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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83 thoughts on “Italian Peasant Bread

  1. Chris Lyle

    I get up at 5am on Sundays. After some coffee and breakfast I plan to get this party started around 6am! Its so strange that I am over the moon excited about tomorrow. And may I add, your detailed discriotion up top here rivals the quality of your videos! You do everything so well! Baking, videography, and writing! Anything else you do that we KNEAD to know about? Brilliant!

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Chris, I just love how excited you are to be making and baking bread. I really appreciate you for sharing your exuberance and joy with me and the Just One Bite, Please? community. I would love to hear about your baking experience with the Italian Peasant Bread. Thank you for your kind words of support for my work and have a wonderful day!

  2. Aisha

    Can you PLEASE please make a sourdough starter STEP by step?
    I tried with whole wheat, with rye, ap flour…. 7-10 days… NOTHING happened…Im frustrated… I don’t know why it is not working.

    1. John Stanley Majcher

      Go to KAF website for good instructions.

      Chad Robertson’s book, “Tartine” has instructions and pictures that will help you make a great starter. Good luck!

      1. Alejandro Ramon

        Hi John, I really appreciate you sharing and contributing information with the Just One Bite, Please? community. It wonderful to have you be part of our team! Thank you.

    2. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Aisha,

      I completely understand your frustration with creating a naturally leaven starter. There are so many “recipes” and techniques for accomplishing this it can be maddening for someone to figure out. John’s suggestion to look at King Arthur’s Sourdough Starter instruction and or Chad Robertson’s “Tartine” is a good start. Here are the links to both:

      • King Arthur Website: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/sourdough-starter-recipe
      • Tartine Book: https://amzn.to/2CJb1Bx

      Another good resources is Jeffrey Hamelman’s “Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes – https://amzn.to/2CkXrDk

      There are two factors that can effect the life cycle of the starter.
      • The first being the water: Using spring water or filtered water is important as chlorinated water from the tap will kill or
      inhibit the natural yeast and bacteria found in the flour.
      • The second is temperature: Using water that is between 76℉ to 80℉ (24℃ to 27℃) for the starter and keeping the
      starter in a warm environment during the first week is very important.

      I’m more than happy to give additional you guidance as you continue your journey to develop and maintaining your very own naturally leavened starter and baking amazing bread. Feel free to email me directly at: justonebiteplease@hotmail.com

      Thank you,

      Alejandro Ramon, Just One Bite, Please?

    3. Katanahamon

      I tried many times to make my own “natural” starter. I’m an experienced baker and cook. It never, never worked no matter what I tried. The first time it did was when I bought a sourdough starter from King Arthur, it’s growing well, but I’m not so impressed with the final baking results. Maybe I will get better at it, but don’t feel bad, you can use yeast to get great results with your breads.

      1. Jack

        Dear Aisha, I would suggest you get a copy of “Tartine” by Chad Robertson from your library. He gives a detailed, and simple way to make a sourdough starter. It worked beautifully for me the first time, and I started it in a hotel room whilst I was working on the road! It was easily refreshed every day until I had a fountain of bubbling starter. You will be surprised and delighted!

        Sincerely,
        Jack

        P.S. I’m not sure if Alejandro has a video about sourdough bread, but a good 11 minute video that helped me is from Stella Culinary. You can google “Stella Culinary Basic Sourdough Bread Youtube.” Too, there is nothing like Practice Practice Practice! Many of my first mistakes, and current ones, wind up in the compost pile!

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          Hi Jack, I appreciate you for sharing your suggestion with Aisha. Chad’s book is the most comprehensive book for those who are learning to create and maintain their own natural starter (liquid levain). I will be producing a series of videos on this subject next year (2019). You are correct about practicing and experiencing the process of creating, maintaining, and using a starter. We have to make a few bricks before we can learn to make good bread. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with Aisha and the Just One Bite, Please? community.

  3. Aisha

    Oh and! If I would replace cornmeal with all purpose flour than the percentage is changing. Flour is 100% 643 grams (without cornmeal) and water in relation has 454 so 70 % hydration. If I would replace it with all purpose I though I have in total 684 gram flour and than only a hydration of 66%

    Don’t I have to change the water amount to 70 percent than?

    1. Aisha

      And in the final dough ½-tsp. = 3 g. Instant Yeast
      Which one I should take the gram or tsp because 1/2 tsp of instant yeast is 1,57 gram?

      1. jsmvmd

        Good day. I have tried durum flour with good results. I presume slight changes in ratios or components would give equally good results, if the baker pays attention to details. :>)) Cannot say enough good things about Alejandro. Very pleasant and respectful guy!

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          Hello jsmvmd, Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience making the Italian Peasant Bread. It wonderful to have you share your experience with the Just One Bite, Please? community. Thank you!

  4. Aisha

    I have Fleischmanns active dry yeast and I used very small amount of yeast and It was not doubled it was tripled… so I think it was too long fermentation. Lightly sour taste. Is that normal? Do i have to shape a batard or can I make a ball and put it directly to the Dutch oben and Rest it inside 1 hour?

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Aisha, It does sound like the fermentation was too long. The final baked loaf should have sweet notes of flavor rather than sour. The temperature of the room has a direct effect on how quickly fermentation. I recommend fermenting yeasted doughs between 70℉ to 74℉ (21℃ to 23℃) this will give you more control over the fermentation process. Yes, you can shape the loaf any way you’d like. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thank you for waiting patiently for my reply.

      1. jsmvmd@aol.com

        Dear Aisha,

        Alejandro makes good comments here. The KAF website has a lot of information in the professional section that discusses fermentation and temperature control, which are crucial to good baking. Good luck.

      2. Aisha

        Thanks for answering. And active dry yeast how much gram? Just multiple with 1.25 ?

        If I would replace cornmeal with all purpose flour than the percentage is changing. Flour is 100% 643 grams (without cornmeal) and water in relation has 454 so 70 % hydration. If I would replace it with all purpose I though I have in total 684 gram flour and than only a hydration of 66%

        Don’t I have to change the water amount to 70 percent than?

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          Hello Aisha, Thank you for patiently waiting for my response. Yes, you would multiple the instant yeast by 1.25 for active dry yeast.

          The hydration would remain at 66% if you replaced the cornmeal with all-purpose flour. I counted the flour/grain as part of the total flour weight.

          Please let me know if there is any other questions I can help you with.

          Thank you,

          Alejandro Ramon, Just One Bite, Please?

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