On Friday before dinner my husband and my daughter spent a few minutes in the kitchen. They chopped herbs from our garden and she measured and mixed flour and water and oil while they chattered in that father-daughter way that I don’t dare touch. I watched from the next room with a smile as she told him about her day, as his eyes lit up with laughter at her curiosities and tall tales.
At the end of the mixing, a bowl was covered and stashed off to the side and forgotten as the counters were wiped down for dinner prep. There it remained.
The next evening, after a day of yard chores followed by the kids splashing in the kiddie pool, my husband pulled the bread off the counter and started fussing about again, shaping it into flat logs as I pulled the stems off green beans and rinsed tiny farmer’s-market potatoes in the sink. We lit the grill with a click and a burst, and sprinkled salt and pepper over our butcher-wrapped beef purchased way back in the fall of last year.
As the sun started to sink towards the horizon, we all sat down together – the bread, the beans, the potatoes, and the steak – and a few wet-haired small children, too.
Homemade bread was a slow process in our family. We had the garden. We visited the farmers market. We swapped one brand for another in the search for a better way to eat, and still it eluded the way our family functioned. The answer, of course, as most answers are, was to find one that fit the territory. It needed to be smashed between two working parents and four kids’ worth of activities, between household upkeep and running and even a bit of much-needed and sought after downtime.
It came in the idea of single mix loaves with overnight rises, the kind of bread where the only bit of work involved was a few minutes of purposeful planning the night before and someone to turn it out onto parchment the next day.
This bread is soft with a slight crust that has a bit of crispness, but nowhere near that of an artisan loaf. It’s easy to slice and works well with a variety of different meals or served up as sandwich bread. It’s a no-knead overnight Italian-style bread that’s soft and fragrant with fresh herbs dotted throughout. Best of all, though, is that it’s easy enough for my kids to mix, which increases the likelihood that it gets made.
Herbed Soft Italian Bread
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Prep and Rest Time: 24 hours
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 cups water at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add in the yeast and stir to combine.
- Into the water, stir in the olive oil, honey and the salt. Stir the water mix and the herbs into the flour until a wet dough forms.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 18 to 24 hours.
- When the dough has fermented overnight, spritz your work surface with a small amount of olive oil. Turn the dough out onto the oiled surface.
- With oiled hands, form the dough into two 10-by-5-inch logs and then transfer to two pieces of parchment paper. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rest for 1 to 2 hours.
- When the dough has rested, preheat the oven with a baking stone to 450ºF. Lightly dust the outside of the loaf with flour and a sprinkle of sea salt. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest slightly before slicing.
Makes two 10-inch loaves.
Photo credit: Shaina Olmanson