Homemade Italian Bread

5 from 3 reviews

This easy homemade Italian bread needs only 4 simple ingredients. It makes the most amazing loaf of bread with a fluffy center and extra crusty exterior! The perfect side for soups and sauces.

A-maz-ing. That is the only way to describe this rustic Italian bread. It is dense and wonderfully chewy on the outside while being super soft and fluffy on the inside. When I am asked to bring bread to dinner at a friend’s, I always make this because it is stunning. There’s something magical about simple ingredients like flour, water, salt, and yeast working together with time. This bread tastes just like any good loaf of crusty bread you’d find at a high end bakery but you can make it at home.

You might be wondering – what’s the secret to making rustic Italian bread like they do in Italy?

The answer: a sponge.

A sponge is a magical little concoction of flour, yeast, and water that you make the day before and let sit for 24 hours before making the bread. You simply mix those three things together in a bowl and let it sit. The sitting is what leads to the magic. It is then added in with the rest of the ingredients when you make the loaf of bread. The sponge adds this amazing (and hard to describe) flavor and also does something magical to the gluten. The texture of the bread is so soft and chewy in the middle while the crust is still dense and delicious. The taste of this Italian bread is amazing and the texture cannot be matched.

This Italian bread recipe will scare you a bit at first, but once you make it the first time, you will make it again and again. I love making “slow foods” like this. There’s something very therapeutic about taking your time with simple ingredients, especially when the end result is so delicious.

Homemade Italian Bread

Tips and Tricks for Making Perfect Italian Bread:

  • The bread flour makes for a chewier loaf, but in a pinch I’ve used all-purpose flour and the results were still worth the effort. (Bread flour has a high protein content and a high gluten content which helps the bread to be chewy.)
  • The longer the sponge sits, the more developed the flavor will be. Try to let it set for 24 hours if you can.
  • Don’t skip the initial 20 minute rest and the two light in-bowl “kneadings” with the spatula – these help the gluten to develop and are what make the bread chewy on the outside but fluffy in the middle.
  • You bake this bread on a baking stone. If you don’t have one, an upside down cookie sheet works well, too!

Rustic Italian Bread

  • Author: Melissa Griffiths - Bless this Mess
  • Prep Time: 8 hours
  • Cook Time: 45 min
  • Total Time: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1 large loaf 1x


Rustic Italian Bread made with only 4 simple ingredients and some time, which makes the most amazing loaf of bread. The outside is extra crusty and the center is wonderfully fluffy and light.



For the sponge:

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast

For the dough:

  • 33 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 tsp salt


To make the sponge:

  1. Mix the flour, water, and yeast together in a medium bowl until it resembles dough. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 6 to 24 hours.

To make the dough:

  1. Add 3 cups of the flour and yeast to the bowl of your stand mixer. With the dough hook attached, turn the mixer to low and slowly add the water while the mixer is running. Let this mix for 2 minutes until the dough starts to come together. Lift the head of your stand mixer and place a piece of plastic wrap tightly over the bowl. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
  2. After the 20 minute rest, remove the plastic wrap and add your sponge and salt. Mix on medium low speed for 8 minutes. After 4 minutes, if the dough is sticking to the side of the bowl add the last 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time until the dough stops sticking to the edges of the bowl but is still sticking to the bottom (you do want it to stick to the bottom). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a smooth round ball.
  3. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about an hour.
  4. After the dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap. Using a large spatula, gently fold the dough into itself by pulling the edge of the dough into the middle. Do this a few times all around the edge of the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.
  5. Repeat the previous step after the 30 minutes are up and then let it rise for a second 30 minutes.
  6. After the second 30 minutes of rising, it’s time to form the loaf. Remove the dough from the bowl and gently press it into a 10-inch square without tearing it. Fold each corner into the middle and then gently roll the dough into a tornado shape. Place the dough, seam down, on a rimless baking sheet (or one that is upside-down) that is lined with parchment paper. Gently tuck the dough into place on the parchment. You should end up with a long thin loaf that is 16 inches long. Lightly mist the dough with cooking oil and then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  7. While the dough is rising, prep the oven and your baking stone. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Let the baking stone heat for 30 minutes (but not longer than an hour).
  8. When the dough has doubled, score the top with a razor blade, diagonally and 1/2 inch deep and spray lightly with water. CAREFULLY slide the loaf and the parchment onto the hot baking stone in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
  9. After 10 minutes reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 more minutes until the crust is a deep golden brown. Let the loaf cool on a wire rack until it is room temperature before serving (about 2 hours cooling time).


  • The bread flour makes for a chewier loaf, but in a pinch, I’ve used all-purpose flour and the results were still worth the effort.
  • The longer the sponge sits, the more developed the flavor will be.Try to let it set for 24 hours if you can.
  • Don’t skip on the initial 20 minute rest and the two light in-bowl “kneading” with the spatula – these help the gluten to develop and are what make the bread chewy on the outside while being fluffy in the middle.
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: homemade italian bread, easy italian bread recipe, how to make bread at home, simple bread recipe

I’m telling you what – make this once and you’ll be making it over and over again. It’s such a great crusty bread recipe and it’s a whole lot of fun to make, too.

Homemade Italian Bread

Serving suggestions for Rustic Italian Bread:

Enjoy the smell of this bread cooking in your oven, from my kitchen to yours!

This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated in April 2018.

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38 Recipes for Busy Moms
43 Responses
  1. I have been trying forever to make the “perfect “ bread unsuccessfully until O found this recipe.
    Amazing results. It takes a while but it worth it.
    As they say, do not make short cuts. The result is as good as the recipe promises.
    I dedicated the whole weekend trying to understand and replicate the steps.
    It was Sunday at 10 PM when i was able to finally see and taste the final product.

    1. Melissa

      Glad you got the results you were hoping for! There’s just something about fresh homemade bread, isn’t there?

  2. This was the best bread I ever ate and I am a 55 yr old 1st generation Italian! Very difficult to make and work with the highly sticky sponge and doe and all the rising and time/effort but worth it. Will make again except it was WAY to big so I am going to make it as written but cut doe in half for 2 smaller loaves. Fantastic bread – thanks.

  3. Sherry

    Please explain the sponge bread method,
    I have never heard of it and sounds fun, similar to Sourdough bread.
    I printed your Rustic Italian bread recipe out but don’t get what to do with the dough that has been sitting for 24 hours.
    Thank you

    1. Melissa

      Sherry, if you read through the recipe, you’ll see that you add the sponge to the bread on the second day when you mix together the rest of the ingredients for the loaves. The purpose is that if gives the wheat time to start breaking down which helps it to be more chewy and have a better texture. I think you should try it, it’s SO GOOD!

  4. Juno

    loved your recipe but while making the sponge i realized my yeast was 4 years old so instead used my yeast from the last beer I made ….awesome and thanks for your concise recipe !

  5. Michael Hagedorn

    I made your bread recipe with a couple of minor adjustments, I used 1/4 cups of sour dough starter, no yeast, in the sponge, followed the recipe to a T for the rest, then I divided into two loaves, the bread is fantastic ,I would recommend it to anyone. Five stars without a doubt. Next time though I will check my schedule, a little time consuming ?

  6. Diane

    Turned out wonderful!! I think I may try it at slightly higher temperature for more caramelization though. Also didn’t use parchment paper in the oven and cooked it directly on the baking stone. That eliminates any smoking or burning of the paper

  7. Casi Head

    I am bummed… only because I got super excited and after reading reviews knew I wanted a double batch…takes so long with all the rise times so I figured I should just make extra during the same time frame. The dough came out fine, and I divided the bread into 4 loaves. I had to use both racks, and at 500, the bottom ones along with the parchment burned in the first 6 minutes of baking. I took them off the parchment and put them all onto one big sheet on the top rack when i reduced to 400 (after taking the battery out of the smoke alarm), but the damage was done on the bottom two loaves for sure. Still can’t wait to eat the unburned ones and maybe next time I will try to contain my excitement and just make a single batch. thanks for the recipe!

  8. Cindy

    I made this tonight and it was amazing!!!!! I have been trying for long to make a loaf of bread like this. It was absolutely beautiful and perfect, chewy outside while light and airy inside. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  9. Melissa

    Hi! I just tried making this recipe and I had a bit of trouble with the part where the dough needs to be shaped into a square, them the corners get folded inward toward the center and finally roll into a tornado shape. Could you elaborate a bit on each of those steps? I feel there is some information that could be added. Also, pictures, pictures would be great!!

    1. Such great tips! I’ll have to make it again and take lots of pictures. The idea is that you are folding up the dough to make the loaf shape (instead of kneading or squishing it) so that it traps lots of air pockets so the bread is holey and wonderful. I’ll make some improvements to the post though, thank you!

  10. Giovanna

    This recipe was so awesome!! I didn’t have bread flour. And my kids and husband devoured it!! Yum yum. I paired it with homemade chicken stew. I also added the water first and let the yeast bloom first.

  11. I love this book too, and my husband also bought our copy – except that he bought it for himself. Then I ended up taking over the cooking and I’m so glad that he bought it. He was the first one to watch their TV show too. Since that company has basically taught me how to cook, I shudder to think if I had started with any one else’s cookbooks that might not have been nearly as good!

  12. Jodi Papineau

    I preheated the stone at 500* but then lowered oven to 400 and cooked the loaf, which was so big I had to place it on the stone diagonally. It took 35 minutes till done! Came out amazing! I just didn’t want to chance the alarm going off. All worked out well though! I’m normally a white bread baker and hand kneader at that so this was my first Italian bread. I will try the standard recipe that uses olive oil and normal rises etc., but I’m sure yours will be the clear winner! Family devoured this bread like a pack of vultures! Grand babies loved it too. Great for teething molars!

    1. Jodi Papineau

      Update…your recipe won! I have been making it exclusively now. Hubby is waiting patiently (11:15 pm here) for the formed loaf to rise and then bake! Earlier, I made self rising pizza dough using the extra sponge from yesterday and adding olive oil. Came out fabulous! Thank you for this recipe!

      1. Melissa

        SOOO glad it worked!!! It’s a lot of work (well, time anyways) but it’s SO worth the effort. Congrats for trying and it turning out awesome.

    1. Melissa

      I thought the same thing but America’s Test Kitchen bakes with it at super high temps all the time! It definitely gets charred but mine does’t smoke. Let me know how it goes!

  13. USED2B718

    America’s Test Kitchen is the best. I made sure to get a scale (more accurate) to ensure that my latest foray into baking would be successful. To be honest, I’m a little bit of a snob when it comes to recipes that are based upon weight v. volume. Weight all the way.

  14. BeccaMarie

    Yum. I am going to have to invest in some bread flour. I’ve only ever bought whole wheat and white, but sometimes I think I am missing out. This looks amazing. Your photos are amazing.

    1. Jill Dietz

      OMG! This is the BEST bread I have ever made and I’ve made a lot of bread! It very closely resembles the Italian bread I had as a child (Villa’s Italian Bread in Glens Falls, NY) that I can no longer get because I no longer live there. The crust is so chewy and is even more delicious toasted. I will be making this many more times and it will definitely be my go-to recipe!

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Bless This Mess - About Me

I’m Melissa, and I want to help you feed your family wholesome food.

As a hobby farmer and mom of five, I’m all about keeping it simple in the kitchen. I want healthy meals that feed my family well, and then I want to get back to my (messy) life. Let’s work together to find something yummy for your dinner table.

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