag for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature before slicing and serving.

To freeze a sliced loaf, wait until the bread has cooled completely, then slice evenly. Keep the loaf pushed together as well as you can and wrap it in a double layer of plastic wrap, then store and thaw as directed above for the whole loaf.

Photo straight on of half a loaf of Italian bread, interior crumb shown.

How to Enjoy This Italian Bread

While you can absolutely use this to make sandwiches, it’s also a wonderful accompaniment to hearty meals with rich sauces and gravies. Serve it alongside these dishes with salted butter for spreading:

More Bread Recipes

If you love to bake bread, you will thoroughly enjoy these recipes as well:

Watch the Recipe Video Below:

If you make this Italian bread recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️

Italian Bread Recipe

Recipe video included. You won't believe how easy this Italian bread is to make! With its soft interior and crusty exterior, it tastes like a loaf straight from your favorite bakery.
4.83 (109 ratings)

Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 2 cups (480 ml) lukewarm water, ~100°F
  • 1 package active dry yeast, (2.25 teaspoons)
  • 5 cups (600 g) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • teaspoons salt

For the Topping (Optional)

  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Instructions 

  • 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 the lowest speed of electric mixer (stir setting on a KitchenAid) until a dough starts to form, adding more flour as needed, up to an additional ¾ cup. Knead on low speed (2 on a KitchenAid) for 7 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 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.
  • Place a baking stone on the center oven rack and preheat the oven to 425°F. Place a metal baking pan on the lowest rack.
  • 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 dish towel, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  • If using the topping, 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.
  • Just prior to placing the bread in the oven, pour 1 cup of water into the metal pan you placed on the bottom rack of the oven. Then, transfer the loaf from the peel to the stone in the oven.
  • Bake the dough until golden brown and a hollow thud is heard when tapping the bottom of the bread (it should register at least 195 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer), about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Notes

  • Bread Flour – I outlined above why I’m a big advocate of bread flour for this particular recipe; you can find it in nearly all grocery stores or can buy it online. If you substitute all-purpose flour, the bread will still turn out, but there will be a definite difference in texture.
  • Yeast – This recipe calls for active dry yeast, but you can substitute instant yeast without an issue or any modifications.
  • Mixing by Hand – While using a stand mixer with a dough hook makes this easier, you can absolutely use a large mixing bowl and mix and knead entirely by hand.
  • Extra Flour – Note that the recipe states you may need to add a little extra flour during the mixing process to get a dough to come together. I find that this varies during different times of the year, as well as what the weather is like. If it’s warmer/more humid, you may need more flour. When it’s colder and drier, I rarely, if ever, need to add more flour.
  • Metal Pan – I want to emphasize once more that the pan you place on the bottom rack of the oven to create steam needs to be METAL and not glass. If you don’t already have one, I recommend this one.
  • Baking Stone – This is the baking stone that I use, and this is the pizza peel you see pictured above. If you don’t have a baking stone, you can flip a baking sheet upside down, put a sheet of parchment paper on top, and bake the bread on there (you would not need to place the upside-down pan in the oven during preheating).
  • Freezing Bread Dough – Once the dough is shaped, it can be placed on a lined baking sheet and placed in the freezer for 12 hours. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze in a ziploc freezer bag for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then remove and proceed with step #5 of the recipe. The final rise may take longer since the dough has been cold.
  • Freezing Baked Bread – Once the bread has been completely cooled, you can wrap a whole sliced or unsliced loaf in a double layer of plastic wrap, place in a ziploc freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Nutritional value is for 1/16th of loaf.
Calories: 166kcal, Carbohydrates: 29g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 2g, Sodium: 369mg, Potassium: 46mg, Fiber: 1g, Calcium: 17mg, Iron: 0.5mg

Did you make this recipe?

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[photos by Ari of Well Seasoned]

Recipe originally published in August 2008.