My Grandma’s Italian Bread is an easy homemade bread recipe made with flour, water, yeast, salt, some sugar, and shortening. It’s got the perfect crust, crunchy with a slight chewiness and is so incredibly soft and delightful on the inside. It’s also a delicious way to sop up the leftover sauce when paired with my mother’s lasagna!
This bread is great out of the oven slathered with butter, as a side with your favorite pasta dinner, used for your panini sandwich at lunch or even toasted for breakfast!
I grew up eating this bread at my grandparent’s house growing up so often that I honestly don’t remember a time when she didn’t have a loaf in her kitchen.
She made two loaves just about every week. We ate it with her Chicken Cacciatore, Manhattan Clam Chowder and with just about every dinner.
However, my most favorite way of eating it was right out of the oven completely covered in butter.
You know those dishes that instantly transport you back in time? The ones you enjoyed so much over so many years that no matter how long it’s been, one taste sends you right back to childhood?
This Italian Bread is that for me. I remember barely being able to wait for it to cool before stealing a slice and slathering it all over with butter to eat right at the kitchen counter.
SAVE MY GRANDMA’S ITALIAN BREAD TO YOUR FAVORITE PINTEREST BOARD!
The butter would just melt into the small holes of the bread, it’d be warm and my hands would get greasy as I savored every. single. bite.
That slightly chewy crust and soft insides still make me swoon. Memories of Grandma’s kitchen will always hold a very special place in my heart.
To this day, I still see her standing at the counter kneading the dough on the wooden board that I now proudly own. I’d peek at the dough rising in the oven in the green bowl (oh, how I wish I had that relic), and would then watch it bake through the oven window.
When she thought it was done she’d make sure by tapping the bottom and listening for that hollow sound.
And the smell.
That incredible, incredible aroma of freshly baked homemade Italian bread just completely permeated every air molecule in the house, intoxicating me and casting me under its spell.
And the torture it was waiting for the dough to not only rise, but then to also wait for the final countdown for it to come out of the oven. That darn timer would not go off fast enough!
When she did cut me a piece, and before she buttered it, I always had to hold it up to my nose to smell the yeasty goodness. Oh, how wonderful it was. Deep, deep long breaths I’d take, enjoying each and every moment.
To this day, when I get fresh bread or even pizza crust, I have to smell it. The kids think I’m weird, but it’s something I’ll never stop doing.
Homemade Italian Bread
Even though I didn’t bake with her often, I know without a doubt that my grandmother’s kitchen is where my love for food began. All that can be done in a kitchen began to grow in my imagination in those moments.
She was French Canadian, not even Italian, but man could my grandmother cook. And bake, too!
Looking back now, I so wish I’d paid more attention and spent more time with her, learning her secrets, writing down all of her recipes.
There are definitely a couple I wish I had.
How to Make Italian Bread
When I started my original 365 Days of Baking project, I had two recipe cards for my Grandma’s Italian Bread that I’d found in my mother’s recipe box. I was very excited when I came across them.
There were so many of Grandma’s recipes I’d never get to make but at least I held the secrets to this beautiful perfect crusty Italian bread! So I thought.
I read through the list of ingredients and instructions and my heart sank. The recipe card stopped after it said to knead for about 7 minutes.
There were no instructions as to how long this bread dough supposed to rise, rest, or bake. No inclination of what temperature to set my oven, no tips for how to shape a perfect loaf.
I was devastated. This was a recipe I so wanted to make and share with my family. There’s something about sharing that experience of how delicious the freshly baked bread truly is.
So it sat. And it sat for over twenty years.
Until I found what turned out to be the “rest” of the recipe over at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. When I saw that I knew that those instructions would probably work well with my Grandma’s Italian Bread recipe too.
So, the ingredients and the beginning of the directions for this homemade Italian bread are Gram’s while the finishing touches come from Mel. Combining the two recipes across decades made for a loaf that’s just like the ones I enjoyed all those years ago.
It smells just as heavenly, too.
Oh, and just a side note.
There’s a reason Mel says to use your broiler pan or a similar pan made of metal while baking the bread. Don’t ignore her and use your glass baking pan! Do you know what will happen if you put a glass pan into a 450 degree F. oven and then pour hot water into it just before baking the bread?
It’s not pretty, folks. Stick with a metal baking sheet or broiler pan and you’ll be just fine.
Tips for making Grandma’s Italian Bread Recipe –
- Be patient!
This recipe is super easy to make, but you must have patience. There are times when the dough has to both rest and rise. It can be a struggle, but it’s well worth the wait, believe me!
- Divide the 3 cups of flour into a separate bowl. That way, you won’t have to take the time to remeasure when you’re adding it to the yeast mixture.
- When I can’t find a warm enough spot in my house for the dough to rise, I turn my oven to bake at 170°. I do it when I mix and knead the dough then turn it off. Then allow it to rise in the oven. Warm (but not hot) temperatures help the dough rise.
- I’ve had success both baking it on the pizza stone, as well as on a cookie sheet upside down. Both work, I think I just prefer the way it turns out on the cookie sheet best. (For the life of me, I cannot remember what Grandma used. Weird, isn’t it?)
- Listen for that hollow sound when you tap on the bottom to know that the loaves are completely baked. This is key. There have been many a time that I’ve been impatient to bite into a slice that I’ve taken it out too early. The middle needs to be completely done and the hollow sound helps you identify its doneness without busting into the loaf.
- If you don’t devour both loaves in the first week (like I often do), the second loaf can be frozen. Wrap it up tight in plastic wrap once it’s completely cooled and then again in aluminum foil. Then freeze for no more than three weeks.
There’s just something about making a loaf of homemade bread – the kneading, the baking. I just find it so comforting, don’t you?
Bread can turn any dish into a full meal. Like I mentioned before, my favorite way to eat this bread is with plain old butter. It’s also so good with a dipping oil like this Restaurant-Style Olive Oil and Balsamic Dipping Oil.
Grandma’s Italian Bread as a side dish
There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh bread baking and the satisfaction of slicing into a loaf you made yourself.
It is perfect for dipping into sauces and soups, too! We love eating it when I make this Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. Pairing both of them together makes a meal
Whenever we’re making jambalaya, I bust out my recipe for Corn Spoon Bread. Like a cross between a casserole and bread pudding, it’s a side dish that pairs well with southern and cajun inspired meals.
Looking for a good breakfast bread recipe? Say hello to English Muffin Bread! It has those little airy pockets that catch melty butter beautifully just like an English muffin.
Copycat Texas Roadhouse Rolls are a recipe you need to make right now! Covered in cinnamon honey butter, they’re some of the best rolls to ever come out of my kitchen. Eating one of these is like biting into a sweet fluffy cloud.
Lately, I’ve been all about these Asiago Herb Biscuits and if you like Italian flavors I know you’ll love those fresh homemade biscuits just as much.
Grandma’s Italian Bread
- 2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast
- 3 ½ cups warm water
- 8 cups all-purpose flour divided
- 1 tablespoon shortening
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup of hot water for baking
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the 3 1/2 cups warm water.
- Add 3 cups flour and the shortening, salt and sugar.
- Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes, then add the rest of the flour, beating until all flour is incorporated and a sticky dough ball is formed.
- Turn out onto a floured surface, putting a little bit more flour on the top to prevent sticking.
- Knead for about 7 minutes, adding as little flour as possible, but enough to prevent it from sticking.
- Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes before transferring to a well-greased bowl.
- Turn the dough over in the bowl once to get it coated.
- Cover lightly with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for at least two hours.
- Punch dough down.
- Divide dough in half.
- On a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, gently form it into a ball and place on a sheet of parchment. Do the same with the second half.
- Let both loaves rest for 40 minutes.
- Place a pizza stone in the oven on the middle shelf. On the lower rack, place the broiler pan or another metal pan. You will use this to hold the water during baking.
- Preheat to 450° F. If you do not have a pizza stone, you can also use a rimmed baking sheet turned upside down - see note*. Allow the stone to sit in the oven for 20 minutes at 450° F before placing the dough on top of it. If using a baking sheet, only place it into the oven for 10 minutes prior to baking, not the 20 as with the pizza stone.
- Lightly dust the top of the first loaf with flour and then, with a sharp knife, score an X into the top.
- Place the dough with the parchment onto the pizza stone or upside down baking sheet in the oven.
- Pour the one cup of water into the broiler pan. Quickly shut the oven door to contain the steam.
- Bake for 24 - 28 minutes, until golden brown.
- Do the same with the second loaf.
- The loaves can be tested for doneness by tapping on the bottom. They should sound hollow.
Instead of using the dry yeast from a jar, you can also use 1 package of dry yeast which will yield you the amount needed.
For rising, I usually turn my oven to the lowest temperature and then turn it off before I place the dough into the oven to rise.
Here are some more meal ideas that you can make to enjoy along with this easy Italian Bread…
Lasagna is a hearty comfort food that just about everyone loves. It’s begging to be served to your crowd with a salad and a loaf of crusty homemade Italian bread. Skillet Spinach Lasagna is another take on lasagna I can’t recommend enough.
I can’t say enough good things about this Crockpot Pork Ragu. A pasta dish that can be made in the slow cooker on a busy day makes dinner time so convenient.
And what pairs better with homemade Italian bread than a piping hot bowl of Creamy Tomato Basil Soup? A few slices of bread with this tangy creamy soup are all I need on a chilly night.