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.
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 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:
- 3–3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/4 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 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.
- 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 1/2 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 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.
- 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.
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
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.