Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nona's Homemade Italian Bread

What’s better than a cutting into a loaf of warm, freshly baked bread that’s soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside? Having a sexy guy bake it for you!

In my latest cozy mystery, The Scarlet Pepper, hunky Secret Service Special Agent Jack Turner surprises my intrepid gardener sleuth, Casey Calhoun, with a picnic basket that includes a still hot loaf of home baked Italian bread.

Like Casey, I’m lucky to have a guy that knows his way around the kitchen in my life. This recipe for homemade Italian bread has been handed down from generation to generation in my husband’s family. When his family gets together for holidays, everyone gathers in the kitchen and these traditions are continued and shared with the younger generations.

Baking bread is an art that takes practice to master. Each loaf tastes better than the last one.

I’m pleased to share with you this guide to help you start a baking tradition that you can teach your sons and daughters and that can live on for generations to come.

2 cups Water
4tsp Bread Yeast
7 cups Flour
4tsp Sugar
2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Egg
Sesame Seeds

Gather together your ingredients. This will save you time later. (I’ve learned this one the hard way!)

Heat 2 cups of water in the microwave oven for 30 seconds. Water should be tepid, not hot.

Add 4 tsp of bread yeast to the heated water. (Do not stir it into the water.)

Tap the side of the container with your hand or spoon to disperse the yeast in the water. Set aside. This allows the yeast to bloom.

Measure 7 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. It is important to use high quality bread or all-purpose flour. We use King Arthur all-purpose unbleached flour. We have found that when we use a cheaper brand, the results are unpredictable. Quality ingredients do make a difference.

Measure 2 tsp of salt into the mixing bowl.

Measure 4 tsp of sugar into the mixing bowl.

Measure 2 Tbsp of olive oil into the mixing bowl.

Mix well.

Stir the yeast water mixture that you had set aside to dissolve the yeast that is still on the side and floating on the top of the mixture. (There will always be a little left floating on the top.)

Make a well in the dry ingredients and then add about half of the yeast mixture. Combine it either with your hands or a spoon. Add the remaining yeast mixture, continuing to work it into the dough.

Knead the dough with your hands. (It’s important to keep your hands warm when you’re working with the dough.)

Keep working the dough until it forms a ball. Add water if the dough seems dry. Add flour if the dough seems wet. The texture you are looking for is just slightly sticky. It should form a smooth ball.

Coat the dough with olive oil.

Dampen a clean dish towel. Heat the dish towel in the microwave until very warm (about 40 seconds). Cover the dough with the warm, wet towel and set in a warm place for 30 minutes. NOTE: We set the dough in the oven and the oven is NOT on.

After 30 minutes, knead the dough for about a minute. Reheat the damp dish towel.

Cover the dough with the warm wet dish towel again and set in a warm place for an hour or until the dough doubles in size.

Lightly spray the bread pans with oil. We use olive oil.

Cut the dough into two equal halves. (You can weigh it. Each half should be about 1 pound.) Shape the dough until it’s about the same size and shape as the pan. Place in pan.

Set in a warm place for 1 hour and let rise. To bake: preheat oven at 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the bread from the oven.

Scramble an egg.

Coat the top of the bread with the scrambled egg.

Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the bread and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 20 minutes. And enjoy!


Dorothy St. James writes the White House Gardener Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Flowerbed of State is the first book in the series. Be sure to grab your copy while they're still available! Visit with Dorothy on the web or at Facebook. Or follow her on Twitter.

"Credible characters, a fast-paced plot, and a light look at political life in Washington, D.C., will delight cozy fans." ~ Publishers Weekly
"This spunky new romantic suspense series is an obvious pick for readers who enjoy Julie Hyzy's "White House Chef" series (Buffalo West Wing), but also think of gardening mystery series such as Rosemary Harris's (Slugfest)." ~ Library Journal
Order Flowerbed of State from your favorite bookseller. 


"This cozy gets my highest recommendation, a perfect escape, and it should be in your in your hot little hands as you prepare your own gardens. Definitely a must "seed" story!!!" ~ Escape with Dollycas Blog

"A potboiler of homicide, blackmail, journalism, power and sex - but one that St. James handles with taste as well as verve - "The Scarlet Pepper" fulfills the promise of last year's series debut, "Flowerbed of State," and then some." ~ Richmond Times-Dispatch
Order The Scarlet Pepper from your favorite bookseller.



  1. Oh wow - that's gorgeous. I love homemade bread. Will have to bake a couple of loaves to share with folks this week. (Isn't bread a great gift).

    This looks amazing ... thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for inviting me to visit with you on the blog, today. I agree Wendy, bread is a great gift, although it's difficult to get a loaf out of our house before someone eats it. :)

    We also use this same recipe (although smaller amounts) to make pizza dough. If we don't know what to eat for dinner, he'll whip up some dough and we'll use whatever we can find in the fridge as topping.

  3. True confessions time. I do bake bread, but I'm sort of spoiled because I let the bread machine do the hard part. Mine has a manual function that takes bread through the first rising. Still, when I see your wonderful pictures, I'm tempted to do it by hand!

    I'm definitely going to try Nona's recipe. Would someone please pass the butter?

    ~ Krista

  4. This is so nice. You have done a great job. So inspirational.

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  5. Which one gift is the best to a friend at his anniversary? Printed gift cards or inviting on dinner?