DeeDee's Mom won prizes with her bread recipe so I had to try it. I took her recipe and cut it in half, then adapted it for instant yeast and tweaked it just slightly. Now I make it at least once a week. This recipe makes consistently good Italian bread, much better and more flavorful than the ones in grocery stores.
Original recipe by DeeDee Henderson's Mom. Updated again by me on 2/15/08
Yields 1 large loaf or 2 small free form loaves

4 cups unbleached bread flour (17.25 oz.)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast *
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder -- optional
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups warm water (95-100 deg.F)-more if needed
1 egg + 1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon sesame seeds -- optional
Cornmeal for baking sheet

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and diastatic malt powder. Add the oil and the 1-1/2 cups water. Using the dough hook on low speed, mix 3 minutes or until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, dribbling in more water or flour if needed. Increase mixer speed to medium and mix 3 minutes or until the dough is soft and tacky but not sticky (dough can stick slightly to the bottom of the bowl).

Transfer dough to a floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes while you lightly oil a large bowl. Finish kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Dough should pass the windowpane test. Form dough into a round ball and put into the eprepared bowl, turning to coat the dough well. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot and let rise for about 1-1/2 hours or until dough has double in size.

If time permits, after 45 minutes, gently deflate the dough and stretch it out and fold like a letter on both sides. Re-cover the bowl and allow to rise for 45 minutes longer.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal. Gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, trying to de-gas it as little as possible (do not "punch down"). Shape dough into one large batard, stretching the dough firmly across the top of the loaf. If two smaller loaves are preferred, divide dough in half and shape each one into oval or round loaves. Place the loaf or loaves the onto the prepared baking pan. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap or a proof cover and let rise 35-45 minutes until almost doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a lame or very sharp knife, cut 2-3 slits aboout 1/4 inch deep in the top of the loaf. If topping is desired, beat egg with water and brush gently over the top of loaf and sprinkle on sesame seeds.

Bake 30-32 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 205 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer. The bottom of loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove bread to a rack to cool at least 1 hour before slicing.

* If using active dry yeast, in a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in about 3/4 cup of the warm water until foamy, 7-10 minutes. Add remaining water, olive oil, and about 1 cup of the flour and begin mixing. Add salt and begin add the remaining flour gradually until dough has pulled away from sides of the bowl. Proceed as described above.

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