Italian Peasant Bread

posted by mamaSue 01-16-100 5:20 PM

Italian Peasant Bread

2 packages fast-rising dry yeast
2 1/2 cups tepid water
2 pounds and 3 ounces good-quality unbleached white bread flour (about 6 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve. Make a batter of the water and yeast, together with 4 cups of the flour. Beat for 10 minutes with the paddle of an electric mixer. It will pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Add the salted water. Add the remaining flour and knead for 5 minutes in a good machine, using dough hook, or 15 minutes by hand. You may need to add more water to get a moist elastic dough.

Place the dough on a plastic counter, or on a piece of plastic wrap, and cover with a large metal bowl. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Punch down, and let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Punch down again, and mold into 2 or 3 loaves. Donít worry too much about the shape. It does not matter. Place the loaves on a large floured cotton towel. Sprinkle the loaves with additional flour and cover them with an additional towel.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Important: Place a pan of hot water on the bottom shelf. This will assure you of a great crust. When the bread is ready for baking, (risen doubled in bulk) remove the loaf very carefully from the flour sack and place it upside down on a wooden paddle sprinkled with cornmeal in the upper one third of the oven.

Note: The crust is much crunchier due to this process. You can use either baking sheets, pizza stones, or bread bricks.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the bread is nicely browned and the loaves sound hollow when you thump their bottoms with your finger. Cool on a rack. (Makes 2 or 3 loaves)

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