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.
What is the difference between French bread and Italian bread?
Most people think these two breads are basically the same, but they vary quite a bit. They are different is size, shape, and ingredients. French bread is long and thin while Italian bread is shorter and rounder in nature. French bread typically has a hard crust while Italian bread is chewier.
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!
More bread recipes:
- Mom’s Easy French Bread Recipe
- My Favorite Go-To Sourdough Bread Recipe
- Jolyn’s Extra Soft White Bread Recipe
- Mom’s Jumbo Dinner Rolls
Rustic Italian Bread
- 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
- ¼ tsp instant yeast
For the dough:
- 3-3 ½ cups bread flour
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1 ¼ cups warm water
- 2 tsp salt
To make the sponge:
- 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:
- 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.
- 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 ½ 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat the previous step after the 30 minutes are up and then let it rise for a second 30 minutes.
- 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 ½ hours.
- 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).
- When the dough has doubled, score the top with a razor blade, diagonally and ½ 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.
- 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.
- Prep Time: 8 hours
- Cook Time: 45 min
- 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.
Serving suggestions for Rustic Italian Bread:
- Any soup or stew is great, such as The Best Instant Pot Broccoli and Cheese Soup
- Slow Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup
- Quick and Easy Tortellini Soup with Spinach
- Instant Pot Split Pea Soup
- It's also great with all things pasta/Italian such as, Easy Slow Cooker Vegetable Lasagna
- The Best One Pot Baked Ziti
- One Pot Pasta Primavera
- And for a great side to simple proteins, just add some fresh fruit and a salad, and call it a meal with Perfect and Simple Grilled Fish Fillets
- The Best Baked Chicken Legs
First, you make a sponge which is just flour, water, and a tiny bit of yeast. Then you let it sit for 6-24 hours. Once it has sat for the recommended time, you mix up the dough and add the sponge.
This will be your go-to Italian bread recipe because it is soft on the inside, chewy on the outside, and compliments any meal perfectly.
First time making this bread and it came out great!!
Will be making it again.
Kevin in Florida
A well risen sourdough bread is nearly a spiritual experience! This recipe is all that and more if you go the full 24 hour proofing of the sponge. I swear that it doubles the aromatic super-powers of this bread. I read the concerns of some folks regarding working with a (very) well hydrated dough. All that I can offer is for those who are troubled with this is to keep practicing the handling of these extremely wet doughs and remember to tuck the sides under the loaf for the final rise. Also, to reduce the flattening of the loaf during the final rise, after covering with plastic wrap I rolled up 2 tea towels and laid the along either side of the loaf to help it rise up higher instead of out wider.
just made it!!! super nice altho I have to agree thr dough was horribly sticky despite following all steps, not sure why
i have tried this recipe a couple of times but each time after the last 1 hour rise it clasps when I take plastic wrap off.
what am I doing wrong?
It sounds like your bread is proofing really quickly. I would reduce that last rise by 20-30 minutes and spray the plastic with cooking spray so that it doesn't stick to the plastic!
This recipe sounds amazing. I am going to start it tonight. I love the name of your blog. I have always planned to write a cookbook called "Make a Mess Cookery". We seem to think a lot alike. Always enjoy your recipes.
Great recipe. I have been baking a lot of bread during COVID-19 and this one is the best one
I have a question. I don't have instant yeast. Since you are proofing the yeast, can regular yeast be used?
Yep, it'll work great!
Most of my attempts at bread making over the years have been fails. The final product of this recipe was a success. The bread is chewy and flavorful. Hot out of the oven last night, the crust was almost too crunchy - but the bread was delicious with some peach preserves slathered on top. I didn't wait for it to cool completely before wrapping it in foil. A few hours later, when I sliced it up to put it in the freezer, the crust was much softer. The piece I left out for breakfast this morning made a lovely bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich once lightly toasted.
A few observations:
1. After the 20 minute rest, although my dough was sticking only to the bottom, not the sides of my mixing bowl, it stuck to my floured surface so much that I had to scrape it off and lost some that just wouldn't scrape free. (I used floured parchment paper - next time I will go with a large marble board or just the granite counter top surface.) It really did not form a smooth round ball. It was more of a blob. I didn't add the extra half cup of flour in the bowl, but ended up using about that much on the floured surface and my hands while trying to work with it.
2. Forming the loaf was challenging. The dough seemed enormous, and was very sticky - difficult to form into any actual shape.
3. I had my pizza stone heating in the oven, but found the loaf was much too large for it. I kept the loaf on an overturned baking pan for the last rise, so I just removed the plastic wrap and sat the pan over top the pizza stone.
At several points, I thought I had done something wrong because the dough was so sticky and difficult to work with. As another reviewer commented, a video would be great. That said, I am grateful for the recipe and the delicious loaf of bread. I have been planning to make bread since the pandemic began, but was only recently able to get my hands on some bread flour. I hope this is the first of many pandemic loaves to come!
Thank you for the input, I'll work on a video! And after working with sourdough extensively this year I'm realizing brand and type of flour play a huge role in this type of bread making too. I'll make some notes in the recipe.
I used King Arthur Bread Flour. I heated a piece I had frozen the other day in the oven tonight to accompany a piece of (also frozen) homemade lasagna. Delicious homemade food in the freezer to reheat is better than money in the bank!
This bread looks delicious! Many Italian bread recipes I have found include olive oil in the ingredients, apparently to add more depth of flavor. If I were to add olive oil, how much do you think would be a good amount? Thanks for your help!
Do you have a video for this recipe?
No but it's on my list to update! Thank you for reminding me!
If using a baking sheet do you have to preheat that?
Yes, I preheat the baking sheet, it won't take as long to preheat though, I do like 10-15 min.
Could I use a pizza stone to bake this on?
Yes that'll work perfect for this recipe! Just preheat the stone like you would when making a pizza.
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.
Glad you got the results you were hoping for! There's just something about fresh homemade bread, isn't there?
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.
Such a great compliment and review, thank you. And yes, making two smaller loaves works really well too. ENJOY!
Kind of confusing with the 10 inch square and the tornado shape, then the seam down, and ending up with a skinny 16 inch loaf
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.
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!