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. Jean

    Hi Alejandro,

    Thank you for the great recipe and video!

    I did the bread once by myself. I used “grams” section. I use electronic scales.

    On the step where we connect final “Biga” with water and second part of flour and place it on the work surface – it’s to wet for me and very very sticky – is it a normal or I should to do something?

    So on this step on your video I see different dough.

    I added another 100 gram of flour and made the bread. But I’m not sure I was right.

    Also, I cooled the bread completely, then cutted, but the bread had a very sharp bitter sour smell. Is it good or normal? (the smell of strong fermentation)

    Of course, I compare the smell with a bakery level bread.

    1. aramon65

      Hello Jean,
      Thank you for taking time to send me your questions.
      This recipe has a 70% hydration (water to the flour by weight) making for a very wet and sticky dough when first kneading. The dough should gain strength by the end of the kneading process although it will still be sticky.
      Here are some recommendations I have for you:
      * Use the palm of your hand only while kneading as it is easier to scrape clean than fingers. Otherwise you’ll end up with (webbed) Aquaman fingers, making much harder to get the dough off.
      * Try using your left hand to knead the dough and the plastic bench scrape your right hand to scrape the dough off the work surface or hand. My students have found this is the most effective way to knead.
      *Beyond the stickiness of dough when kneading. I am curious to know what the dough has been like when you folded it. Is it gaining strength and structure or is it pooling out. This information can help me evaluate the dough even more so.
      The sharp bitter sour smell you described in the final loaf is a indication that the fermentation of the Biga (pre-ferment) went to far. Time and temperature are the two factors that effect the speed at which fermentation happens. The Biga should develop sweet buttery flavorful notes during the 8 t0 10 hour fermentation in room temperature being between 68º-74ºF (20º-23ºC).
      I look forward to hearing your answers.
      Thank you,
      Alejandro

      1. workeroiv

        Oh, I almost sure that the biga waited more than 10 hours : ( I think at least 12 hours.

        I’ll do the second bread tomorrow and I’ll try to cope with sticky dough as you wrote!

        I also will will take a photos to show you then.

        Thank you, Alejandro!

      2. workeroiv

        Hi Alejandro,

        I made the second bread today and used all your recommendations.

        “Use the palm” – it works! : ) And I successfully used my left hand : ) But of course I did it not so fast as you )))

        “Biga” waited about 9 hours for this time. But unfortunately, the smell inside the bread still the same as I wrote before – very sharp. The bread is very good, but I’m not sure that it so good as it can be!

        I use “red” LeSaffre instant yeast. I have also the “blue” LeSaffre active dry yeast, but I don’t use it. I’m not sure I understand the difference. I start thinking that my “red” instant yeast is very instant and very strong.

        I made the photos step-by-step for this time.

        I do not have so big bowl – I transformed final “Bâtard” to less width after the touch test.

        Here the process:
        https://yadi.sk/d/DI-q–q83GSDfu

        I’ll be very grateful for the support!

        1. aramon65

          Hi Jean,

          Thank you for sending the pictures of your baking process. The loaf looks great. Nice color on the crust and crumb structure looked really good. You did a wonderful job!
          I use the SAF Instant Yeast in the red package. Instant yeast activates at with room temperature water unlike Active Dry Yeast that needs to be proofed in warm water (100ºF to 110ºF) prior to adding it to the dough. Instant Yeast is produce at a low temperature leaving twice the amount yeast that can come back to life. When using Instant Yeast to replace Active Dry Yeast in a recipe I recommend using half as much. Example: 1 Tbsp. Active Dry Yeast = 1-1/2 tsp Instant Yeast.
          Instant Yeast is also called Rapid Rise, Quick Rise, or Bread Machine Yeast. When used in the same volume (measurement) as Active Dry Yeast you are introducing twice the amount of yeast. Causing the dough to ferment quicker hence the names that denote quicker fermentation. Quicker fermentation doesn’t not promote better flavor in a baked goods.
          Using room temperature water is important to. We want the fermentation to go slow this is where flavor development happens in the biga.
          The sharp smell you describe in the final baked loaf comes from acidic activity in the biga. The whole wheat flour and whole cornmeal do create some acidic during the fermentation of the biga. The smell, flavor, and taste should be very subtle with more sweet notes coming through. The small amount of acid that forms in the biga adds to the shelf life of the final baked bread. I would recommend trying a 6 hour fermentation for the biga at room temperature and seeing if that gives you the results your looking for.
          I appreciate you sharing the series of pictures with me. It is wonderful to see your handy work and process while making this recipe.
          Please let me know if you have more questions.
          Thank you,
          Alejandro

      3. workeroiv

        Thank you, Alejandro!

        Now I know the difference : ) It’s very important to know everything in details – I think so!

        I’ll do 6 hours “biga” I hope next week and I’ll share the result! : )

        I’m very happy that you liked the loaf! I feel that I’m moving in the right direction with your support!

      4. Jean

        Hi Alejandro,

        I made my third bread with 6 hours biga.

        Here is some shots (I did the first shot right after I got the bread from the oven):
        https://yadi.sk/d/6-98HYMn3HWrdX

        Now I think that I gave you a wrong description before.

        Should I have the sharp bitter sour smell if the bread do not cool completely to room temperature?

        Because I feel the smell exactly in the last hot spot inside the bread after the cutting.

        A little more time passes and the smell disappears.

        Also I want to ask you about degassing – why we should do it?

        And the final question – I’m not sure that the taste of my bread is the same to bakery level bread.

        I can’t understand why. The only difference is that I do not have baking stone (I use Iron sheet) and I have other wheat.

        What can you say about importance of wheat quality? As I can see you use King Arthur, Unbleached, Unbromated with cost around 6 USD for 5 pounds. I do not have the same in my country and I use all purpose flour with cost around 1 USD for 5 pounds.

        Does it matter? And how can I choose the same quality all purpose flour?

        Thanks in advance!

        Regards, Ivan.

        1. aramon65

          Hello Ivan,
          Your loaf looks really nice. When bread is baked the cooling process (cooling to room temperature) is part of the baking process. During the cooling of the loaf the structure of the bread is being set and moisture is moving outward through the crust. This may account for your experience of the change in smell as the loaf cooled.
          Degassing expels the old carbon dioxide, making room for the yeast’s continuous production of new carbon dioxide. Provided you also fold or shape the bread, it also equalizes the temperature of the dough by redistributing the cooler sections of the dough into the warmer ones. In the case of a stretch and fold, it will also strengthen the dough by aligning the gluten strands.
          The flavor of the final loaf has everything to do with the flour (grain) used and its fermentation. Think of beer or wine, short fermentation will produce different flavor compared to longer fermentation when using the same grain. The surface on which the loaf is baked doesn’t provide any flavor to the final loaf.
          I’d recommend using the best all-purpose flour you can purchase in your country. Local bakeries often will sell you the flour that they use for their production, which can be of higher quality.
          Please let me know if you have any other question.
          Thank you for taking the time to write.
          Best,
          Alejandro

      5. Jean

        Hi Alejandro,

        Thank you! I have learned a lot of new things!

        I see a lot of gluten-free flour in my country.

        Can you tell me more details about the gluten. Is gluten an important condition for taste?

        Should I try to find exactly flour with gluten and maybe with a lot of gluten?

        I tried to find worldwide shipping of King Arthur All Purpose Flour (Unbleached, Unbromated), but without result. Again I see only King Arthur gluten-free flour.

        Can you tell me the analogs? I’ll try to find them.

        Can I also determine the good flour by composition?

        Sorry for a lot of questions, but the bread making like a science for me. As you can see – my bread is good looking, but the taste is mediocre, without delight. It makes me sad.

        I forgot to tell you – I love italian bread, first of all, ciabatta with olives. If someday in the future you will show how to bake it – it will be wonderful!

        Regards, Ivan.

        1. aramon65

          Hi Ivan,
          I really appreciate your desire to learn more about baking and I am happy to be a resource for you.
          Gluten found in wheat flours provide the structure, strength, and elasticity that is essential in making a loaf of bread with good crumb structure and crust. Gluten develops throughout the process of mixing, kneading, folding, and shaping the bread. Without gluten the bread would be flat and shapeless and would never be able to hold in the gases created by the yeast through the fermentation process. Breads make with gluten-free flour needs other binders in the form of eggs and Xanthan Gum to create some structure in the bread. Gluten-free breads flavor comes from the added ingredients (sugar, fat, eggs) rather than from fermentation. Producing a very different kind of flavor, texture, crumb, and crust in the final baked good.
          Here is the protein content you are looking for when purchasing flour here in the United States:
          All-Purpose Flour (10% to 12%)
          Bread Flour (12% to 14%)
          Check with your local bakery to see which flour they would recommend for the type of baked good you are making.
          I have Ciabatta recipe on my schedule for a blog post and YouTube video in the near future. Thank you for taking time to ask your questions. I hope you have a good day.
          Best,
          Alejandro

  2. Jan Trevethan

    Fabulous recipe and result. I have been making bread for years but only been experimenting with ‘biga’ starter for a few months. This is the best recipe I’ve tried, video clear and concise. I did double the recipe to make a larger batch. Bread looks good (although I could have made the score deeper ) best bread I think I’ve every made. Thank you

    1. aramon65

      Jan, Thank you so much for taking time to comment and share your experience with making this recipe. I truly appreciate your feedback. Have a wonderful day.

  3. Pat

    Yes, it did seem to gain strength during folds. I use King Arthur flours for everything, so it’s the basic KA AP flour. I don’t think I mentioned that the loaf does taste terrific, so I’m looking forward to making another loaf. If scheduling permits, I might do that tomorrow. Otherwise, Monday. I think I probably undercooked it a tad. I went for 20 minutes (after uncovering), and the center was a little moist. I’ll bump it up to 25 on the next bake.

    The pooling happened after proofing. There were a few noticeable differences between mine and yours. Yours definitely seemed to keep its structure better as you transferred it from the linen to the parchment. Mine was extremely soft. I did a deep angled score pretty similar to yours, but although yours rose and baked into a nice crusty ear, my loaf just looked like it had a wide scar. But I’ve made other loaves that started out this way and now they’re fine. I’m sure I can get similar results with this with a little practice.

    1. aramon65

      You are right about practice and experience when it comes to baking. I’ve been baking professionally for over 29 years which has giving me lots of practice with handling doughs. My BAKE! students would often remark how I made everything look so easy. Finding one recipe you love and make it at least once a week for 2 months. You will see your skills improve greatly and you’ll have a wonderful baked good to enjoy and share with your friends and family. I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with this recipe. Your feedback is a wonderful learning tool for others who have similar questions or results. Thank you and have a great weekend.

      1. Pat

        After some offline advice from Alejandro regarding my kneading technique, I gave it another try this morning and got far better results. Not quite as spectacular and tall as Alejandro’s, but a very handsome loaf indeed. I might try tweaking a few of the times and improving my methods, but this looks great. I also used my home made tin foil cover.

  4. Pat

    Hi Alejandro,

    I’m going to take a shot at this loaf tomorrow (making the biga tonight). I don’t have a mixing pan large enough to cover the batard in the oven. Any chance I could get away with pre-forming a cover using heavy-duty aluminum foil? Or is the mass critical?

    1. aramon65

      Hello Pat,
      Making a makeshift heavy-duty aluminum foil cover would work. The main point is to trap the steam created by the loaf for the first 10 minutes of baking. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Happy baking!

      1. Pat

        I made the cover using my Kitchenaid mixer head as a mold. It came out pretty well. Sadly, my bread did not. I saw problems at the outset. After 8 minutes of kneading, the dough was still extremely sticky and gritty feeling – not smooth and supple like in the video at around 3:30. I couldn’t touch it without it sticking to my hands like it was covered with spiderman goop. I considered kneading longer, but I didn’t want to overdo it. I couldn’t really do much tension pulling and had to continually use the bench scraper to get it off the counter and my fingers. After the first hour of fermenting, it was a little more cooperative. But after proofing, it just puddled out on the parchment paper. After baking 10 minutes and removing the cover, it’s less than 3″ tall in the center. I’d like to try this again and drop the hydration a touch. I’ve been looking for a good Italian bread recipe, and I’m sure this is going to taste great.

      2. Pat

        Update: Ok, it was a little taller than I originally estimated – more like 3.5″. Very yummy bread and I think it is just what I was looking for, so I’ve got to tweak a little and perhaps work on my kneading and forming technique. One thing I just remembered… I didn’t have whole, stone ground cornmeal and I just used plain old supermarket cornmeal. Might that have had an effect on anything?

      3. aramon65

        Hi Pat,
        Thank you for sharing your experience with making this recipe. I would be more than happy to help you figure out why the dough was so sticky and wet. The cornmeal you used shouldn’t have made a huge difference in the final hydration of the dough. The first question I’d like to ask is did you measure or weigh the ingredients for the recipe?

      4. Pat

        I weighed everything except for the 1/4 tsp IDY in the biga. My initial thought was that I should have autolysed before kneading, but all of the WW flour was in the biga that got a massive overnight “autolyse”, so that couldn’t be it. I’ll be the first to admit that my kneading might need some work. I assume that’s you in the video. Around the 3:00 mark my dough looks just like yours. But at some point, yours transforms into something that seems a little dryer. Your kneading motions are quick, and perhaps mine are not fast enough, giving dough a better chance to stick to me.

      5. aramon65

        Yes, the speed at which you knead can lead to more or less sticking. My students would always comment on why their dough seem sticky and wet while mine didn’t while we kneaded the exact recipe. You noted that your dough pooled when you tried to shape it. Did the dough gain strength when you folded it? (video time stamp 4:10 and 4:54). Even if you under kneaded the dough you should had seen a noticeable difference when folding it. If not, this leads me to ask what kind of all-purpose flour did you use?

  5. Scott

    Thank you for this recipe and video! I’ve tried bread baking many times over the years, and always been disappointed with the results. Being able to actually see how you handle the sticky dough made all the difference. Revolutionary.

    Also, congratulations on the beauty of your videos – so well shot, the grace of your movements, the music, everything. Really excellent.

    1. aramon65

      Scott,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your thoughts with us. Have a great day.

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