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.                         2 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.

204 thoughts on “Italian Peasant Bread

  1. evanh12

    Hi! I am making this bread for the 3rd time. I really love the process and the results! The corn adds a very nice sweetness. This bread is becoming a favorite here at home. One question however. I am finding that 1 tsp of yeast is listed as being 3.5 grams on on site, 3.1 grams on another. However, you list 1/2 tsp as being 3 grams for the final mix which is almost double the yeast (whereas you have “1/4 tsp&1/4tsp” listed for the biga). I am using the 3.5 as one tsp measurement. I wonder how much yeast you are actually using because I would like to try to make the bread the same way you did – since I am using 0.775 grams for the biga while you indicate 1.5 – again a big difference. Thank you!!

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Evan,
      It is a pleasure to hear from you. I appreciate you bring this detailed question about the instant yeast weight/volume to my attention. As there are 7 grams of Instant Yeast in a packet and each has 2.25 tsp. (9=¼ tsp.) 7 ÷ 9 = 0.78 grams (rounded up from 0.77777777). 0.78 x 2 (¼ tsp.) = 1.56 grams.
      I use a MyWeigh 8000 Bakers Scale for scaling my recipes unfortunately it doesn’t weigh half grams and rounds up to the nearest gram which is 2 grams for ½-tsp of instant yeast. I’ve updated the recipe to reflect 2 grams for ½-tsp. of Instant Yeast.
      If you have a scale that is able to weigh in even smaller increments that is great!
      The goal is to use enough instant yeast to ferment the dough without the flavor or smell of the yeast being present.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your finding with me and the Just One Bite, Please? community. It is community members like yourself that help me and our community refine our recipes, skills, and knowledge. Cheers!

      1. evanh12

        Hi Alejandro, Thank you very much for your prompt reply. We had a great dinner last night, with your Italian Peasant loaf as the centerpiece.

        Your packet leads to ~ 3.1 grams per teaspoon which agrees with the weekendbakery.com Baking Conversion Tools (very helpful!).

        You don’t give a gram weight for the biga – 0.78 grams.

        I did buy a scale for these smaller measurements and am supremely happy with it. I bought it on Amazon for ~$12. The “MAXUS Elite Plus Precision Gram Scale 200g x 0.01g + 50g Calibration Check Weight – Multi-Use Digital Pocket Scale Herb Scale Powder Scale Jewelry Scale Grain Scale Small Scale Versatile Meds Capsule.” I can calibrate it with the weight included (and checked it with another scale). I am very happy with it, but I imagine there are others available of similar quality and price. I don’t own Maxus! 🙂

        My last biga was fermented with a lightly sweet aroma. It had some, but not a lot, of pockets of air/bubbles on the side of the container. Looking at yours in the video, I would say it had less. I let it ferment a little longer.

        I did add some additional cornmeal this last time (5 grams). I am looking to really perk up the corn flavor and sweetness – I will try more next time, and look to get a really fresh cornmeal.

        Thank you again!! Evan

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          Evan, A great experiment is to ferment the dough using only ¼ tsp. of instant yeast in the poolish. The total time to properly ferment the dough will be extended but produces a very nice texture, structure, and flavor in the final loaf of bread.

          1. evanh12

            That is how much I’ve used the three times I made your recipe. I fermented the biga around 10 or 11 hours. How much longer would you consider?

  2. Diana

    Hi. If I make the Biga in the evening, I would not have time to make the actual dough until 16-20 hours later. Would it work if I left the biga out for a 2 hours at room temperature after mixing and then put it in the refrigerator overnight for another 14 hours and remove 1 hour before mixing the final dough? Also, would cooking this in a dutch oven have similar results to cooking it on a baking stone? Thanks, Diana

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Diana, It is nice to meet you. I appreciate you waiting for my response. I recommend making the biga in the evening and let it ferment at room temperature until the next morning and then place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to mix the final dough. The biga can be used directly from the refrigerator. Using a preheated Dutch Oven to bake the Italian Peasant Bread will produce great results using the timing on the recipe. I’d love to hear about your baking adventure. Thank you so much for writing and asking your quesitons. Happy Baking!

  3. Frederick W Szibdat

    I am eager to make this recipe, but I plan to use Fresh Yeast, and substitute Semolina and Flax for the Cornmeal.

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Frederick, It is nice to meet you. I appreciate you waiting for my response. How did your Italian Bread turn out for you?

  4. Ralf Tovstiga

    Hello Alejandro. Loved your recipe, one of the best bread recipes I have baked. How could this recipe be modified to achieve a slightly more crusty loaf? Would increasing the baking time under the bowl work?

  5. MotoPresent - Motorcycling, mindfully!

    Alejandro- Thank you so much for this wonderful bread recipe, it truly makes creating and maintaining a sourdough starter unnecessary, the Biga works perfectly as preferment. This recipe is essentially foolproof and does not take a lot of hands-on time. A perfectly robust crust and crunch, nice density and deliciously satisfying suitable for a high end bread connoisseur! The only problem is we eat it right up!! I can’t thank you enough for this straightforward and well stated recipe.

    Chris

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