Italian Bread

Once you make homemade bread, you’ll never go back to buying bread. This overnight Italian bread is my new favorite. The crust is crispy and chewy but the crumb is so tender and fluffy. It’s perfect as toast, for sandwiches, grilled cheeses, dipping in soups or dips, etc.  

Why You’ll love this Italian bread

  1. I mean I don’t know about you, but if I have one weakness, it’s homemade bread. 
  2. This recipe only uses like 5 simple ingredients, which you most likely already have. 
  3. Very minimal hands on time and can be refrigerated to prolong rising. 

I have a website where I post a ton of dessert recipes but the truth is, bread is my weakness. I love bread. I’ve been making bread on and off for the last 6 years but really haven’t posted my own recipe until that’s all my kids wanted to eat so my first bread recipe on here was my Sandwich bread. But you better believe I’ll be posting more! 

I also have a chocolate croissant recipe but skip the chocolate and you have a fabulous homemade croissant. 

What is Italian Bread?

There are sooooo many types of breads and so many different recipes for each type of bread. 

Artisan bread is traditionally lean, meaning it’s just made of just flour, salt, yeast and water. Brioche dough is very enriched, meaning we’ve added sugar, butter, eggs and/or milk. This Italian bread is only slightly enriched, even less than my sandwich bread – I add just a tiny bit of fat like butter or olive oil. 

Even Italian bread has so many different types like focaccia, ciabatta, etc. This bread is inspired by a bread I had at an Italian restaurant that was to die for. The crust is crispy and chewy but the crumb is so tender and fluffy.

It’s a no-knead bread and it still holds a great shape thanks to the stretch and fold method and of course, the long overnight rise time.

How To Make Italian Bread

Making bread sounds more intimidating than it is. It’s a very simple process, it’s just more of a timely matter. This is a no-knead bread but giving it time to rise overnight is essential for the structure and flavor. 

  • Flour: I use both all-purpose flour and bread flour for this recipe and both work totally fine. I like bread flour best because the higher gluten content gives it a better structure and chew. 
  • Water: I use warm water but it really doesn’t matter here. I don’t even “activate” my active dry yeast so as long as the water isn’t very hot, the temperature doesn’t really matter. 
  • Yeast: this recipe works with both active dry yeast and instant yeast. I follow the same process for both, I don’t even activate my active dry yeast, I just add it in with all of the ingredients and let it rest overnight.
    • You’ll notice that for 5 cups (600g) of flour, I only have ½ tsp of yeast. That’s because when you let something rise for a long time, you don’t need nearly as much. The more you add, the quicker it will rise but it will lack structure and flavor. 
  • Fat: I initially made this bread without fat, just water, salt, yeast and flour. However, after I tried that bread at the Italian restaurant, the crumb was so tender I knew they had to have some fat added to the dough. I prefer butter, but avocado or olive oil work just as well. The photos are made with olive oil so you can see the inside is a bit spongier and darker in color than it would be with butter.
  • Mixing: I simply just mix everything together in a bowl until it comes together. The dough is VERY sticky and shaggy so I use a stand mixer with a hook attachment because that’s just easier but you can use a spatula, a danish dough whisk or your hand.
    • After the dough is mixed, I do two series of stretches and folds to strengthen the gluten.
  • Proofing: Dough proofs best at room temperature or slightly warmer. The colder the room, the slower the rise will be. Since this is rising overnight, I like to keep it at room temperature, preferably below 75F (24C). 

What kind of yeast to use for overnight bread

The recipe is written using active dry yeast because that’s what I had on hand but if you want to substitute it for instant yeast, just follow the same instructions. 

Unlike instant yeast, active dry yeast usually needs to be activated by combining the warm water with the yeast in a large cup, mixing it and letting it rest for 10 minutes. The water should develop a thick layer of foam on top. I skipped this. I saw someone use active dry yeast without activating it first so I tried it and it worked. I believe activating it would make it work quicker in a recipe that is used right away but because this is rising overnight, I just mixed everything in a bowl together at the same time, like you would for instant yeast. 

Kneading the dough

I don’t knead this dough. I mix it just until it’s all combined. The dough gets really sticky so let it rest for about an hour. Then you’ll perform two series of stretches and folds to strengthen the gluten and then just let it rest overnight. 

Stretch and Folds

If you’re at all familiar with sourdough, you’ll likely know what this is lol. But basically instead of kneading, we will stretch the dough out and fold it over itself to develop the gluten. The stretching will help the gluten build strength to give it structure so you get a nice big oven spring. 

You’ll start by just grabbing one side of the dough, stretch it out as far as it goes without tearing and then fold it over top of the rest of the dough. Do that four times, turning the bowl 90 degrees each time so every side of the dough is stretched. See the video above for a better reference.  

Let it rest for 30-60 minutes and then repeat this again. 

Since the dough is quite sticky at this point, run your hands under cold water between every stretch. This will prevent the dough from sticking to your hand as much. 

What temperature to proof dough at?

You want to make sure your dough is proofing at a comfortable temperature. I prefer room temperature because it’s been rising for so long, so try to keep it somewhere around 75F (24C).

The dough can also be proofed in the refrigerator. This is called a retarding proof because it really slows down the process. The benefit of this is that you can just pop the dough in the fridge for a longer period of time and the dough will develop a stronger flavor if it rises for longer. I would do at least 18 hours, and up to 72 hours, if you’re going to refrigerate it overnight though. 

You can refrigerate the dough overnight for the first proof but then shape it and bring it back to room temperature before baking.

Rising and Proofing the dough 

Rising and proofing are typically used interchangeably but the initial ‘resting time’ is actually the ‘rising’ and the second ‘resting time’ is the ‘proofing’. The time needed for rising/proofing is dependent on the recipe and the environment. 

Typically with instant yeast, a lot of recipes allow you to skip the first rise and just let the dough relax for just 10-30 minutes instead, before shaping the dough. For this bread, you will need to let it rise and proof fully. The initial overnight rise is what builds structure and flavor so don’t skip it. 

A general guideline for proofing and rising is that the dough should double in size each time. It should also slowly spring back when you press on it, but also leave a small indent. This is not the case here. The initial overnight rise will cause the dough to get really loose and bubbly and jiggly, there’s no poking and springing back happening here lol.

But for the second proof, that is kind of what you’re looking for, however it won’t exactly double in size. 

Before going into the oven, the dough should be tight enough to slowly spring back when you press on it. If it springs back quickly, then it needs more time to rise. If it doesn’t spring back at all and is quite flimsy, it is likely over-proofed and may result in a flat, deflated bread or just lack a good oven spring.

How to shape Italian bread

Again, she’s a sticky dough so when handling, you’ll want to use flour on the work surface and your hands. 

After it rises overnight, the dough will still be loose, however the gluten will have developed enough to hold itself together. You may get a little sticking to your fingers so flour your hands as well but overall, it should be able to be handled if you work quickly. 

Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Flour your hands and dust some more flour onto the dough. Lightly stretch it out into a rectangle. No need to roll it out thin or stretch it far, just try to get a rectangle going like in the photos. Then fold the top ⅓ down and then the bottom ⅓ on top of the top ⅓, like a letter that goes into an envelope. 

Then start at a short end and roll it up. You’ll have the layers on the side exposed so you’ll try to roll the ball of dough back and forth a little to close up the exposed layers. Watch the video above because it’s hard to explain lol.

How to bake Italian bread

My oven runs super hot on the bottom so besides pie, I pretty much bake everything on convection (which means the fan is circulating the heat around). I bake this bread at 450F (232C) in a dutch oven, for about 15 minutes with the lid on and then another 20ish minutes with the lid off. Most home ovens will adjust your temperature to 425F if you preheat it to 450F convection but my oven thermometer is reading 450F when I set it to 450F convection so make sure to get an oven thermometer for best results.

The internal temp should be at least 195F (90C) but mine is usually around 200F (93C).

Don’t go based on the color on the top because it can be done quicker before it darkens in color. I like the darker color so sometimes I leave it in there just a smidge longer or take the lid off sooner. Also don’t bother sticking a knife in there cuz that won’t do anything with dough.

If it’s fully baked, the bread should feel light when you pick it up though. 

How to serve Italian bread 

My personal favorite way to eat any bread is warm with European butter and flakey sea salt. I could literally live off that alone. 

I’ve also used this bread to make the absolute best sandwiches and I love it for avocado toast! It’s also great for soaking up things like dips, egg yolks or soups.

But if you just want to rub some garlic on it and serve it with olive oil and seasoning, she’s perf. 

How to slice bread

Although warm bread is sooooo delicious, it’s important to let your bread cool completely before slicing. This will make the bread the fluffiest it can be. If you slice it warm, it can become a little gummy.

Once it’s cooled, slice the bread in half. Then place the open side face down on the board and slice through the crust. Doing it this way will make it easier not to squish the bread as you’re slicing it.

How to store Italian bread

Obviously bread is always best fresh cuz there’s nothing like a warm slice of bread. However, this bread does keep really well! I leave it on the counter in a ziplock bag for 4-5 days and if it hasn’t gotten eaten by then, I refrigerate it for up to a week or freeze it for longer.

If it’s from the fridge I usually microwave it for 10 seconds for the kids or toast it for myself. If it dries out at all, just toast it and spread some butter or avocados on top and it’s good to go. 

If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the length but I hope this post is helpful to make the best crusty Italian bread at home!

If you make it, I’d love it if you left me a review or a star rating and as always, have a blessed day and happy baking!

Love, B

Italian bread sliced

Italian Bread

Once you make homemade bread, you’ll never go back to buying bread. This overnight Italian bread is my new favorite. The crust is crispy and chewy but the crumb is so tender and fluffy. It’s perfect as toast, for sandwiches, grilled cheeses, dipping in soups or dips, etc. 
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
18 hours
Total Time 18 hours 55 minutes
Course Breads
Cuisine Italian
Servings 16 slices
Calories 148 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

  • 480 mL (2 cups/16oz) water room temperature
  • 600 grams (5 cups) bread flour spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 15 grams (2 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 28 grams (2 Tbsp/1 oz) salted butter (softened or melted is fine) or oil

Instructions
 

  • In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water, flour, yeast, salt and butter (or oil).
    480 mL (2 cups/16oz) water, 600 grams (5 cups) bread flour, 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, 15 grams (2 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt, 28 grams (2 Tbsp/1 oz) salted butter
  • Use the hook attachment or just a wooden spoon or danish whisk to combine the ingredients just until all the flour is hydrated and the dough comes together.
  • Once the dough has all come together, cover it and let it rest for 30-60 minutes.
  • Run your hands under cold water and with a wet hand, grab the dough on one side and stretch it out as far as you can without tearing the dough. Fold it over the rest of the dough, turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat until you've gone around all four sides.
  • Rest the dough for another 30-60 minutes and repeat with another series of stretch and folds.
  • Cover it and let it rise at room temperature overnight – I usually do about 10 hours (which is 2 hours after you mixed the dough so 12 hours total).
  • The dough should be nice and bubbly in the morning. Scrape the dough away from the edge of the bowl, deflating the dough and then dump it onto a flour surface.
  • Stretch the dough out into a rectangle (don't roll it out, just gently stretch it out) and then fold the top 1/3 of the dough over the center. Repeat with the bottom, folding it on top of the rest of the dough – so it's like a letter going in an envelope.
  • Starting at the short end, roll it into a ball. Press the sides down to hide the creases on the sides and roll the dough ball around (see video) a little so it's a nice tight, round ball.
  • Crumple up a sheet of parchment paper and place it into a large bowl. Place the ball of dough into the bowl and cover it. Let it rise for another 60-90 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, place the dutch oven in the oven and preheat the oven to 425F (232C).
  • Gently press on the dough, it should spring back slowly – if it springs back quickly and still feels tight, let it rise longer. Dust with a little flour and then use a knife or a bread scoring knife to make a large slit and a couple of smaller ones in the dough.
  • Carefully remove the hot dutch oven from the oven, remove the lid and place the bread in the dutch oven with the parchment paper. Be very gentle so you don't deflate the bread.
  • Grab a few ice cubes and slide them underneath the parchment paper. I do about 3-4 around the edge of the bowl where there is a gap between the dough and the bowl (see video).
  • Place the lid back on top and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Remove the dutch oven from the oven and let the bread cool in it for 5-10 minutes, then remove the bread and let it cool on a wire rack until it's completely cooled.

Nutrition

Calories: 148kcalCarbohydrates: 27gProtein: 5gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.3gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.4gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 12mgPotassium: 39mgFiber: 1gSugar: 0.1gVitamin A: 44IUCalcium: 6mgIron: 0.3mg
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