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 an open textured with a few large fermentation bubbles throughout the loaf. You can taste subtle sweetness in the bread which is developed in the loaf from the Biga. This bread is a throwback to days when Italian bakers used a less refined flour and time to develop the subtle and complex flavors to make their bread. 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 bread 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 without 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 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 a 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 preheating the baking stone for at least 1 hour before baking on it. This will ensure 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 known as oven spring. It also helps 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 the 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 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 becomes 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 minute 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 an 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 a 1 hour at room temperature. Check to see if the dough is ready by the touch test. Lightly press the dough with your fingertip. The dough should hold the indentation if the dough should pushes back completely let it continue to proof until it holds an 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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110 thoughts on “Italian Peasant Bread

  1. Ian

    Hi.
    Just completed my first bake using your recipe. The result was encouraging but not perfect, the biga looked ideal and I measured everything accurately, however the dough appeared a little “wet” right throughout the process, the final rise was OK but the shape couldn’t be obtained, the dough was still too wet to hold the suggested shape – ended up wrapping it into fairly tightly into a cotton pillow case and put it aside for 1 hour – some of the dough stuck to the cotton but generally it held its shape. The baking was successful, really great crust and good colour.
    On cutting it looked ok, about 95/100 – slightly “doughy” , happy with the result for the first attempt, but good taste and more than eatable.
    Any suggestions to overcome the problem.
    I used commercial bread flour.
    As I am in Thailand the ambient temperature was mid to high (26 / 28 c – humidity around 65%) which shouldn’t be a problem.
    Thanks.
    Ian

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Ian, It is nice to hear from you. Congratulations on the results you achieved on your first bake of the focaccia recipe. I am more than happy to help you. The results you describe leads me to ask the question. Were the ingredients weighed or where they measured by volume?

  2. Jeff Anderson

    Hello,

    I’m new to making bread and stumbled across this recipe. I have tried making it multiple times now and I think that I must be doing something wrong. I can’t get the dough to come together even after kneading for 12+ minutes. I’m using a scale and measuring exactly all of the ingredients with no substitutes. The biga is coming out great each time I’ve made it just seems to wet. Any ideas?

    Cheers
    Jeff

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Jeff, It is nice to meet you. I appreciate you waiting for my response to your question. I have found it helpful when kneading a wet dough to give it a 30-minute autolyze after kneading for 4 to 5 minutes. This will give the flour time to fully hydrate and when you come back to the dough you’ll find it has gain strength and become more extensible. Did your dough become stronger throughout the fermentation and folding of the dough? I love to hear what your results were when you had your baked loaf. I appreciate you taking the time to share your question with me and the Just One Bite, Please? community. This is how we can share ideas and information. Thank you and have a great day!

  3. Ziv

    Hello! Thank you for this recipe. My poolish is mixed and developing overnight. I just have a question about the final step: I don’t think I have a bowl big enough to fit over this loaf. What can I do instead? Should I put a tray of hot water in the bottom of the oven and spray the oven with water when putting in the bread? Or maybe build a cover out of aluminum foil instead? Maybe getting a little too creative here 😅

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Ziv, It is nice to meet you. Here are a few ideas for you to create steam during the first 10 minutes of baking you Italian Peasant Bread.
      You can use cast iron pan placed into the oven and preheated along with the baking stone and add ice cubes to the cast iron pan when you put the loaf on the baking stone to bake.
      Another option is to divide the dough into two pieces and bake them using smaller stainless steel bowls.
      The last to cut the loaf deeper before placing it onto the oven to bake. This will allow the loaf to open up even more in the oven before the crust sets.
      I hope you baking is going well today and these suggestions help you on your baking quest.
      Thank you for taking the time to write and Happy Baking!

    2. pat

      I did a couple of things. I tried form fitting tin foil over a basket. It did work, but it’s a bit flimsy. Once I decided that I’d be making this bread pretty much all the time, I bought a lodge logic combo cooker and bake it in that.

    3. Ziv

      Thank you for the replies, Alejandro and Pat!
      I made the bread (but haven’t tried it yet — saving to cut it with the family tonight!) using your advice. I made a makeshift foil cover, and put a cast iron pan in the bottom of the oven, throwing ice in right after putting the bread in.
      The bread puffed up nicely (wish I could share a photo)! After about 30 min of baking the crust wasn’t darkening though, so I cranked it to broil and this ended up making the whole bread brown — including the part that was scored lol. Anyway, looking forward to trying it out.

      1. Alejandro Ramon

        Hi Ziv, I’m so glad that we could help you achieve success with baking the Italian Peasant Bread. It is great to have Pat provide support for our Just One Bite, Please? community. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Have a great weekend!

  4. Elena

    Hello, Alejandro! I really like Your videos, watch with pleasure and learn. Tell me why I have only the bread made with white flour it turns out the rubber? Thanks.

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Elena, It is nice to meet you. I have a few questions for you:

      1. Is your bread turning out dense and chewy?
      2. Is the loaf small in comparsion to the loaf I demostrate?
      3. Is the loaf being covered during the first 10 minutes it is in the oven?

      If you can answer these questions it will help me to assist you to make the best bread possible.

      I look forward to hearing back from you.

      1. Elena

        Hello, Alejandro! Thanks for answering.
        1. Yes, bread is dense. I use white flour of the highest grade (protein 10,3).
        2. I do everything according to Your recipe.
        3. Cover in the oven the first 10 minutes.
        tried to make the dough more friable – add a little milk. From this crumb turns crumbly. Not like that. Added butter to the dough, but this is another bread. And still the flesh is a little rubbery.

      2. Elena

        Alejandro, I only took All Purpose Flour. Didn’t take Whole Wheat Flour and
        Cornmeal (whole, stone ground)

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