Italian Peasant Bread

The sweet aroma of whole wheat and corn perfumes the air as the knife breaks through the crisp and crackling crust. The first slice reveals a crumb that is light and airy with a open textured with a few large fermentation bubbles through out the loaf. You can taste subtile sweetness in the bread which is developed in the loaf from the Biga. This bread is a throw back to days when Italian bakers used a less refined flour and time to develop the subtile and complex flavors to make their breads. Baking the loaf on a hot baking stone produces a bread that has the characteristics of a bread baked in a wood-fired oven. Hand-shaped and hearth baked the Italian Peasant Bread is sure to become one of your favorite breads to make at home for your friends and family.

What is a “Biga?”

Italian bakers use a preferment known as a biga in Italy. This process of fermenting the flour for an 8 to 10 hour period before incorporating it into the final dough develops the natural sweetness of the flours with out the use of any refined sugar or sweetener in the final bread. The biga also develops the final texture of the crumb and helps to preserve the bread by making it less perishable. Making the biga is short work for the baker. Combine the water, flour, and yeast, stir to combine, cover and let ferment for 8 to 10 hours. You, the baker will be rewarded with amazing flavor and texture in your bread for just a few minutes of of your time the night or morning before you plan to bake this bread.

Baking Success for Hearth Baked Breads:

You’ll need a few essential pieces of equipment in order to produce the best bread possible at home.

  • Baking Stone – a high quality baking stone can reproduce the characteristic of a wood-fired oven in your own home oven. Simulating a brick oven in your home oven by absorbing and radiating intense, consistent heat to produce loaf of bread with a crisp, golden brown crust, with amazing oven spring. I recommend purchasing a stone that is rectangular rather than round, as it will be more useful for baking a variety of baked goods. I have found Old Stone Oven baking stones to be the best for their thickness, size, quality, and durability. I recommend to preheat the baking stone for at least 1 hour before baking on it. This will insure the best results in your baked goods.
  • Bakers Peel – A wood or aluminum baking peel will make easy work for moving your loaves of bread in and out of the oven. Choosing a peel that is similar in size to your baking stone will make it more flexible when making other baked goods like pizza.
  • Large Stainless Steel Bowl or Disposable Aluminum Pan – The use of the bowl to cover the loaf of bread in the initial 10 minutes of baking is crucial to hold in the steam created by the loaf of bread as it is heated by the baking stone. This creates a small baking chamber in which the crust is moistened by the water vapors slowing the ability of the crust to set before the loaf can reach its full size also know as oven spring. It also help to develop the color and crisp, crackly crust that you would find in a  wood-fired brick oven or professional baking oven.
  • Baking Lame or Straight Edge Razors – Professional bakers use a tool called a lame (pronounced “LAHM”), which means “blade” in French. The baking lame or straight edge razor allows you the baker to release the energy of the loaf of bread by scoring its surface in one quick motion. Producing a cut that opens beautifully as the loaf bakes. These inexpensive sharp razors are far superior to a kitchen knife to score your loaves of bread.
  • Bakers French Linen or Heavy Canvas Cloth – Professional bakers rest the final shaped loaf of bread in a specially folded, floured cloth called a baker’s couche (pronounced “KOOSH”). Made of woven linen or 100% cotton, the couche (from the French word for lying down or sleeping) keeps the dough’s shape intact and its surface uniformly dry as it proofs and rises, helping develop a thin “skin” that bakes to a crispy, chewy crust.

See the YouTube Description for Italian Peasant Bread for the links to purchase these pieces of equipment.

As with all baking recipe I recommend you weigh the ingredients for the Italian Peasant Bread. Weighing ensures you have a consist dough each and every time. As a baker we are always striving to remove any variables from the process of baking.

The full instructional video for Italian Peasant Bread is at the bottom of this blog post. Follow this link to “LIKE” and “SUBSCRIBE” to my YouTube Channel “Just One Bite, Please?” http://www.youtube.com/c/justonebiteplease/

Equipment: (Shop my Amazon Page for Ingredients & Equipment)

  • Mixing Bowls
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons/Electronic Baking Scale
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Plastic Bowl Scrape
  • Non-Stick Spray or Oil

Italian Peasant Bread (Biga) – Mix 8 to 10 hours before mixing final dough.

  • Measured             Grams              Ingredients
  • 1 cup                      227 g.              Water (room temperature)
  • ¼-tsp.                     ¼-tsp.              Instant Yeast
  • ½ cup                       72 g.              All Purpose Flour (King Arthur, Unbleached, Unbromated)
  • ½ cup                       81 g.              Whole Wheat Flour
  • ¼ cup                       41 g.              Cornmeal (whole, stone ground)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, instant yeast, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and cornmeal.
  2. Mix with a rubber spatula to combine and then beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap (cling film) and let ferment at room temperature 68º-74ºF (20º-23ºC) for 8 to 10 hours.

Italian Peasant Bread (Final Dough)

  • Measured             Grams             Ingredients
  • 2-½ cups                421 g.             Biga (fully fermented)
  • 1 cup                      227 g.             Water (room temperature)
  • ½-tsp.                         3 g.             Instant Yeast
  • 3-½ cups                490 g.             All Purpose Flour (King Arthur, Unbleached, Unbromated)
  • 2 tsp.                        16 g.             Sea Salt (fine)

Mixing, Kneading, and Fermenting the Dough:

  1. Uncover the fermented biga and add the water, instant yeast, and half of the all purpose flour.
  2. Use a rubber spatula to mix the ingredients until a thick batter forms. Beat the batter until well combined.
  3. Add the remaining all purpose flour and sea salt. Fold the ingredient together using the rubber spatula until the mixture become a shaggy mass.
  4. Scrape off the rubber spatula with the plastic scrape. Scrape down the bowl and turn the dough onto the work surface.
  5. Knead the ingredients for 1 minutes to incorporate the ingredients. The dough will be sticky. “Do not add any flour to the work surface.”
  6. Continue to knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes or until the dough is strong and elastic. Round the dough into a ball.
  7. Spray a bowl with non-stick spray or oil and place the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
  8. Ferment the dough for 1 hour at room temperature.
  9. After 1 hour. Lightly flour the work surface. Uncover the dough and turn it onto the lightly flour work surface.
  10. Fold the dough. (See video time stamp: 4:10 – 4:26)
  11. Place the folded dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  12. Ferment the dough 1 hour.
  13. After 1 hour. Lightly flour the work surface. Uncover the dough and turn it onto the lightly flour work surface.
  14. Degas and fold the edges of the dough to the center to start to form the dough into a round shape.
  15. Clear the work surface of the flour.
  16. Turn the dough over and continue to pre-shape the dough into a tight round. The seam will be on the bottom.
  17. Cover the dough with the bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes before the final shaping.

Pre-heat the oven and baking stone to 500ºF (260ºC) for at least 1 hour before baking the loaf.

Equipment:

  • Baking Linen or Canvas Baking Cloth 24″ x 32″  or Large Heavy Cotton Kitchen Towel
  • Bakers Lame or Straight Edge Razor
  • Large Stainless Steel Bowl or Aluminum Pan
  • Baking Stone 14″ x 16″ (Old Stone Oven Baking Stone)
  • ¼-Sheet of Parchment Paper
  • Baker’s Peel/Pizza Peel

Final Shaping  and Proofing the Dough:

  1. After the 15 minute rest uncover the dough. Lightly flour the top of the round and turn the dough over onto the work surface with the seam side up.
  2. Degas and shape the dough into a oval.
  3. Shape the dough into “Bâtard” (loaf shape)
  4. Lightly flour the canvas baking cloth.
  5. Place the Bâtard seam side up onto the floured canvas and fold each side to cover the ends of the loaf first. Then fold the remaining canvas to enclose the Bâtard. This will keep the loaf from spreading while it is proofing.
  6. Proof the loaf for 50 minutes to an 1 hour at room temperature. Check to see if the dough is ready by the touch test. Lightly press the dough with your finger tip. The dough should hold the indentation, if the dough should pushes back completely let it continue to proof until it holds a indentation from your finger. (See video time stamp: 6:46 – 6:49)
  7. Place the parchment paper onto the baking peel.
  8. Uncover the proofed loaf and place it seam side down onto the ¼-sheet of parchment paper.
  9. Use a straight edge razor or sharp knife to cut a long slash from end to end of the loaf.
  10. Slide the loaf onto the 500ºF (260ºC) preheated oven onto the baking stone. Place the large stainless steel bowl over the loaf.
  11. Bake the loaf with the bowl over it for 10 minutes.
  12. After 10 minutes, remove the bowl using tongs and kitchen hot pads.
  13. Reduce the oven temperature to 450ºF (232ºC).
  14. Continue to bake the loaf for 20 to 25 more minutes or until the exterior of the loaf is a deep golden brown. Turn the loaf to  get even browning and remove the parchment paper.
  15. Using the peel. Remove the baked Italian Peasant Bread from the oven.
  16. Place the baked Italian Peasant Bread onto a cooling rack and cool completely to room temperature before cutting.
  17. Slice the loaf using a serrated bread knife and serve with extra virgin olive oil, cured meats, olives, and cheeses. The bread makes great toast too!
  18. Enjoy!

Note: Store the Italian Peasant Bread in a heavy brown paper bag at room temperature for up to 3 days. The Italian Peasant Bread can be cut in half, placed into a large freezer bag, and frozen. Thaw to room temperature before slicing or toasting.

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49 thoughts on “Italian Peasant Bread

  1. Pat

    I make the preferment at night before I go to bed. Ten hours later, after I’ve had my coffee, it’s ready to make bread. The timing is convenient for me. I’d like to try using this dough for pizza, but I’d have to get up in the wee hours to mix the preferment for it to be ready to use at the right time. If I wanted to make a slightly slower preferment (say, ready in 18 hours) or faster (ready in 6 hours), would I adjust the amount of yeast?

  2. Pat

    Hi Alejandro,

    I just wanted to thank you once more for this recipe and the instructions. This has been our daily bread for several months now. I’ve altered the quantities of the ingredients to fit my banneton basket and Lodge Logic combo cooker, but I’ve kept the percentages the same. We had some friends over for dinner and everyone fussed over how amazing the bread was. No one said a thing about my spectacular lasagna, though. Heathens.

    I’ve played around with the baking process to get some interesting differences – a little hotter and longer for a darker crispier crust that I like, baked in a loaf pan for a softer crust that my wife likes. But any deviations in the recipe itself never works out.

    1. John S Majcher

      Pat,

      As Jacques Pepin stated in his cooking video, you make a recipe once, twice and more. After a while you get comfortable with it. After a year it becomes your own.

      This is a very nice high hydration dough. I’m glad Alejandro has posted the marvelous video and thorough description.

      I’ve used a small amount of cornmeal, thinking it might be a dough conditioner in breadsticks for my kids. It improved rexture and flavor measurably. Whatever the chemistry here, it certainly works.

      It seems that once a recipe gets posted, many cooks have to state their modifications. Experienced cooks know if you adjust the amounts, it’s not the same recipe.

      I agree that the finished loaf is quite appealing.

      Thanks to you both.

      P.S. If we were neighbors, I’d be one of the “heathens” gladly sampling your fares!

      1. Alejandro Ramon

        Hi John,

        It is true that only through the repetition of making a recipe over and over again that we can gain the skill set that can produce the best results possible. It was a lesson I learned long ago when I was in my apprenticeship. The chefs I trained under (mostly Germans) stressed when baking to be exacting when measuring (weighting) the ingredients and to employ the proper techniques and process for the recipe. This removes any variables and provides the baker with a clear understanding how we (the baker) effect the final outcome of the baked good. Although I’ve been baking professionally for over 29 years I am always learning each time I make a recipe and how subtile changes can produce a very different result.

        I so appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

        Thank you,

        Alejandro Ramon

    2. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Pat,

      It is nice to hear from you. I’m just getting back from the Czech Republic and Germany on a culinary research project and saw your message. I think it is wonderful how you taken the time to really learn this recipe by making it so often. It is one of the most important exercises we as bakers can do to refine our skills and to learn to make the best bread possible. I had to laugh when I read your guest fussed over your bread, but not about your lasagna you worked so hard to make. That’s the life of a baker! Thank you for sharing and keeping me posted on your baking experience with making this recipe.

  3. Mark Troia

    This bread is so great! Thank you so much. My first time making it and it came out great! For the next time I’d like to make 2 smaller loaves if possible. Should I split the dough before or after proofing? Thanks again!

    1. aramon65

      Mark,
      You can divide the dough after the second hour of fermentation (step 13) and then pre-shape into rounds. Let rest 15 minutes before final shaping. Thank you for sharing your baking experience and for asking your question.

  4. Russell Mae

    Hi, I want to give this a go tonight, but I don’t have cornmeal and I just want to use wheat flour and all purpose flour. How should I adjust the measurements? Btw, very cool video, straight to the point. Thanks so much.

    1. aramon65

      Hi Russell Mae,
      You can just replace the cornmeal in the preferment (biga) with the same amount of whole wheat flour. This will be a total of 122 grams of whole wheat for the pre-ferment (biga). Here are the amounts:

      227 grams Water
      1/4 tsp. Instant Yeast
      72 grams All-Purpose Flour (unbleached, unbromated)
      122 grams Whole Wheat Flour

      Follow the recipe as written for mixing and fermentation. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Have fun baking!

      1. Russell Mae

        Hi, my first Italian Peasant Bread turned out great! Thank you for the recommendations and adjustment. I’m making another one right now at this very moment. I am curious though, is it possible to bake the bread in a lower temperature say 425 degrees and bake it for longer? If so how long can I bake it for?

        Last time my bread was slightly burnt at the bottom, I don’t have extra baking pans to cover the first layer (just started baking–no extra equipments yet) So I was wondering if can lower the temperature down to keep the bottom from charing. Thanks so much. Truly appreciate your help! 🙂 Have a good day!

        1. aramon65

          Hello Russell Mae, I would recommend baking the loaf at 450ºF for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. This should keep the bottom from baking to dark and provide the best oven spring for the bread. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thank you for taking time to share your experience and ask your question.

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