Braided Italian Loaf

My go-to holiday bread. I can make it earlier in the day, leaving my oven free for everything else.

Keely

Ingredients

biga

  • 2 cups unbleached bread flour
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast

dough

  • 2 – 2 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt

 

  • sesame seeds
  • 1 egg

Instructions

The night before, combine the biga ingredients with 1 cup of cool water in a large glass bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let rise overnight, or at least 6 hours.

 

Add ½ cup of cool water to the biga and mix until smooth. Add flour, yeast and salt. Knead until fairly smooth (about 3 minutes w/ a mixer or 5 minutes by hand). Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a tea towel. Rise at room temperature for 90 minutes, deflating the dough and turning it over every 30 minutes.

 

Preheat oven to 425º. Divide the dough into thirds. With your hands, form into a rope approximately 18-22″ long. Braid the three ropes, pinching the beginning and end, tucking them underneath loaf. Place bread on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Loaf should be puffy, but not so puffy that the braid begins to separate.

 

Beat 1 egg white with 1 T of water and gently brush over top and sides of loaf. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Tips

For best results… 

While the dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand, it is much easier if you use a bread machine (dough setting) or a mixer fitted with a dough hook.

 

Fill a plant mixer with warm water. Spritz the oven several times before placing the bread in the oven, and several times during the first 10-15 minutes of cooking for a crispy crust.

 

Never use metal bowls for bread making. While they make fancy bowls just for bread, a simple glass bowl will do the trick.

 

A non-stick cooking spray like Pam is perfect for greasing your bowl and pan.

 

First rule of bread making – if it feels wrong it is wrong. Dough crumbly? Don’t be afraid to add water. Dough so sticky it turns to goo? More flour is in order. Perfectly measured ingredients will not make perfect bread. Follow your intuition instead.

 

Last but not least, always serve homemade bread with real butter. Faux butter and real bread…makes me cringe just thinking about it.