fresh italian loaves

Homemade bread absolutely delights me. There’s something so special about the act of rolling out dough, letting it rise, and watching it bake and become beautiful in your oven. The aroma isn’t so bad, either.

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Perhaps it also means so much to me because growing up, my mom was constantly making homemade bread. As I’ve mentioned before, we grew up with a bread maker in our kitchen, one that saw so much action, I think that we went through two or three {at least} before I up and went to college.

It was one of my first “big” purchases as an adult, for my very own kitchen. I wanted to carry on that tradition that my mom started – homemade doughs and rolls, fresh loaves so tall you have to slightly tear off the top from the machine. It definitely holds a special place in my heart, and one I can’t wait to share with my children someday. For now, the hubs and I delight in constant bread rotation.

The recipe today is one that is practically a staple in our kitchen; if there’s not one in the bread box, there’s a loaf in the freezer, yearning to be thawed and toasted for the next meal. These Italian loaves are so, so simple; a few simple ingredients come together to form a bread that is so light and airy on the inside, but perfectly golden and crisp on the outside, it’s impossible to resist…especially out of the oven. We especially love it served warm, with some herbed olive oil on the side for dipping. It makes wonderful sandwiches; can be transformed into croutons for breakfast casseroles and bread puddings or, if you’re like us…you dig right in when it’s hot out of the oven.

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Fresh Italian Loaves {yields two large loaves}

Perfectly simple to prepare; all ingredients process together in the bread machine. A simple roll and rise is all it takes for fresh bread to be produced from your oven in no time! I’ll note here that you can also find great success using half whole wheat flour; the results will be nuttier and a bit heartier, perfect for pairing with rich soups and stews.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups water

1 tsp. honey

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

3-1/2 cups bread flour

2-1/2 tsp. yeast

1 heaping tbsp. vital wheat gluten, optional

To Prepare:

Add the ingredients into your bread machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The dough cycle on mine lasts about an hour and fifty minutes, with the option to add additional time if I’m going to be running in and out of the house, doing errands, etc. Don’t feel the need to check on the dough as it processes! – the heat will be lost and you run the chance of compromising the integrity of the dough.

As the cycle comes to a close, prepare your baking sheet by sprinkling it with cornmeal. This results in a crisp bottom; feel free to use as much {or as little} as you’d like.

Once the dough is ready, turn out onto a floured rolling surface. Divide into two discs; place on aside. Begin with the first disc by rolling out into a rectangle, roughly 12″-14″ wide x 8″-10″deep. Starting at the long edge closest to you, “jelly roll” the rectangle; that is, roll it on top of itself {it will be like making a cinnamon roll}. Seal the edges and seam by pinching tightly with your fingers. Place directly onto the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the other disc.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise 50 minutes in a warm location.

About 20 minutes before the rising stage is complete, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once the rising stage is complete, slash the top of each loaf 5 or 6 times with a sharp knife, and brush lightly with cold water. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, keeping a close watch. The bread should should hollow when tapped, and be a beautiful golden brown.

Serve with any of your favorite spreads – I love using my compound butter!

bread will keep fresh on the counter, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days. Freeze any remaining by wrapping in foil.

peanut butter & jelly bread

Serving up nostalgia, one slice at a time.

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I happened across this idea not too long ago. In fact, you may remember the last trip that the hubs and I took – our Bourbon Trail tour of Kentucky, that is. We mixed it up this time; a bit of hotel time and a bit of tent camping time, all interwoven in one weekend. It’s easy to plan your first meal of the day when staying in a hotel, but what’s a cook to do when she knows they will only have campfire heat {if that} on one of the other mornings?

Enter: peanut butter and jelly bread.

I couldn’t tell you what made me think of this. I know that the hubs loves a good, ol’ fashioned PB&J sandwich…I mean, who doesn’t?…but the thought of making it into one cohesive loaf? Has this gal lost her mind? Once I set upon the idea, I knew that I needed a little bit of research and credibility on my side; something to back me up, if you will. And when I found the recipe below, my guideline, I knew that I had struck gold.

It truly doesn’t get much simpler than this, y’all. We’re talking easy as pie, a one-bowl wonder breakfast bread. It comes together in know time and, from personal experience, is rib-sticking-you’ll-stay-warm-and-full-all-morning kind of good. Whole wheat flour packs a nutritious punch, and heightens the nutty taste of the peanut butter that’s folded in. With no added sugar, the fruit preserves and dried cranberries are able to shine their brightest. Greek yogurt brings protein into the mix, helping you power right through your morning.

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And the best part? You can slice this ahead of time, freeze it individually, and simply warm up as needed for breakfast on the go. Winning!

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Peanut Butter & Jelly Bread {recipe adapted from Whole Foods Market}

A fun twist on a classic sandwich, this bread is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s faces! You get all of the flavors of a standard PB & J, but in one easy-to-hold slice of bread. Wonderful warmed in the oven once sliced, too!

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3 tbsp. ground flaxseed meal {optional}

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. sea salt

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

2/3 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt

2 large eggs

1/2 to 3/4 cup fruit preserves of your choice

optional: cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle on top of the loaf 

optional: dried cranberries or other dried fruit to layer in with the preserves 

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, {optional} flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, peanut butter, yogurt, and eggs. Gradually stir the peanut butter mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix!

Spoon half of the batter into the bottom of the loaf pan, making sure to get it into all of the corners. Spread the fruit preserves evenly over that first layer of batter, and top with the optional dried  fruit. Top with remaining batter, and smooth out to seal in the jam. If desired, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

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Bake for 55-65 minutes {your oven may vary slightly}, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into slices and serve!

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caramelized onion & rosemary focaccia bread

In my humble opinion, texture and flavor are paramount when it comes to bread. Maybe because I grew up in a household where homemade bread was the standard, but I have such a hard time really enjoying a sandwich if the bread is lackluster. Let’s look – you put in the time, effort and resources into what goes BETWEEN the bread; why should we not do the same with the bread? It is the foundation of the sandwich, after all!

This bread I’m sharing today, for example, is one of my absolute favorites. Thin, crispy, and overflowing with bold flavors…to me, it doesn’t get any better than focaccia bread. It’s a bit of a labor of love, if I’m being totally honest – this is not one of the breads where you can set a timer, leave for the day and expect to walk in the front door with a fresh loaf of bread awaiting you. This bread takes TIME and LOVE. Aside from a quick rise in the bread machine, the majority of the work is done with good old-fashioned elbow grease. But I daresay that this is what makes this focaccia so spectacular.

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A generous helping of caramelized onions prepared low and slow on the stovetop, with lots of seasoning and oil, is the crowning glory. The bread itself is studded with notes of dried rosemary; the use of whole wheat flour {in addition to the regular bread flour} adds a nutty bite and gives it that extra crunch. I’ve even been known to fold a bit of kalamata olives into the topping – wow! No matter how you serve this {sliced in half as a sandwich, toasted and topped with a fried egg and avocado}, you’ll be a convert. Focaccia, the one to rule them all.

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Caramelized Onion & Rosemary Focaccia Bread {bread recipe from “The Bread Machine Cookbook III}

Ingredients {for a medium-sized dough}:

1 cup water

1-1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1-1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. dried rosemary

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 tsp. yeast

*optional: 1 heaping tbsp. vital wheat gluten

*for the baking pan, you will need cornmeal {this will prevent the dough from sticking}

Ingredients {for topping}:

2 medium white onions, finely sliced

2 tbsp. dried rosemary

salt & pepper, to taste

olive oil, for drizzling

To Prepare:

Assemble your list of dough ingredients into the basin of your bread machine, and use the dough cycle according to your manufacturer’s directions. My dough cycle usually runs for 1 hr. and 50 minutes, but machines will vary slightly.

Prepare your rimmed baking sheet by sprinkling with cornmeal.

Once the dough cycle has run its course, turn it onto the prepared baking sheet. Using the tips of your fingers, gently press out the dough so that it stretches out slightly and reaches into the corners of the dish. Make sure you leave divets from your fingers, as this is what will hold in the olive oil and toppings while it bakes. 

Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a warm, dry place to rise. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour.

With about 30 minutes before your dough is done rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a saute pan over medium heat, and drizzle with olive oil. Once the olive oil is nice and hot, add in your onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring very infrequently, for at least 10-15 minutes or until the onions begin to turn a caramelized brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Before placing the bread in the oven, cover with the caramelized onions and dried rosemary. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, and top with a dash of salt and pepper. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn light brown and the edges are crisp. Cool completely, and store tightly covered. It will keep at room temperature for 3 days; any longer and it should be transferred to the refrigerator or frozen.

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**to reheat: place in the center of the oven and bake at 425 degrees until warmed through.

homemade pizza dough

This is a trip down memory lane for me, y’all.

Since I was in elementary school, my mom has had a bread machine. Homemade breads, pretzels, muffins and the like were never short in our household growing up; in fact, I’m fairly certain the 5 of us would burn through at least one large loaf a week. I have fond memories of coming home from school and walking into the house smelling of fresh bread, which I would then slather with Nutella {old habits die hard, I suppose!}. But I have to say that one of my favorite memories associated with said machine was ‘homemade pizza night’.

You see, every Friday, the family would congregate in the kitchen, crowding around the countertops and bumping elbows to decorate their own pizza. My mom and dad would usually share a large one {split down the middle}, and my 2 sisters and myself would each get our own. I can honestly say that it’s fairly easy for me to cluster my youth by pizza topping categories. The best memories are oftentimes associated with food and communal table gathering, especially with my foodie family, so I’m sure you’re not too surprised by this.

But anyways – as I said, even up through high school, Friday night was always reserved for this family tradition. Sure, as we got older, high school football games on Friday nights may cut into the evening time, but it was still always important for us as a family to keep up this tradition. It’s one that, when I moved away for college, I would anticipate with such enthusiasm upon trips home. It’s real serious.

And today, this is a tradition that my husband and I now share together. The first time he was able to experience homemade pizza, I’m pretty sure he looked like he was in absolute heaven. Paired with a nice bottle of red wine {for you over 21ers!}, this meal is the perfect way to decompress from a long week at work – sit back and let your bread machine do the work, prep a few toppings, and before you know it, you’re tucked in on the couch flipping through your Netflix :)

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Homemade Pizza Dough

this is the recipe that my mom has used for as long as I can remember. It can be adapted to be done in a standing mixer, but the method and recipe will be slightly different. If you don’t have a bread machine, check out this post from Shutterbean. You’ll just need to carve out a little extra prep time. 

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups water, room temperature

3 tbsp. light olive oil

4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. honey

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. yeast {for use with a bread machine}

optional: 1 heaping tbsp. of vital wheat gluten 

extra flour, for dusting your board

cornmeal, for baking sheets/pizza stones

*special equipment: bread machine

To Prepare:

In the following order, add the ingredients into the well of your bread machine: water, olive oil, honey, and the all-purpose flour {make sure to evenly cover the water so the yeast will not mix early with it}. In one corner atop the flour, add the salt. In a separate corner, add in the vital wheat gluten. Lastly, form a slight well in the center of the flour and add in the yeast. Cover it lightly with the flour.

Set according to your manufacturer’s instructions. The particular model that I have has a dough cycle that runs for 1 hour 50 minutes, or if I’m in a pinch, I can run it on the quick cycle for 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Once your dough has completed, turn it out onto a surface dusted with flour. Divide the dough (I typically get 4 personal-sized pizzas out of one batch) and roll out to desired thickness. Lay each onto a baking sheet or pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal.

Now, it’s time for the fun part!!! Let yourself get as creative as you’d like with your toppings/sauces…after all, that’s the best part of making pizza at home! I’ve listed below a few of our favorite, tried-and-true combos…

-marinara/mozzarella/parmesan/pepperoni/mushroom

-marinara/mozzarella/mushrooms/sausage

-marinara/mozzarella/parmesan/pepperoni/sausage/olives

-fresh tomato slices/romano cheese/caramelized onion/spinach/chicken

-salsa {as the “sauce”}/mexican cheese/chicken/pineapple/red pepper flakes

-no sauce{!})/sausage/spinach/blue cheese/hot sauce {drizzled on after coming out of the oven)

-fresh tomato/spinach/proscuitto/caramelized onion/mushrooms

-alfredo sauce/chicken/sausage/diced tomato/basil

…of course, feel free to experiment! Classic combinations are a never fail, so don’t be afraid to go with what you love!

Once you’ve completed your masterpiece(s), place onto baking racks in oven. I typically let mine go for 15 minutes, then rotate pans (top pizza onto lower rack, and lower pizza onto top rack). Depending on your oven, you’ll need anywhere from 8-15 more minutes to complete the cooking cycle. If you like your’s bubbly and crisp like I do, start your pizza on the bottom and let it finish cooking on the top rack.

It’s pure heaven if you sprinkle a bit of fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt on top once they come out of the oven.

Enjoy! This will certainly be a tradition in the making, much as it has been in my family.