I’m normally very proud of my dogs. They’re great with our goddaughter. They follow the rules. (No barking inside when we’re home. No dogs in the bedroom.) They haven’t had an accident inside in about seven years. I’m pretty sure they speak English, and I swear they can tell time – they wake me up every morning precisely at six. They do have some endearing peculiarities: they love ice, they really enjoy eating plants, they’re scared of thunder and hide in the closet when it rains, and they’re terrified of cameras. (I had to catch Belle by surprise as she came out of the bushes to get the above picture, and I had to use my lousy camera phone. There was no chance of getting them both in the same picture.)
Every once in a while, however, they make me mad. A couple months ago, I was going to pick Kaytie up from work for lunch. I made two sandwiches, left them on the counter, and left. (Most of the time, I can leave food on the coffee table, leave the room, and come back to find the food untouched.) When we got home, the sandwiches were gone, and Belle and Bailey had guilty looks on their faces.
With this in mind, I thought I’d taken enough precautions to protect my bread. The two loaves were cooling on a rack that I slid to the very back of the counter. I moved the knife block to create a physical barrier in front of the rack. I thought it was safe. We were on our way to a wine tasting, and we were throwing a small after party. The bread was for bruschetta with olives, roasted red peppers, and manchego.
I think you know where this is going. When we got back to the house, an entire loaf of bread had disappeared. At least they left us one loaf for the bruschetta, though I think that was due less to their altruism than to the second loaf being out of reach.
Anyway, you should have the recipe for this bread, even if you don’t have a picture of it. The bread is great – one of Mom’s staples when I was growing up. So easy to make that two of my brothers sold loaves door-to-door for pocket money, and so tasty that it’s always a crowd pleaser.
Easy Italian Bread
(makes two loaves)
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for dusting
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs butter
2 packages active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups warm water (110˚)
1 egg white (optional)
1 Tbs cold water (optional)
The original recipe calls for making this in a food processor, which is easy. My food processor is not very big, so I used my stand-up mixer. Either way, you want to combine 3 cups flour, salt, sugar, and butter in the food processor or bowl. Pulse the food processor a few times to cut in the butter. If you’re using the mixer, cut in the butter with 2 knives in a criss-crossing motion and mix the ingredients with the paddle attachment briefly.
Stir the yeast into the water in a measuring cup. Add half the water to the dry ingredients. Pulse the food processor 4 times. (Or run the mixer using the dough hook for a few seconds.)
Add 1 ½ cups flour and the rest of the water/yeast mixture. Pulse the food processor 4 more times. (Or use the dough hook to mix.)
Run the food processor or the mixer until a ball of dough forms. Once the ball forms, keep running to knead for a minute or so.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead a few times to form a smooth ball.
Cover the ball loosely with plastic wrap and a dishtowel. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rough rectangle that’s about 15 x 10 inches. Start at the wide side and roll the dough tightly to form a long baguette-looking loaf. Pinch the seams together and seal by gently rolling back and forth.
Grease one or two cookie sheets and dust with cornmeal.
Put the dough on the cookie sheets. Brush the dough with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
When you’re ready to bake the bread, take it out of the fridge. Let it rest at room temperature, uncovered, for about 10 minutes while the oven is preheating to 425˚. Make 4 or 5 diagonal slits in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. I keep a scalpel in the kitchen for just this purpose.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. (My oven’s perfect time is 16 minutes.) The bread should be light brown. (To check for doneness, thump the loaf on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done.)
If you want a shiny loaf, do the following. Mix the egg white and cold water together. Take the bread out of the oven at about 14 minutes. Brush with the egg white mixture and return the bread to the oven. Bake for about 5 minutes more, until the bread is golden brown and shiny.
Cool the bread on a wire rack, out of the reach of your bad dogs.