Once a month Italyville.com will post “Homemade” – authentic homemade Italian recipes. Since this is the first homemade post, well….. we’re going to have to start at the beginning; one of the foundations of the Italian culinary experience, something Italians simply CAN NOT eat without. Pane = Bread. If I had a lira for every time my father asked “where’s the bread?” when I was growing up, I would have a whole lot of worthless lire… but if they were Euros, I’d be a rich man! and half as rich if they were dollars…. damn the dollar!! sorry.
We were very lucky that my mother made homemade bread once a week when we were growing up… and still does. I can remember talking about “American bread” which was pretty much every other variety but mostly sliced sandwich bread. It was comical to us when we saw our friends bring sandwiches to school and their bread had the crust cut off. You cut off the crust? Isn’t that the best part? It is to Italians! We still fight over the end piece of bread….. even if you’re successful at securing it, take your eyes off it for a second and it might disappear!
So here it is, the recipe for the bread we grew up on.
Pane di casa
What you’ll need – (all these amounts are guestimated):
- 3-4 ounces of fresh yeast
- 5 lb bag of bread flour
- 1/4 cup of salt
- 1/8 of a cup of canola oil
We start by cutting about a 1/2 inch slice from a block of fresh yeast. Fresh yeast is becoming more difficult to find at grocery stores but you should have better luck at a local bakery (we have a local baker in the family…. so it helps.) Place your yeast in a bowl with 1.5 cups of warm water and mix the yeast and water with your hands until it feels like the yeast has completely dissolved.
Take a small amount of bread flour (a few handfuls) and put it aside, then take the rest of the bread flower and put it in an extra large bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and pour your yeast water in. Add the canola oil, 2 cups of warm water and salt (sprinkle it over the flour.) and mix the ingredients with your hands. Once you start mixing, check the dough consistency and add small amounts of flour or water as needed. Make sure to knead the dough well so that all the ingredients are mixed together properly.
Once your dough is ready, place it on a flat surface and cut it in half, then in half again so that you have 4 pieces of dough that are approximately the same size. It sounds funny to explain it like that but if you try to cut off 1/4 at a time…… well, the last piece probably won’t be the same as the first piece. get it? got it? good.
Now that you have your four equal size pieces, knead them individually again and then form each piece of dough into a small ball. We like to make a few small slices in the dough with a knife for decoration but you don’t have to. Place 2 pieces of dough side by side on a cookie sheet or baking tray that has been lined with tin foil and sprinkled with flour. Set your 2 trays aside and let the the dough rise. We put the trays on a table or bed and cover them with 2-3 blankets so that the dough rises quicker. It usually takes about 1.5-2 hours for the dough to rise when we do this…. it should rise to about double the size once it’s ready.
When the dough has risen, place it in the oven preheated at 350 degrees and cook until golden brown. It should take about 1 hour and 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Make sure to turn your trays around and switch them from the top/bottom rack after 40 minutes so that each bread is evenly cooked.