I got an email a few days ago from someone who said they couldn’t make a recipe that I posted because they didn’t have a stand mixer. I know that the vast majority of recipes these days are written for stand mixer use but your hands will always be the best tool you have for cooking or baking and it makes me sad that people are overlooking recipes just because they tell you that you need a stand mixer.

For the record, I don’t own a stand mixer. I have a $6 hand mixer that crapped out a few weeks back which means the last time I made cupcakes? I whipped that frosting by hand. By. Hand.

So anyway, that email inspired me to make some bread just in case there’s anyone out there reading who is scared to try bread by hand. Bread is easy and the great thing about it is that it’s very forgiving. See all those bumps on top of my bread? I didn’t deflate the dough enough before I braided it but it still turned out delicious.

This recipe is a 2-day bread but don’t let that stop you from making it! On day 1, you mix up a sponge (the first picture up there) of just flour, water, and yeast. It sits overnight and then one day 2 you stir in the rest of the ingredients. Knead for 5 minutes, let rise, braid, rise again, and bake. Easy peasy, I tell you!

This is a fabulous recipe that produces a crusty bread that’s just as good as anything you’d find at a fancy Italian restaurant. (BTW, anyone else think that a certain chain Italian restaurant’s bread is crap? Who goes to an Italian restaurant and wants soft, airy breadsticks? Give me crusty bread, dangit!) The flavor is simple and perfect. You don’t even need butter for this guy.

P.S. Email me if you need bread help! I promise to help as much as possible without actually getting in my car and driving to your house.

Crusty Italian Bread

adapted from King Arthur Flour's Baker's Companion

Ingredients

For the sponge:
1 cup (8 ounces) cool water, about 65F
2 cups (8½ ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
For the dough:
½ cup (4 ounces) cool water, about 65F
2 to 2½ cups (8½ to 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1½ teaspoons salt
1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Instructions

    To make the sponge:
  1. Combine all of the sponge ingredients, mixing just till a cohesive dough forms. Allow it to rest, covered, for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature. When the sponge is ready, it will be filled with large holes and bubbles.
  2. To make the dough:
  3. Add the water to the sponge, and mix till smooth. Add the flour, yeast and salt, and knead the dough till it's fairly smooth but not necessarily elastic, about 3 minutes by machine, or 5 minutes by hand. (The gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises, so you don’t want to develop it fully during the kneading process.)
  4. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 1½ hours. To help develop the gluten and distribute the yeast, turn the dough twice during the rising time: gently fold all four sides into the middle, and turn the dough over.
  5. Divide dough in thirds, and roll each third into a 20-inch-long rope. Braid ropes. Set the braid on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 1½ hours, until just puffy.
  6. Preheat oven to 425F. Gently brush the braid with the beaten egg white mixture and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
http://fakeginger.com/2010/11/03/crusty-italian-bread/

This post submitted to YeastSpotting.

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