Sandwich Bread Scrimmage: Italian Bread

sliced bread

Sandwiches are really my perfect food. Protein, veggies, cheese…all on delicious bread. Add in a pile of potato chips and I’m in midday heaven. I really liked the basic sandwich bread from King Arthur Flour but, now that I have my cookbook collection unpacked (yay!), I wanted to delve into them and see if I could find something better.

My first book off the shelf was the Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It is an amazing book and, though I’m far from a master bread baker, the descriptions and pictures in this book make me want to bake bread every day until I do master it.

I wanted to try a new technique, so I decided upon the Italian Bread recipe. It seemed a little daunting with the pre-ferment and two day prep schedule but I dove in.

First, I made the biga–a firm pre-ferment of basic ingredients–flour, yeast, and water. It came together in a snap in the evening and looked like prefect dough all on its own.


I stuck it in the fridge overnight and ignored it until the next afternoon. After removing it from the fridge, you chop it into 10 pieces and allow it to come up to roomish temperature for about an hour.

Then, you combine the rest of the ingredients with the biga pieces and knead. Then, it is time to rest AGAIN.

second rise

After this second resting period, it looks super fluffy and amazing:

second rise after

Now, it is time to shape and allow to rise one final time. This original recipe has you form more classic style italian loaves but I was really aiming for a more standard sandwich loaf shape, so I divided mine into 2 8.5×4.5 pans. After the rise, you slash the bread and put it into bake.

perfect bread

This bread was seriously perfect. It has just enough crust to give the bread some texture but not so much that it got hard too quickly. It kept for a couple of days on the counter. What little was left was toasted and made into breadcrumbs.

Even with the detailed prep, this is my favorite bread so far (I’ve made it another time since the first go through). We ate it as sandwiches, made garlic bread with it, and morning toast. The structure was the perfect medium-density for all of the tasks. This recipe is going to be hard to beat!

Italian Sandwich Loaves from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons to 1 cup water, at room temperature

Combine all the ingredients in a 4 quart (not metal!!) bowl. Once it comes together, turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 4 to 6 minutes. The dough should be smooth and pliable. Wash out the bowl, spray with cooking spray, and add the dough back. Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge. It will keep there for up to 3 days.

Remove the biga from the fridge and cut into 10 pieces. Allow to come to room temperature for an hour.

2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 2/3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil, vegetable oil, or shortening
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, lukewarm (90 to 100°F)

Sift the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a bowl. Add the biga pieces, olive oil, and 3/4 cup water and mix together until a dough forms. I started this with a spoon but quickly moved it to the countertop to mix/knead by hand. Knead for 10 minutes or until dough is tacky but not sticky and smooth. It should pass the windowpane test. Spray a bowl with cooking spray and add the dough. Allow it to rise until doubled (about two hours)

Divide the dough into 2 pieces and gently shape into loaves. Allow to rise once more for an hour. Heat oven to 500 and add a rimmed sheet pan to the bottom rack. Add loaves to the oven and add 1 cup of hot water to the sheet pan (be careful! It will immediately start to boil and turn to steam). Shut the door quickly to preserve the steam.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and 200 degrees at the center.

Allow to cool before slicing.

**This recipe originally calls for an optional ingredient of diastatic malt powder. I don’t have any and my bread was delicious and golden brown. However, Reinhart says the ingredient will help with evening browning and color, so I do have some on order. I’ll no doubt make another batch once I receive it.


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