What is commonly known as Italian Bread in the states is something like French Bread but typically softer.
The dough typically contains some olive oil and dairy to soften things up, and instead of steaming the oven to maximize crust you brush the crust with water before placing it in the oven which keeps it softer and chewier. It is the perfect spongy bread for mopping up pasta sauces, and quite good on its own.
This is based on the recipe from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. I used a preferment: he does not. I’m not sure if it made a difference or not, but the way I made it turned out quite good.
Makes 2 large 2 pound loaves
1 cup water
1 cup bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
All of the preferment
5 cups bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon malt syrup, malt powder, brown sugar, or sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups water
To start the preferment, mix together the flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave out at room temperature for at least 4 hours and as long as 16 hours.
To make the dough, mix together the preferment, water, olive oil, yeast, salt, malt powder, and dry milk in a bowl with 2 more cups of flour. Mix thoroughly. Mix or knead in the rest of the flour a half a cup as a time until you have a slack dough but one that is no longer sticky. Total mixing time should be in the ballpark of 10 to 15 minutes.
Place the dough in a well-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until at least 2 times in size, approximately 2 hours. Punch the dough down and let it rise again for half an hour.
Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it in half. Shape the dough into a ball or log, cover with a damp towel, and allow it to relax for another 20 minutes.
Shape the dough into its final shape. Cover again and allow to rise for another hour until doubled in bulk.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven and baking stone, if you are using one, to 425 degrees.
Right before placing the loaves in the oven brush or spray them lightly with water. Place them into the oven and bake for 20 minutes before rotating them. Bake them another 20 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the loaf reads 200 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least a half an hour before serving.