This is the bread recipe that started really got me going baking freeform bread. It’s from the Il Fornaio Baking Book. It was a standard at my dinner parties for at least a few years. Sometimes I’d make it as rolls. I haven’t made it in a while and when I decided to bake some bread today this recipe came to mind. Baked on the Baking Steel, it came out glorious. Very nice oven spring.

Rosemary Bread, slightly adapted from the Il Fornaio Baking Book

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (I use 1 tsp instant yeast)
1/2 cup warm water (105° degrees F)
1/2 teaspoon regular salt (I use Kosher)
1/2 cup cool water
1/4 cup biga (click for recipe) at room temperature
2 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour (more in humid environments)
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten (optional, Scott’s addition)

2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
coarse sea salt or coarse Kosher salt

In a small bowl sprinkle yeast over warm water and let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. If using instant, skip this and add the yeast to the flour and use 1 cup of warm water instead of the 1/2 cup of each warm and cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer add flour, and regular salt. Mix for just a few seconds. Add biga, milk, rosemary, yeast mixture and cool water.

Beat with dough hook for 10 minutes or knead by hand for 10 – 20 minutes

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn over to oil top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. (optionally refrigerate dough for the next day, then continue) Punch down and knead briefly on a lightly floured board to expel air. Repeat rising in oiled bowl until doubled again, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Punch down dough and knead briefly.

At least 30 minutes before baking, preferably and hour, place a Baking Steel or baking stone in the oven and heat to 425°F. If you don’t have one of these two, go get one. If you insist on not getting one, place an empty baking sheet in the oven during this pre-heat and when the time comes, slide the dough onto this hot one.

On a floured board, shape dough into a smooth football shape. Or shape into 10 rolls. Place on a baker’s peel with a good dusting of cornmeal on it. You can use the back of a baking sheet as an alternative. Cover lightly with a towel and let rise until dough is puffy and holds a faint impression when lightly pressed, about 25 minutes. With a razor blade, slash an line about 1/4 inch deep down the top of dough. Sprinkle the slash with coarse salt.

Using a spray bottle, mist oven heavily. Wait 5 minutes. Slide bread onto Baking Steel, re-mist oven. Wait 5 minutes and re-mist oven. Or alternately, put a cast iron pan in the when you preheat the oven and drop 1/2 cup of ice into it at this point. 

Then bake until bread is deep golden, about 35 to 45 minutes for the loaf; 15 to 25 minutes for the rolls.. The bread should have a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

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Scott’s Notes: If you’re going to bother to bake your own bread do invest in the two tools needed here: a baking peel and a baking stone or Baking Steel. It really does make it easier. Don’t be stingy with the cornmeal on the peel either. Make sure the bread is moving easily before you try to put it on the stone. I like more rosemary than the original recipe calls for. This recipe can also be used to make Olive Bread. Leave out the milk and rosemary and knead in 1/2 cup pitted chopped olives at the end of kneading.