How to Make Perfect Italian Bread

Take inspiration from famed Italian bakery Princi to create authentic loaves

Italian bread is legendary, but it's not because of the water in the gorgeous country. Instead, the deliciousness is derived from tradition and a respect for craft. No one knows this better than Rocco Princi, the visionary baker behind Milan's famed Princi bakery and café, which is opening new stateside locations in Seattle, New York City and Chicago. Rocco has dedicated his life to bread from childhood, when he'd pick up freshly-baked loaves from his village's panetteria—and usually bring them home half-eaten.

Fast-forward to Rocco's adult years, when he opened the first Princi in his hometown of Calabria, Italy. The menu started with six breads: French dough bread, pasta dura, francesino, olive oil bread, ferrarese and ciabatta. Fittingly, Princi's first slogan was "hot bread all day," a straightforward phrase written on a chalkboard that nonetheless attracted many people (and even more stopped by once he started handing out samples). Working at the ovens 18 hours a day, Rocco perfected his techniques and gradually grew the menu to include pizza, focaccia and desserts.

As Princi expanded to other locations in Milan and London, and the menu diversified to include breakfast, lunch and dinner options, high-quality bread remained the heart and soul of each shop. Here are a few secrets behind how Princi produces consistently delicious bread, while remaining true to the Italian style.

Flour makes all the difference.

Whether making ciabatta or focaccia, just any flour won't do. For their breads, Princi stocks and uses six types of Molino Grassi flour: Flour 0 Speciale, Flour Fast H6, Flour Manitoba, Flour Midi H12, Flour Tipo Uno and Whole Wheat Flour. Like Princi's recipes, Molino Grassi is authentically Italian—the flours are produced in Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. The precise type of Molino Grassi flour used depends on the recipe. For instance, Molino Grassi Flour Midi H12 is high in proteins, making it ideal for pizza, pastry and bread doughs that require a long rising time.

Use your hands.

This idea goes back to Rocco's memories of childhood, when desserts and bread were produced by hand. But hand-kneading isn't just a way to get in touch with the old-school method of bread making. Machines (whether food processor or bread maker) often knead bread too quickly, creating heat that could kill off the yeast in the dough. Kneading by hand prevents this, leading to a higher success rate in bread making. Also, hand-kneading and -shaping creates the all-important "artisanal" look.

Grab the olive oil.

What makes Italian breads different from their French cousins? The addition of olive oil (and other ingredients like milk or sugar). By law, French bread can't have additional ingredients—or really anything beyond water, flour, yeast and salt. Like flour, the quality and authenticity of the olive oil is important. Princi uses Terre Francescane Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is pressed in Umbria from Italian olives sourced from three regions and is versatile enough to also be used as a finishing oil.

Don't rush the process.

Princi doesn't use any shortcuts when it comes to making bread. Sourcing authentic ingredients and taking time to let the dough rise might add a little extra time to the process, but the results are worth it. For example, letting pizza dough take its time to rise produces a better texture and a more pronounced flavor, which improves the entire experience of eating a slice. (Or two.)

Temperature counts.

Whether using a wood-fired oven or conventional baking oven, temperature matters. That's what creates the crisp, crackling crust that makes Princi's bread downright addictive. Of course, at-home bakers (and pizza makers) likely won't have a wood-fired oven of their own. In that case, follow these tips to increase the heat in your home oven for the very best results.