The recipe below is one of my favorite bread recipes. It is a sourdough that is made without a starter. The longer you let the sponge sit, the more sour the dough. It is not considered a true sourdough by some. We like it, and that is all that matters.
I found the “Italian” version is similar to the ones at the store with a soft crust and a very light, subtle flavor. The “French” version has the chewy crust. The length of time you let the sponge sour sets the flavor to what one prefers. I rarely make this version, preferring the soft crust. That is the beauty of this recipe, you can easily change different sourness or the type of crust to suit what you like the most. Enjoy!
Classic Italian or French Bread
makes 2 large, 4 medium or 8 sandwich loaves
2 tbsp yeast (2 pkgs)
1 tsp to tbsp honey or sugar (optional)
2-1/2 cups warm water
7-1/2 to 8 cups flour, divided
2 tsp salt
cold water or melted butter
for French Bread version (optional):
1 egg white blended with 1 tbsp water for glaze
Sponge for Both Types:
Make this the night before or at least 8 hours before making the rest of the recipe or let sit for 24 to 48 hours to make a more sour-flavored bread.
Dissolve the yeast and the touch of honey or sugar (if using) in the water. Add 2-1/2 cups of the flour. Stir well with a whisk to thoroughly blend the mixture.
I take a spatula and scrap the sides down into the to-be sponge mixture before covering. You do not have to do this. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap. Secure with a giant rubber-band or drape a tea towel over the top and tuck the sides under the bowl. Let the sponge sit for at least 8 hours or overnight so the sponge slightly sours. The longer it sits, the sourer it gets. Go for 24 to 48 hours if you like a more soured flavor.
When your sponge has “aged” the length of time desired:
Stir in the salt and the remaining 5-1/2 cups of the flour for the total 8 cups. If you live in a very dry area, hold out 1/2 cup of the flour and only work it in if the dough is too sticky. Knead until the dough is very soft and smooth- 5 minutes to 20 minutes. I do 5 to 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball. Butter a large bowl. Place the dough ball into the bowl, turn the dough to coat and cover with a damp tea cloth. Let rise until doubled or tripled- 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Punch down the dough and knead 2 minutes. Cover and let the dough rest another 10 minutes. Divide into 2, 4 or 8 balls, depending on whether you want 2 large loaves, 4 medium loaves or 8 sandwich rolls. Shape the dough into long thin loaves. I am sure you can make round ones if you wish. Place on a buttered or oiled baking sheet. Cover the loaves with the damp tea towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled- about 1 hour.
Italian Bread version
This version has the soft crust, whether you brush the loaves with butter or not.
Preheat oven to 350°F to 375°F. I found this oven temperature better for the soft crust bread, compared to the French version below. Slash the tops of the loaves or rolls with 3 slashes. Brush melted butter or water over the loaves before baking, if wished.
If you want to do multiple brushings of the melted butter or water: Bake the loaves for 15 minutes. Brush the loaves again and bake another 20 minutes or until the bread tests done. Place on wire racks to cool, brushing the loaves with melted butter after removing from the oven.
If you do not want to do multiple brushings of butter or water: Bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes, rolls for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool, brushing with melted butter, if wished, after removing from the oven.
French Bread version
This version has the hard, chewy crust.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Once the oven reaches temp, on the rack below the middle-placed oven rack, place a shallow pan with 2 cups of boiling water in it on the rack below.
Slash the loaves like described above. Whip together the egg white and water glaze. Brush over the loaves. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes. Brush the loaves with the egg white-water glaze and remove the roasting pan with water from the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, or until the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Brush the loaves a third time 5 minutes before removing from the oven. Place on wire racks to cool.