How to Make a Big + Soft Loaf of Italian Bread (It’s Easy)

If you’re looking for a recipe that’ll give you that perfect big, soft, Italian-style loaf you’ve been dreaming of, this guide is your ticket to achieving that. My recipe is super easy to follow and breaks down all the steps in creating a delicious loaf.

There’s something deeply satisfying about baking bread at home. This is a great easy recipe to get you started.

Close-up of a soft Italian bread loaf with sesame seeds on the crust, sliced and arranged on a wooden surface.

Big, Soft Italian Loaf

A very soft and tender Italian loaf, perfect for slicing and serving with any meal.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 3 hours
Serving Size 10 slices

Ingredients 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dry powdered milk
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Instructions 

  • Mix Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl or the bucket of a bread machine, combine all the dough ingredients. Mix until the ingredients are well combined, and the dough is smooth but not sticky. Adjust with a little more flour or water if necessary. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
    A bowl containing a shaggy, un-kneaded bread dough with a wooden spoon on a marble countertop.
  • Knead the Dough: Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy, which should take about 10 minutes with a machine or 15-20 minutes by hand. If you're using a bread machine, you can let the DOUGH cycle complete this step.
    A bread dough inside a metal mixing bowl with a dough hook attachment, indicating the beginning of the kneading process.
  • Shape the Loaf: Instead of dividing the dough, shape the entire batch into a single large log that's slightly tapered at the ends, mimicking the shape of a baguette. This will encourage a uniform bake and create that classic, slightly elongated loaf shape.
    Step-by-step images showing the shaping of bread dough into a loaf on parchment paper.
  • First Rise: Place the shaped loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased to prevent sticking. Cover it with greased plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until nearly doubled in size.
    An elongated bread loaf sprinkled with sesame seeds on parchment paper before baking.
  • Bake: Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Once the loaf has risen, make several diagonal slashes on the top with a sharp knife. This helps the bread expand during baking. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
    A bread loaf with sesame seeds on parchment paper, showing diagonal slashes before the final rise.
  • Cool: Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing. This ensures the interior finishes setting and keeps the crust from becoming soggy.
    A freshly baked sesame-seeded bread loaf cooling on a wire rack, displaying a golden-brown crust.

Notes

I’ve got a little secret for you: skipping the egg wash and sesame seeds will give your loaf a delicious matte crust like that of a traditional baguette. But if you want an even softer crust, you can brush the loaf with olive oil as soon as it comes out of the oven.
This recipe is all about achieving a soft, tender interior with a light crust – perfect for those who love the soft, fluffy texture of grocery-store Italian bread.
Imagine tucking into this homemade delight with a hearty pasta dish, a comforting soup, or crafting the ultimate sandwich.
Bon appétit!

I’ve always had a soft spot for freshly baked bread, and this big, soft Italian loaf holds a special place in my heart. There’s something magical about pulling it out of the oven, golden brown, and filling the kitchen with that unbeatable aroma. It’s become a bit of a ritual in my house.

I love to start my weekend mornings by mixing the dough and letting it rise while I sip my coffee and catch up on my reading. By lunchtime, we’re slicing into it, the perfect companion to whatever we’re having.

My family teases me about my bread-making obsession, but they’re always the first in line, waiting for a warm slice. It’s not just bread; it’s a little piece of home made with love.

Overhead view of a soft Italian bread loaf with sesame seeds, cut into even slices, displayed on a wooden board.

Italian Bread Tips

  • Check Your Yeast: Freshness is crucial for the yeast to work. If you’re unsure about its activity, quickly test it in some warm water with a pinch of sugar. It should bubble and froth within 10 minutes. This little step can save you from disappointment.
  • Temperature Matters: The water you add to the mix should be warm but not hot, ideally between 105°F and 115°F. Too hot, and you risk killing the yeast; too cold, and it won’t activate properly.
  • Kneading Technique: Kneading develops gluten, which gives bread its texture. If doing it by hand, use the heel of your hand to push the dough away, then fold it back over itself, turning it a quarter turn each time. It’s a workout but think of it as part of the bread’s character.
  • First Rise Environment: Finding a warm spot without drafts is key for the first rise. Sometimes, an oven with just the light on (but turned off) can be an ideal spot, offering a consistent temperature without drafts.

Key Ingredients and Tools

  • Dry powdered milk. You can usually find this in the baking aisle or with the powdered beverages. It adds a tender texture to the bread by enriching the dough.
  • Instant yeast. This is typically located in the baking section, near the flour and sugar. Instant yeast is crucial for the bread’s rise, making the loaf light and airy.
  • Olive oil. Look for it in the oil and vinegar section. Olive oil contributes to the bread’s moist crumb and subtle flavor, adding a touch of richness.
Angled view of a sliced soft Italian bread loaf with sesame seeds, showcasing the airy interior and golden crust.
  • Large mixing bowl. This is where you’ll combine all your ingredients, ensuring there’s enough space to mix thoroughly without making a mess.
  • Bread machine (optional). If you have one, it can simplify the kneading process, ensuring consistent texture with less effort.
  • Baking sheet. Since this recipe doesn’t call for a traditional loaf pan, a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased is essential for shaping and baking the loaf.
  • Oven thermometer. Oven temperatures can vary, so an oven thermometer ensures you’re baking at the correct temperature for the perfect loaf.
  • Sharp knife or bread lame. This tool is crucial for slashing the top of the dough before baking, which helps the bread expand properly.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip, pasta with marinara sauce, minestrone soup, and a charcuterie board.

Troubleshooting and Help

Can I make this bread without a bread machine?

Absolutely! While a bread machine can make the kneading process a bit easier, you can definitely knead the dough by hand. It’ll take a bit more elbow grease and about 15-20 minutes, but it’s totally doable and actually quite satisfying.

What if I don’t have dry powdered milk?

No worries! If you don’t have dry powdered milk, you can substitute it with regular milk. Just use part of the water from the recipe in milk. So, if the recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of water, use about 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of milk instead.

How do I know if my bread is fully baked?

A good rule of thumb is to tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s usually done. Also, the crust should be a nice golden brown color. An instant-read thermometer can also help; bread is typically done when the internal temperature reaches around 190°F to 200°F.

Can I add ingredients like herbs or cheese to this bread?

Sure thing! Adding herbs like rosemary or thyme can give the bread a lovely flavor. Cheese can make it even more delicious; just add it when you’re mixing the dough. Just keep in mind that adding too much can affect how the bread rises.

Storing your big, soft Italian loaf properly is key to keeping it fresh and delicious. Here’s what you need to do:

Room Temperature:

  • Once completely cooled, wrap the loaf in plastic wrap or place it in an airtight bag. This will keep it from drying out.
  • Store it at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Freezing:

  • If you want to keep it longer, freezing is a great option. To prevent freezer burn, wrap the loaf tightly in plastic wrap and again in aluminum foil.
  • You can freeze the bread for up to 3 months.
  • When you’re ready to eat it, thaw the bread at room temperature while still wrapped. This helps retain moisture.

Reheating:

  • If you’d like to enjoy it warm, reheat the bread in an oven at 350°F (175°C) for about 10 minutes or until it’s warm throughout. If it’s frozen, extend the heating time a bit or thaw it first for quicker warming.

By following these storage tips, you can enjoy your homemade Italian loaf whenever you crave it, ensuring it remains as delicious as the day it was baked.

More to Italian Bread Recipes to Love

Don’t be afraid to experiment with adding herbs or cheeses, and always remember the satisfaction of pulling your own homemade loaf out of the oven.

Happy baking, and enjoy the wonderful journey of bread making!

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