Crispy Italian Bread Recipe -
Pane Rustico

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Total rising time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes
Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:

1 package (7 grams) dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
6 1/4 cups flour
Cooking spray

In the large bowl of the mixer combine yeast, salt and 2 1/2 cups warm water (about 120 degrees). Stir with a wire whisk until the salt and yeast are dissolved. Using the mixer with dough hooks on medium speed, slowly add 6 cups (reserve the other 1/2 cup) of flour and mix for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl.

The mixture should be very soft and somewhat stringy looking, but free of lumps. Scrape it out of the mixing bowl into in a large greased bowl and spray the dough's top surface with cooking spray. Cover the top of the bowl with a kitchen towel and put it to rise in a warm place (in the oven with the light on) for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Grease the bottom of a large cookie sheet and set aside. Use a large pinch of the remaining flour (reserved 1/2 cup) to sprinkle over a breadboard.

Transfer the dough to the breadboard and knead by pressing down on the dough with the heels of your hands. If the dough sticks to the board scrape it off with a sharp, straight-edged knife, add the scrapings to the rest of the dough, re-flour the breadboard and continue kneading. When the dough sticks to the hands, dust some of the flour on them and rub them together to remove the clumps.

Fold the dough over and continue the process for about 5 minutes. Shape half of the dough into a loaf about 12 inches long, and set it on one side of the cookie sheet.

Shape the other half of the dough the same way, arrange it on the other side of the cookie sheet, making sure the loaves don't stick together. Cut a shallow slit about 1/4 inch deep over the length of the top on each loaf, cover them with a towel, and return them to the warm oven to rise again.

Carefully remove the bread after about 45 minutes and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wait a total of 15 minutes, then return the bread to the oven to bake for 45 minutes, checking a few times to make sure it looks golden.

If it starts to look darker, it may be a good idea to cover it with a piece of aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time. Allow cooling before cutting. Serve with butter or olive oil.

Though it seems like a lengthy process, this recipe is fairly simple and well worth the time, especially in cold weather when confined to the home. After it's cooked and cooled off completely, the bread freezes well.

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