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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171 thoughts on “Italian Peasant Bread

  1. Sheri Nix

    Hello from Chico, CA USA!! I want to know if you can mix a big batch of the Biga ahead of time & once it’s fermented, stick it in the refrigerator for use throughout the week?

    Thank you,
    Sheri

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Sheri, It is nice to meet you. The biga can be made, fermented, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. After that time in the refrigerator, it will start to take on sour notes and lose the flavors, structure, and keeping qualities it provides the final baked loaf of bread.

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Istvan, It is nice to meet you. That is something I would like to have too. I’ve been looking for an app that does this well in WordPress. Thank you for taking the time to share your comment with me. Have a good day.

      1. Jack

        Dear Friends,

        Submitted with respect:

        I for one like the format and appreciate the enormous effort and expense Alejandro has expended in perfecting these recipes and in making these informative and innovative videos.

        Perhaps a quick link, if that is the correct term, that would direct one to the recipe, as King Arthur Flour does in their recipes and blogs would be helpful?

        Sincerely and Great Baking!

        Jack from Pennsylvania

    2. John A Cangemi

      Look at the end of his recipe and you’ll see the “Share This” section. Click the Print icon. I selected 94% reduction, and to only include pages 1-3 which included only the recipe in a good format.

      1. Alejandro Ramon

        Hello John, Thank you so much for pointing this option to print out the recipe using the “Share This.” I appreciate you helping our community members. Cheers!

  2. Bea

    Hi Alejandro,

    I cannot wait to try your wonderful recipe. I have one question. You seem to have a nice convection electric oven in the video. I have a regular gas oven. Would the bread be the same as yours with my oven?

    Thank you and take care.
    Bea

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Bea, It is nice to meet you. I have a gas oven with a convection option. I don’t use the convection option since most people do have this on their ovens. When baking lean bread dough (French, Italian, Sourdough) it also is not good as it sets the crust to quickly. Any style of oven will work to bake bread using the techniques I show you in this video and other videos where I’m baking lean bread doughs. Most important is to use a baking stone that is preheated for at least 1 hour before loading the oven with the bread. Please let me know if you should have any other questions. Thank you for writing and have a great time baking!

      1. Bea

        Thank you Alejandro! I will make your recipe as soon as I have a baking stone and will let you know how it turned out 🙂
        Bea

      2. Jack

        Dear Friends,

        As an economical alternative to an expensive baking stone I have used durable quarry tiles at $1 each. I tried a 16″ slab if travertine at $5 and found it to be fragile. If one is careful not to bump it I feel it works well. Do not use flooring tiles since the glaze might not be safe.

        Best wishes and Great baking! Jack

  3. Xavier Alarcon

    Hello and greetings from Ecuador! During the quarantine I have been trying to master your wonderful recipe. Can you tell me why my dough at the first stage keeps sticking! It doesnt relax and become smooth. I tried amassing it for 10 minutes and still it keeps on sticking to everything. I was told by a friend that perhaps its too much humidity and heat in my kitchen? We are in the tropics after all…..Thanks in advance for your help! And congratulations on a wonderful website

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Xavier, It is nice to meet you. The dough formulation is 68% hydration (water to flour) which makes for a sticky dough during mixing and kneading. The dough should become stronger and more resilient as you ferment and fold the dough. Did you find this to be the case as you continue with the recipe?

      1. Jack

        Dear Alejandro,

        I, too sometimes experience less than optimal results. What is your desired dough temperature (DDT)?

        Lionel Vatinet wants 72°-80°F for Fig, Polenta, Walnut sourdough bread.

        Ken Forkish, I think prefers the same, although I think one of his recipes calls for 90°F, IIRC, for a quick 1st rise.

        Sincerely,
        Jack from Pennsylvania

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          Hello Jack,

          If I’m in production I want the dough temperature to be between 74°F to 78°F with the ambient temperature between 80°F to 86°F. This is helpful to keep a full days production of baking on schedule.

          At home, it is a different story. I keep my home at 68°F to 70°F I mix my dough by hand with room temperature water and end up with dough temperatures about 70°F to 72°F. I follow my timeline for folding, preshaping, and final shaping. I let the shaped loave take as long as it needs to fully proof and let it tell me when it is ready for the oven. My goal is to never speed up fermentation but rather to have a robust starter that enjoys and ferments well at these lower temperatures.

  4. Charlie

    I just made this for the first time! Came out a little darker than your photos using same time/temps but not too bad. Can’t wait for it to cool so I can taste it!

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Charlie, It is good to hear from you. Each of our ovens heats and bakes differently. It might be that your oven runs a bit hotter than mine or mine is runs a bit cooler than yours. I’d love to hear how your bread turned out as far as the crumb, crust, and flavor of your baked loaf. Thank you for writing and have a great day!

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