Bread is my one true love. While I cheat with other carbs frequently (Pasta, that seductive temptress!) my love is by nature deep, passionate, and abiding, so I always return to bread. One day three years ago when I had the house to myself and felt like messing around in the kitchen, I impulsively decided to try making bread for the first time, and ended up with six different varieties. I discovered that a basic bread is, shockingly — easy to make? It seems like such a finicky beast to wrangle (yeast? rising time? building gluten? Please!), but actually once you figure out the few things that every basic loaf needs, bread is so simple, and so easy to manipulate into any variety your heart desires. 

Molly Stemwedel

When friends ask me how I bake my bread, I usually just shrug and tell them that I just dump ingredients into a bowl, mix it, and leave it for a few hours before throwing it in the oven. For the sake of this article, I have attempted to finesse that sparing explanation. The truth is, once you know the ratio of one basic bread, you can change it up by adding in other ingredients as you please. When I say, "I dump in a bunch of ingredients," I'm not lying, because at this point, I just eyeball my measurements. 

With any luck, you'll be able to use my recipe for a basic crusty Italian loaf as a jumping off point to do the same.

Molly's Basic Italian Loaf

  • Prep Time:2 hrs 15 mins
  • Cook Time:25 mins
  • Total Time:2 hrs 40 mins
  • Servings:2
  • Easy


  • 6.5 cups flour
  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • 2.5 teaspoons instant yeast 1 packet
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Step 1

    Combine flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add in your warm water and olive oil, stirring well until you have a stiff dough.

    Molly Stemwedel
  • Step 2

    Dump your bread dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and a little elastic. 

    Molly Stemwedel
  • Step 3

    Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until the dough is doubled in size (1.5-2 hours). 

    Molly Stemwedel
  • Step 4

    Preheat oven to 400° F. Divide risen dough into two equal halves, gently shape into long oval loaves, and place on a parchment lined pan.

  • Step 5

    Dust the top of the loaves with a bit of flour, and then slice the tops of the loaves to give the bread room to rise. (You can get fancy with the scoring pattern if you want your bread loaves to be *aesthetic* but if not, then a few diagonal slashes across the loaf will do.)

  • Step 6

    Bake at 400° F for 25 minutes or until golden brown, occasionally brushing or spraying the tops of the loaves with water to give it a nice crust. One brush across right before it goes in the oven, and one brush halfway through should do.

    Molly Stemwedel

*I typically use King Arthur bread flour, which you can find in most grocery stores, because it has a higher gluten content, but all-purpose white flour or whole wheat flour work just as well. 

Manipulations and additions!

Now for the fun part! My go-to bread takes this basic recipe, and adds in freshly cracked black pepper, fresh rosemary and thyme, and occasionally cubes of aged Irish cheddar. The rule of thumb is that any additional fine dry ingredients or chopped herbs should be mixed in with your dry flour mixture before the water is added, and any heavier ingredients like cheese, caramelized onions, dried fruits, nuts etc. should be folded into your dough after it has risen. If you fold in additional ingredients post rise, you should let your shaped loaves sit on your pan for an additional ten minutes before you put them in the oven. 

For dried or fresh herbs, I would advise that you add in between 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons, according to taste. For dried fruits, nuts, or cubed cheese, add in between 1/2 cup and 2 cups, depending on taste, and if you're combining additions (i.e. if you use both dried fruit and nuts, start with 1/4 cup of each, and then add more as needed).

And there's your lazy bread recipe! Soon you, too can impulsively decide to throw together some bread, and in just a few hours you'll have a wonderful, warm, crusty loaf of bread that will satisfy your deepest carb cravings!

Molly Stemwedel