Sometimes I think, instead of just loving bread and carbs, that I have a passive aggressive relationship with bread. While I love bread, I only love certain breads. I do not love store-bought preservative loaded bread. I eat it sometimes, out of necessity, but I don’t love it. Also, I love baking bread but don’t always love the time it takes to bake bread. That was the place I found myself in the other night when I wanted some lovely Italian bread to go with my Lentil Pasta. I wanted homemade bread although I didn’t want to take the time to make it.
Eventually I gave in to my desire for something delicious and homemade. I had borrowed one of my dad’s books from my mother’s house and found a very intriguing Italian bread recipe while perusing it. While I knew it was going to take time it was going to be amazing.
To be fair I was looking for a different bread book, which wasn’t to be found. Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein was not on the shelf where Dad had kept it. If I made 2 or less phone calls I would most likely find that one of my brothers has it. I took Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. It is obvious by the worn pages and multiple notations that Dad has used this book frequently.
As I was putting the bread dough together I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. It didn’t seem to be acting the way that Mr. Clayton had indicated. Nevertheless, I persisted.
The girls aren’t always around when I’m baking bread. One of the best parts of baking this bread was that it was a fairly large, puffy round loaf. Their exclamations as they watched it triple in size during the first rise was fun. Even better were the whoops of excitement as they watched it puff up during the second rise and get even larger during the baking. These are some of the things I love about the adventures of baking.
The true test of course was to be after the Italian bread had cooled and I served it with dinner. It looked gorgeous, cut beautifully, and smelled wonderful. However, when The Hubs came to the table and said, “The bread smells like a school cafeteria” I was a bit hurt. I never liked school food, or any cafeteria cooking for that matter. Yet to him the bread smelled like the best parts of his childhood. It was warm and soft and smelled delicious. The Italian bread also tasted delicious. So, it was like the best parts of my childhood as well. Days in the kitchen baking bread with my parents.
In spite of not finding the book I was looking for it seems that I found exactly what I needed. The Italian bread paired beautifully with the Lentil Pasta sauce and meatballs.
What foods or recipes remind you of your childhood? Is there a smell or a taste that cues of a memory for you? I hope this bread recipe will do that for my children the way it did for me.
Italian Batter Bread
- 1 ¾ cups hot water 120-130◦
- 4 ½ cups bread flour approximately
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
Grease and sprinkle a 10 X 15 baking sheet with cornmeal.
Pour the hot water and 2 cups flour into the mixer bowl. With the mixer running, add the yeast and salt. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Measure in additional flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the batter is thick and heavy. When a spoonful of dough is lifted from the bowl it will be quite elastic and stretcy.
When the dough is so thick and rubbery that it jams the flat beater, change to the dough hook. Beat at high speed for 25 minutes. If the mixer becomes hot of the dough climbs up the hook, let the dough rest as long as 15 minutes, then continue.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and put aside at room temperature to triple in volume, 2 to 3 hours. Fast rising yeast will reduce the rising time.
Uncover the bowl but do not stir or punch down the dough. Gently scrape it onto the prepared pan. With liberal sprinkles of flour, carefully tuck the dough edges under to shape a rounded loaf, about 12” diameter.
Sprinkle the dough with flour, and cover with a flour-covered lint free cloth. Let rise at room temperature until doubled and very puffy, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400◦ 20 minutes before baking. If using a convection oven preheat oven to 350◦.
Bake on the center shelf of the hot oven until golden brown and crusty, about 50 minutes. Turn the loaf over to be certain it is well browned on the bottom and sounds follow and hard when thumped.
Transfer to a rack to cool. Slice cooled bread, or tear into chunks.