Monday, March 11, 2013

Crusty, Rustic, Italian Bread

Confession: My name is Tracy and I'm a breadaholic, a serial bread baker, and yeah, I like it.


I've been trying to nail rustic Italian style bread with a thick, crunchy, crust that stays crunchy until you wrap it. You'd think that would be easy. It's not. I make bread. I make a lot of bread. I make it every day. I tried other people's recipes, some worked, some didn't. None were what I wanted, none had the flavor, texture AND the crust all at the same time.
Until now; look what I mastered!!

I've done it. I'm going to share it with you. in return, you have to send me pictures of your bread, your videos of the moment of discovery, the slicing the crust.  

I want to see what you do with what I'm about to give you ;) I'm absolutely delighted that I made this work. I made it work repeatedly and I made it work in other people's kitchens. It will work for you. Make this. Seriously. 

I'm not breaking this into two recipe forms (quick and long winded) like the other posts.  It's long winded, heavily picture supported the whole way.  Bread isn't a recipe, the method, the look, the feel, is always part of it, probably the most important part.  Here is how *I* do what I do.

I'm a master ciabatta maker.  I'm a bit of a one trick pony where it's concerned and am asked to take it everywhere I go.  I happily oblige.  It's nice to be famous for something.  I was making it one day and wondered what would happen if I kept the recipe pretty close but merely changed the METHOD... would THAT give me what I wanted in a hard, crunchy crust loaf? I also went old school and figured they've been making this stuff in the old country since year dot without electric appliances so I gave it a go and did it all by hand, THIS is what happened.

Tracy's (version) Crusty Rustic Italian Bread

580 grams a/p flour (4 cups but I wanted to weigh it to be sure and to help with consistency)
2 tsp yeast

2 tsp salt (I use kosher sea salt)
3 tsp sugar

2 cups warm water

Combine the dry ingredients in a proofing bucket.  Ok if you don't have a proofing bucket, use any old bowl you have, just be sure it's really big, you want it to have room to rise.  

Mix the dry stuff around with a really old wooden spoon :)  then add the water all at once.
Mix it around, it's a thick, unruly, gloppy (technical term) mass.  Be sure you get all the dry stuff from the corners, if you're using a square vessel.  I just HAVE to stick my hands in it, I mixed it a little bit (this is COMPLETELY unnecessary but it makes me feel involved and useful).
 Pop the lid on it, take it's picture and leave it to rise until it's tripled (the same as the ciabatta)  It takes about 60+ minutes at my house but remember, I make bread EVERY day so I have the "bakery air" thing going on, things rise very VERY fast for me.  I had a tester do this for me and it took closer to 2 hours to triple.  It's fine, just leave it on the counter or on top of the fridge, or in the oven with the light on (I am horrifyingly short of counter space so I put it in the oven to do what it needs to do.  Timer set for 60 minutes.  I'll take us to check then.
OK, after an hour, this is what it looks like, I'd call that tripled:
I have a french linen bread cloth, tres fancy!  You do NOT need a linen bread cloth from anywhere.  I made this bread on a board just fine, on a tea towel with some flour on it just fine.  I treated myself recently to the cloth as part of my birthday present gift card money.  Although super cool and handy, I wouldn't buy myself one from the grocery money, ya know?

Flour your fingertips and tip the dough (goo) onto the board/cloth/table.  Sprinkle a little flour on it and flip it a time or two to make a ball, we aren't kneading here, just flipping it over, try to keep whatever air there is in the dough.  Be gentle.
I cut the dough in half to get two smaller loaves. Press the half flat to an oval about 16 inches long with your  fingertips
Fold the top third down and the bottom third just up over the seam and pinch
I let them rise a bit seam side up on the cloth, covered, while the oven preheats to 475.  About 15 minutes.
I cook the loaves together, on a stone.  I tend to break oven stones, frequently, so I am often without one.  If you don't have one, put a cookie sheet in the oven upside down and bake them on that.  You can transfer the loaves on parchment paper and cook them a bit before you remove it, slide the dough onto the stone with a peel or another cookie sheet.

Bake for 45 minutes! REALLY! IF you are having a nervous breakdown about leaving them in the oven so long, so hot, you can go in and futz with them, turn them, spin them or flip them upside down (i do that about 30 minutes in) to help keep the air bubble/hole structure more even. I don't know if it makes that much of a difference, but I do like to feel involved. 
Flip, gently, onto the peel.  I guess the proper term is 'roll' the dough onto the peel (or parchment).  Use your favorite serrated knife and slice a pattern.  I went slash on one loaf and x's on the other
Slip them into the screaming hot oven and set the timer for 30 (we're going to check them at 30)

At 30 minutes, this is how they look!  I flip them over and cook for another 15 minutes
Oooooooooooh, look!! I flipped again for 5 more.
Onto a cooling rack... and we wait...  
Cool about 30 minutes before you slice into this. LISTEN to that crust! 
I made a youtube video of the slicing into it on my tracycooksinaustin channel; here is the link:

Here are some random beauty shots.  It's absolutely delicious.  Hard crusty outside and soft, slightly pully (yeah, that's a culinary term) inside with a fabulous flavor and texture.
Not bad for a little flour, water, yeast, sugar and salt and a bit of waiting time.  I like to dunk this in ANYthing, it's great for sopping up soups and stews or sliced thin and toasted with garlic rubbed on it... killer!

Go make this...  seriously...

It will stay hard/crusty until you wrap it. I wrap my bread in foil and keep it on the counter. It reheats BEAUTIFULLY and comes back very hard and crusty.

I never keep bread longer than 2 days. If I have some left, I make bread crumbs with it and keep it in Ziploc bags in the freezer or make croutons with it, and then freeze or just toss it to my chickens who absolutely love the stuff.

Ok, your turn, go make this bread and let me know how it turns out for you!! 

YAY for Kitchen Alchemy!!



  1. Replies
    1. thank you! I work hard to alchemy this stuff and when it works, it's such a beautiful thing!

  2. yeah, I need to be doing that

  3. looks absolutely amazing

  4. You did it! Perfect ciabatta!! Well done! The photos are great......very instructive. It makes it look easy! :) You can freeze this bread easily too as a whole loaf. Just turn the oven on and throw the frozen bread in as it's heating up. Leave it for 9 - 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the bread) and it'll be almost like new. I do this all the time at home as I hate to waste all that hard work! Also to revive it if it's a bit stale: sprinkle it with water, wrap it in aluminium foil and ut it in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Then, take the foil oven and put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. It comes out as thoughyou've just baked it fresh.

  5. Maybe I'm blind but what temperature do you bake these loaves at? My dough is currently rising (or at least I hope it is!,hehe) Also, I had to add a fair bit more water as my dough mixture was SO dry.

  6. Thank you for your recipe! With a little adaptation - using whole meal- and a.p. spelt flour and only 1 tsp. of yeast - I had a tasty result with a perfect crust!