Basic Italian Bread
- 2 cups water lukewarm
- 1 3/4 ounces cake yeast - (1/3 cup)
- 5 3/4 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 egg white lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Place the water and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Using a dough hook attachment, add the flour and sugar to the water and mix on low speed until a dough starts to form. Drizzle the oil and salt into the dough and beat on medium speed for 8 to 10 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 1 1/2 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.
Preheat the oven lined with a pizza stone to 425 degrees. Alternately, an inverted baking sheet may be used in place of a pizza stone.
Place the dough on a baker's peel heavily dusted with semolina flour, or cornmeal, or alternately on an inverted baking sheet. Allow the dough to proof, loosely covered with a damp towel, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, score 3 (1/4-inch deep) slashes across the top of the dough at a 45 degree angle.
Spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle and place in the oven on the baking stone. Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes. Open the oven door and spray the dough again with the water bottle. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 3 minutes before spraying the dough for a third time (the spraying of the dough will ensure a crisp golden brown crust).
Bake the dough for 45 minutes, or until a hollow thud is heard when the bread is whacked with the bowl of a wooden spoon. Allow the bread to cool slightly before serving.
This recipe yields 1 large loaf Italian bread.