This Italian bread recipe takes some time to come together, but the hard crust and chewy bread are 100% worth it. Totally necessary with a bowl of pasta or a hearty soup!
There is absolutely no denying that I’m a big carbs girl.
Give me a good loaf of bread with creamy butter and I’ll call it a meal.
And nothing beats having a fresh slice of crusty Italian bread to soak up the extra sauce on your plate after a meal of spaghetti… it was always one of my favorite parts of Sunday dinner. I’m still making loaves of my favorite white bread every two to three weeks, but I wanted a legit, crusty loaf of Italian bread a few weeks ago and this one totally hit the spot!
I did make Italian bread ages ago and it’s a wonderful recipe, but I wanted to go full-on with an overnight sponge to really develop that traditional crumb and crust found in Italian bread.
I turned to one of my favorite resources – my old Baking Illustrated book – and sure enough, they had a great recipe for rustic Italian bread, so off I went!
Be forewarned that this recipe does take some planning, as you’ll need to start the day before you want to bake it, and on the day of baking, you’ll need to start things about 7 hours before it’ll be ready to eat.
My previous recipe (which I linked to above) can be on your table in a couple of hours, so if you need something quicker, definitely check that one out. However, if you have the time, this is a fantastic project to tackle!
This recipe makes one large loaf of Italian bread that has that characteristic shatteringly crisp crust, along with a chewy interior… The perfect bread for soaking up leftover sauce on your plate, or the last remnants of a hearty soup in your bowl.
Or, just grab your favorite creamy, salted butter and slather in on slice after slice and call it lunch. I certainly won’t judge you :)
Make the Sponge: Combine the flour, yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Knead at the lowest speed until a shaggy dough is formed, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until it begins to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
Make the Dough: Remove the sponge from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while making the dough. Combine the flour, yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook; knead at the lowest speed until a rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap, add the sponge and the salt, and knead at the lowest speed until the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is formed (the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom), about 4 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute. Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a cool, draft-free place until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour.
Remove the plastic wrap, slide a plastic bench scraper under one side of the dough, gently lift and fold a third of the dough toward the center. Repeat with the opposite side of the dough. Lastly, fold the dough in half, perpendicular to the first folds. The dough should be a rough square. Replace the plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 1 hour.
Turn the dough, repeating step #4. Replace the plastic wrap and let dough rise for 1 hour.
Shape the Dough: Liberally flour a work surface and gently scrape the dough from the bowl onto the work surface. Dust the dough and your hands liberally with flour and, using gently pressure, push the dough into a rough 8- to 10-inch square.
Fold the top right corner diagonally to the middle. Fold the top left corner diagonally to the middle. Begin to gently roll the dough from top to bottom, continuing to roll until the dough forms a rough log. Roll the dough onto its seam and, sliding your hands under each end, transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper. Gently shape the dough into a 16-inch football shape by tucking the bottom edges underneath. Dust the loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a baking stone on the rack, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Bake the Bread: Using a single-edge razor or sharp knife, cut a slit ½-inch deep lengthwise along the top of the loaf, starting and stopping 1½ inches from the ends. Spray the loaf lightly with water. Slide the parchment sheet with the loaf onto a peel (or inverted rimmed baking sheet), then slide the parchment with the loaf onto the hot baking stone in the oven.
Bake 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and rotate the loaf from front to back; continue to bake until deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 210 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack, discard the parchment, and cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.