Italian Bread

I'm baking bread this morning. A little more on this after the caveat...

When we moved to California a year ago we found a little Congregational Church. This is the denomination that I grew up with. Until I was 12 years old and moved to SC, where there are no Congregational Churches-that is.

Then we converted to Methodist. Even though I've enjoyed my time in the Methodist Church, it's never felt like home. I spent a lot of years trying to find my spiritual home after high school. I went to a Catholic school up until we moved to SC too. Catholicism was not an option, as I think women should be treated as equals in the life of the church. Not to mention that I have several gay friends and family members,whom I love dearly, and I feel they are no less worthy of God's love than I. This personal belief put a HUGE wedge between me and most religions.

I moved to Japan in 1999. I found Buddhism. It was great for a while, and to this day I still meditate occasionally, but after a time even this lost it's luster. I have added up all the time I've spent looking for a spiritual home and it comes to 22 years! That is a long time to search for a home for one's soul.

Then as I mentioned we moved to California and I rediscovered the Congregational Church. I was over-joyed. The moment I walked into the place, it felt like years of grief and longing to find my home had come to an end. At the end of our first visit to the Tehachapi Community Congregational Church I was hooked! This was my childhood church home, and it was my church home again.

I've spent 22 years searching for my way back to where I had come from! I was home. Now I have been slowly becoming more and more active in the life of my new/old church. A few months ago I offered to bake the bread fresh every month for Communion Sunday (the first Sunday of each month). Naturally I was told to knock myself out with this task!!! I guess having been a pastry chef for a few days qualifies me to produce the Body of Christ.

Needless to say..it has become one of my greatest joys, and I look forward to the Saturday before the first Sunday of each month as my special time to commune with God, bake some bread, and feel like I'm doing something truly worthwhile with my skills. Not to mention, the congregation definitely prefers the 'rustic Italian Loaf" to the Wonder Bread we were getting.

SO...Today I am baking Bread! It's a very easy recipe, and so yummy that I just had to share it-

Italian Bread
(Yields 2 loafs)

5 cups bread flour ( I use King Author Flour exclusively)
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1& 1/2 Tbs. yeast
2 cups warm (110F) water
1/3 cup olive oil
Place the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the dough hook in place. stir the yeast into the warm water. Once the yeast is dissolved pour into the flour mix. Add the olive oil and turn the machine on to its lowest setting. Allow the dough to knead for 10 full minutes (set a timer). Once the dough is done, remove it from he bowl, coat the bowl with a little olive oil and return the dough. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic and place in a warm dark spot for 60-90 minutes until the dough is over doubled in size.

Meanwhile, Cut a piece a parchment paper to fit a sheet pan. Once the dough is ready remove it from the bowl and divide in half. knead the dough by hand for 3-5 minutes, shape each half into a ball,  and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Place one ball on a smooth, lightly floured surface. Place you hands on top of the ball and with a back and forth motion, spread the dough out into a worm shape about 14 inches long. Repeat this with the other dough ball. Place the loaves onto the sheet pan lengthwise and cover lightly with plastic. Allow the dough to rise once more for 20-30 minutes.

While the dough is rising; preheat your oven to 500F. Once the loaves are ready, sprinkle them liberally with flour, score the tops several time in a diagonal fashion, and place in the hot oven. Turn the over to 450F and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn the pan 180 degrees, lower the over to 300F and bake for 20 minutes more. Remove the loaves to a wire rack and allow to cool before storing in a cool dry place for up to 48 hours. After that wrap them tightly and place in the fridge or freezer for long term storage.

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