Rustic Italian Bread

Rustic Italian Bread

The ideal accompaniment to any Italian meal, this recipe takes a bit of patience. You will be rewarded with delicious bread featuring a crispy crust and a soft, moist center.


Makes 1 large loaf
This recipe requires a bit of patience—the sponge, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made. We find it makes the most sense to prepare the sponge (which requires just 5 minutes of hands-on work) the day before you want to bake the bread. On the second day, remove the sponge from the refrigerator and begin step 2 at least 7 hours before you want to serve the bread. If you own two standing mixer bowls, in step 1 you can refrigerate the sponge in the bowl in which it was made. Use the second bowl to make the dough in step 2. Have ready a spray bottle filled with water for misting the loaves.

2 cups (11 ounces) bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1cup water, at room temperature

3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface and hands
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/3 cups water, at room temperature
2 teaspoons salt

1. For the sponge: Combine the flour, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Knead at the lowest speed until the ingredients form a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the sponge to a medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until it begins to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate the sponge at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

2. For the dough: Remove the sponge from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while making the dough. Combine the flour, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook; knead at the lowest speed until a rough dough is formed, about 3 -minutes. Turn the mixer off and, without removing the dough hook or bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap; let the dough rest 20 minutes.

3. Remove the plastic wrap, add the sponge and salt to the bowl, and continue to knead at the lowest speed until the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is formed (the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom), about 4 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium low and continue to knead until the dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute. Transfer the dough to a large lightly oiled bowl (at least 3 times the dough’s size) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a cool, draft-free spot until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour.

4. Remove the plastic wrap and leaving dough in the bowl, slide a plastic bench scraper under one side of the dough, gently lifting and folding one third of the dough toward the center. Repeat with opposite side of the dough, and, finally, fold the dough in half, perpendicular to the first folds (so that it resembles a rough square). Replace the plastic wrap; let the dough rise 1 hour. Turn the dough again, replace the plastic wrap, and let the dough rise 1 hour longer.

5. To shape the dough: Dust a work surface liberally with flour. Gently scrape the dough from the bowl and invert onto the work surface (the side of dough that was against the bowl should now be facing up). Dust the dough and your hands liberally with flour and, using minimal pressure, push the dough into a rough 8- to 10-inch square. After delicately pushing the dough into an 8- to 10-inch square, fold the top left corner diagonally to the middle. Repeat this with the top right corner, and begin to gently roll the dough from top to bottom, continuing to roll until the dough forms a rough log. Roll the dough onto its seam and, sliding your hands under each end, transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper. Gently shape the dough into a 16-inch football shape by tucking the bottom edges underneath. Dust the loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let the loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a baking stone on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.

6. To bake: Using a single-edge razor blade or sharp chef’s knife, cut a slit 1/2 inch deep lengthwise along the top of the loaf, starting and stopping about 1 1/2 inches from the ends; spray the loaf lightly with water. Slide the parchment sheet with the loaf onto a peel or inverted rimmed baking sheet, then slide the parchment with the loaf onto the hot baking stone in the oven. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and quickly rotate the loaf from front to back using the edges of the parchment; continue to bake until deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 210 degrees, about 35 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack, discard the parchment, and cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.