Homemade Italian Bread is easier than you think! You'll be so proud when this delicious, crusty loaf comes out of your oven. It's vegan too. Don't miss the video and step-by-step photos!
My goal today is to convince you to try this recipe. Because this Italian bread is so easy, crusty and delicious. I don't want you to miss out!
There's nothing like the sense of accomplishment that comes from baking your own bread.
"Did I do that?!!," you'll wonder, in your best Steve Urkel voice. Or maybe that's just me.
But, seriously. Why is it that as kids, we went to town with Play Doh and Silly Putty (now I'm aging myself), yet as adults, we shy away from making dough and shaping it into a simple loaf?
Yes, there's kneading involved. But if you have a stand mixer with dough hooks, all you need to do is throw in your ingredients and let the machine run for six minutes. By hand, you'll probably need a couple minutes longer, but it's so therapeutic.
My son has been making this easy Italian bread for years, and kneads the dough by hand like a boss. I just use my KitchenAid (affiliate link).
The only part that requires some thought is figuring out whether to add more flour. The humidity of your kitchen will be a factor.
How to know whether to add more flour
Here's a ridiculously simple tip: If, after a couple minutes of kneading, you touch the dough and realize it's stuck to your fingertips, you need to add more flour.
Start with an extra ¼ cup, knead it some more and see if the dough comes together. In a stand mixer, the dough should pull away from the insides of the bowl and form a ball in the center.
If you still see residue at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more flour. Try touching the dough again.
Still sticky? Add another ¼ cup of flour.
It's not rocket science, I promise. You almost can't go wrong.
How to make Italian bread
- Mix the ingredients in bowl and knead in a stand mixer or on the counter. Add extra flour if the dough is sticky.
- The dough should come together in smooth ball. Place it in a greased bowl, covered, to rise for two hours. (You can leave your house!)
- After the first rise, the dough should have doubled in size.
- Gently punch it down. Let the dough rise again for 40 minutes, covered. (One time, I left to do errands and came back more than an hour later — no big deal.)
- After the second rise, the dough is ready.
- Shape it into a loaf (it takes about five seconds!) and place it on a lined or greased half-sheet pan (you don't need a special loaf pan!) Cut a vertical slit (or horizontal ones) in the loaf to allow it to vent and open as it bakes.
- Bake it on the center rack of your oven, with a metal pan of hot water below it to create steam, which will produce a crispy crust.
To test whether your bread is done: Wearing oven mitts, turn over your loaf of bread when it's out of the oven. With ungloved fingertips, tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it's done.
When the bread cools...you'd better have some olive oil on hand for dipping. I like regular olive oil for that, since I find it's milder than extra virgin. Sprinkle some salt and pepper into your oil, or not, and dip away!
Can you use whole wheat flour?
After being asked this question more than once, I recently tested this recipe with a 50-50 combination of all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour. The dough had to be kneaded for at least 10 minutes in the stand mixer.
The half-whole-wheat version came out more dense than the loaves made with 100% all-purpose flour. The flavor was a little stronger, but it was a decent loaf, if you like whole wheat.
But I wouldn't recommend using only whole wheat flour for this bread. The flavor would be too strong, and the recipe would need to be adjusted in a few ways, such as adding more sugar and salt, and possibly adding vital wheat gluten.
So, although I use all whole wheat flour in recipes such as blueberry muffins, this Italian bread recipe works best with just all-purpose flour. If you really want to incorporate whole wheat, you can use a 50-50 combination of flours.
What to do with leftovers
Store the bread at room temperature, wrapped in plastic and then placed in a brown bag. It's best eaten by the next day or so for freshness. If you wish, you can slice the loaf and freeze it in a freezer bag.
Another option is to make bread crumbs with the leftover bread. You won't believe how delicious they taste!
Just do it!
Friends, making crusty Italian bread is easier than lots of things in life.
- It's easier than changing a tire.
- Easier than driving a stick shift.
- Easier than filling out back-to-school paperwork.
- Easier than mowing the lawn.
And many readers tell me this is the best Italian bread recipe they've tried.
So go for it! Then try your hand at this Parmesan focaccia (ready in an hour) and these Quick Hamburger Buns (ready in 40 minutes). And during the holidays, you can make panettone (Italian Christmas bread).
(Recipe Source: Adapted from my son's recipe, which he'd adapted after seeing it online years ago. Originally published on August 26, 2017 and updated now with process photos and additional text.)
Homemade Italian Bread
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (use up to four cups if needed; see notes)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (see notes if using active dry yeast)
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ¼ cups warm water
- olive oil (optional)
- Add three cups of flour and the remaining dough ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer, if you have one. Otherwise, use a large mixing bowl.
- If using a stand mixer with dough hooks, start the machine on "stir," then switch to a low speed to knead the dough for six minutes.
- If kneading by hand, stir with a spoon, then knead the dough on a clean, floured work surface for at least six minutes.
- After a couple minutes of kneading in your mixer or by hand, check to see if the dough is sticky. Touch it with your fingertips and pull them away.
- If there is dough residue on your fingertips, you need to add more flour. Add ¼ cup extra flour and knead some more.
- Check again to see if the dough is still sticky. If so, add more flour, ¼ cup at a time, until your dough comes together in a smooth ball and isn't sticky. It should pull away from the inside of the bowl of your stand mixer.
- When you are done kneading, grease your mixing bowl with cooking spray (you can use the same bowl without cleaning it first.) Place your ball of dough in the greased bowl and roll it around to coat it a bit with the oil.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for two hours at room temperature.
- After two hours, peel back the plastic and gently punch down the dough. Cover the bowl again with the plastic wrap and let the dough rise for another 40 minutes.
- When your dough is almost done rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Make a steam bath so your crust will be crispier. Fill a 9x13 metal pan or cast iron pan halfway with hot water. (Avoid using a glass pan, if possible, because it could shatter.) Wearing oven mitts, place the pan with the hot water on the bottom rack of your oven.
- When the dough is risen, place it onto a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (If you have neither, you can lightly grease your pan with cooking spray.)
- Shape your dough into a loaf about 10 inches long and four inches wide. Use a straight-edged knife to score the dough (make a long vertical slit or horizontal slits along the surface of the dough) to allow venting. Place the pan with your dough on the middle rack of your oven.
- Bake initially for 10 minutes at 425 F.
- Lower your oven temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake your bread for 30-35 minutes more. Check if your bread is done by removing the pan from the oven. Wearing gloves, flip over the loaf. Take off one glove and tap the underside of the bread with your fingertips. If the bread sounds hollow, it is done. If not, bake it a little more.
- When the bread is done, let it cool on a wire rack until it's no longer hot. Slice the bread and serve with oil, salt and pepper for dipping, if you wish.
- Store the bread at room temperature, wrapped in plastic and then placed in a brown bag. It is best eaten by the next day or so for freshness. If you wish, you can slice the loaf and freeze it in a freezer bag.