On a calm morning at the end of the boardwalk I stood amidst the reeds squinting into my binoculars. The hum of military planes flying overhead mixed with the intermittent squawks of various shore birds and long-legged waders.

My mind began to wander. Aimlessly for the most part, but also I was getting hungry so my thoughts turned to food. I think the nip in the air gently suggested aromas of yeast wafting from a warm oven, the promise of a hot slice slathered in butter.

As I flitted from birds to bread, I had an ‘aha’ moment. The other day I was paging through the eponymous Beard on Bread and found a simple recipe for Italian feather bread. Feathers. Birds. Bread. Aha! Get it?

My ridiculous mind at work. Thank you overactive hypothalamus. And James Beard.

Better than store-bought or restaurant basket Italian bread, believe me.

Italian Feather Bread [makes 2 loaves]

Printable recipe

2 packages active dry yeast

1 T granulated sugar

1 c warm water [100° to 115° F, approximately]

1/3 c olive oil

3/4 c hot water

2 t salt

5 1/2 to 6 c AP flour

cornmeal or semolina flour

Stir the yeast, sugar and warm water together in the bowl of a stand mixer; let sit until yeast dissolves and starts to proof.

In the meantime, add the olive oil to the hot water and let cool to lukewarm. Add the salt, and combine with the yeast mixture. Stirring vigorously with the dough hook attachment, add the flour 1 c at a time, until the dough almost comes away from the sides of the bowl. [The dough will seem rather soft and sticky at this point.] Continue kneading the dough with the dough hook, adding a couple tablespoons of flour as you go along.  Alternatively, you could turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead with your hands. Continue kneading until the dough has absorbed enough flour that it is easy to handle, about 2 to 4 minutes.

When the dough is soft and smooth, let rest for 5 or 6 minutes and then divide into two. Roll each half into a rectangle about 12″ x 8″. Starting from the wide end, roll the rectangle up quite tightly, pinching the seams as you roll. Let the rolled loaves rise on a piece of parchment paper in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 50 to 60 minutes. Place a baking stone* on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 425° F while the bread proofs.

After the dough has doubled in bulk, sprinkle the baking stone with cornmeal or semolina flour [careful not to burn yourself!], place the loaves on top. Bake 40 minutes, or until the loaves are a rich, golden color and make a hollow sound when you tap the crust with your knuckles, top and bottom. Cool on a rack and slice when fresh.

*Note: If you have no baking stone, butter one or two baking sheets well and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place the just-rolled loaves on the sheets, and then let them rise until doubled in bulk. Bake the loaves on the sheet[s] on the middle rack, the same as you would with the stone.

From Beard on Bread