My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best Easiest Bread You Will Ever Make
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When I tell you that, if forced, I had to pick one and only one recipe to share with you that this — my mother’s peasant bread — would be it, I am serious. I would almost in fact be OK ending the blog after this very post, retiring altogether from the wonderful world of food blogging, resting assured that you all had this knowledge at hand. This bread might just change your life.
The reason I say this is simple. I whole-heartedly believe that if you know how to make bread you can throw one hell of a dinner party. And the reason for this is because people go insane over homemade bread. Not once have I served this bread to company without being asked, “Did you really make this?” And questioned: “You mean with a bread machine?” But always praised: “Is there anything more special than homemade bread?”
And upon tasting homemade bread, people act as if you’re some sort of culinary magician. I would even go so far as to say that with homemade bread on the table along with a few nice cheeses and a really good salad, the main course almost becomes superfluous. If you nail it, fantastic. If you don’t, you have more than enough treats to keep people happy all night long.
The Magic of Peasant Bread
So what, you probably are wondering, makes this bread so special when there are so many wonderful bread recipes out there? Again, the answer is simple. For one, it’s a no-knead bread. I know, I know. There are two wildly popular no-knead bread recipes out there.
But this is a no-knead bread that can be started at 4:00pm and turned out onto the dinner table at 7:00pm. It bakes in well-buttered pyrex bowls — there is no pre-heating of the baking vessels in this recipe — and it emerges golden and crisp without any steam pans or water spritzes. This is not artisan bread, nor is it trying to be. It is peasant bread, spongy and moist with a most-delectable buttery crust.
Genuinely, I would be proud to serve this bread at a dinner party attended by Jim Lahey, Mark Bittman, Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It is a bread I hope you will all give a go, too, and then proudly serve at your next dinner party to guests who might ask where you’ve stashed away your bread machine. And when this happens, I hope you will all just smile and say, “Don’t be silly. This is just a simple peasant bread. Easy as pie. I’ll show you how to make it some day.”
Five Favorite Peasant Bread Variations
- Overnight Refrigerator Focaccia
- Everything Bagel Seasoning Peasant Bread
- Gluten-Free Peasant Bread
- Quinoa-Flax Toasting Bread
- No-Knead Thyme Dinner Rolls
How to Store Bread
If you want to store the bread at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, I think the best method is in a ziplock bag. I’ve tried other eco-friendly options, but nothing seems to keep bread freshest — the crumb the softest — better than a ziplock bag. You can re-use the bags again and again.
If you intend to keep the bread for longer, I would freeze it. I often slice bread as soon as it cools completely, transfer the slices to a ziplock bag, then freeze. This way, I know the bread was frozen at its freshest.
A ziplock bag will not prevent the crust of bread from turning soft, which is why I suggest always reheating day-old bread. I use a toaster at breakfast for slices of bread, and I reheat half or quarter loaves in the oven at 350ºF for 15 to 20 minutes when serving for dinner.
Bread revives so beautifully in the oven or toaster.
This is the yeast I buy exclusively: SAF Instant Yeast. Instant yeast can be whisked into the flour directly (as you would salt or sugar) without any blooming or proofing. Find it here: SAF Instant Yeast. If you want to stick to active-dry (but don’t! I promise, instant is so easy.) Red Star yeast is great.
Just-mixed dough, ready to rise:
Dough after first rise:
Dough, punched down:
Dividing the dough in half:
As I noted above, this is a very wet dough and must be baked in an oven-proof bowl. I am partial to the Pyrex 1L 322 size, but any similarly sized oven-proof bowl will work.
Buttering and filling the bowls:
Dough after second rise, ready for the oven:
This bread is irresistible when it’s freshly baked, but it also makes wonderful toast on subsequent mornings as well as the best grilled cheese.
Here’s a fun variation: Everything Bagel Seasoning Bread. Simply coat the buttered bowls with Everything Bagel Seasoning.Print
The cheapest, most widely available 1-qt bowl is the Pyrex 322. Update: These bowls are becoming harder to find and more expensive. As a result, I’m suggesting this cheaper option: the Pyrex 3-piece set. You can split the dough in half as always (see recipe) and bake half in the 1-quart bowl and half in the 1.5 quart bowl. The loaves will not be the same shape, but they will be delicious nonetheless.
I sell the 1-qt Pyrex bowls as part of a kit, which includes a scale, a signed copy of my cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs, a Dot and Army cloth bowl cover, a spatula, and a Julia Child notecard. I also sell the kits without the bowls (if you already have them).
This is a sticky, no-knead dough, so, some sort of baking vessel, such as pyrex bowls (about 1-L or 1-qt) or ramekins for mini loaves is required to bake this bread. You can use a bowl that is about 2 qt or 2 L in size to bake off the whole batch of dough (versus splitting the dough in half) but do not use this size for baking half of the dough — it is too big.
I buy SAF Instant Yeast in bulk from Amazon I store it in my fridge or freezer, and it lasts forever. If you are using the packets of yeast (the kind that come in the 3-fold packets), just go ahead and use a whole packet — It’s 2.25 teaspoons. I have made the bread with active dry, rapid rise, and instant yeast, and all varieties work. The beauty of instant yeast is that there is no need to “proof” it — you can add the yeast directly to the flour. I never use active-dry yeast anymore.
If you have active-dry yeast on hand and want to use it, here’s how: In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar into the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top. There is no need to stir it up. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is foamy and/or bubbling just a bit — this step will ensure that the yeast is active. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. When the yeast-water-sugar mixture is foamy, stir it up, and add it to the flour bowl. Mix until the flour is absorbed.
You can find step-by-step video instruction here.
Several commenters have had trouble with the second rise, and this seems to be caused by the shape of the bowl they are letting the dough rise in the second time around. Two hours for the second rise is too long. If you don’t have a 1-qt bowl, bake 3/4 of the dough in a loaf pan and bake the rest off in muffin tins or a popover pan. The second rise should take no more than 30 minutes.
Also, you can use as many as 3 cups of whole wheat flour, but the texture changes considerably. I suggest trying with all all-purpose or bread flour to start and once you get the hang of it, start trying various combinations of whole wheat flour and/or other flours.
The single most important step you can take to make this bread truly foolproof is to invest in a digital scale. This one costs under $10. If you are not measuring by weight, do this: scoop flour into the measuring cup using a separate spoon or measuring cup; level off with a knife. The flour should be below the rim of the measuring cup.
Here’s a printable version of this recipes that’s less wordy: Peasant Bread Recipe, Simplified
Peasant Bread Fans! There is now a book: Bread Toast Crumbs, a loaf-to-crumb bread baking book, filled with tips and tricks and answers to the many questions that have been asked over the years. In the book you will find 40 variations of the master peasant bread recipe + 70 recipes for using up the many loaves you will bake. Learn more about the book here or buy it here.
- 4 cups (512 g) unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
- 2 teaspoons (10 g) kosher salt
- 2 cups (454 g) lukewarm water (made by mixing 1.5 cups cold water with 0.5 cup boiling water)
- 2 teaspoons (8 g) sugar
- 2 teaspoons (8 g) instant yeast, see notes above
- room temperature butter, about 2 tablespoons
- Mixing the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. Add the water. Mix until the flour is absorbed. (If you are using active-dry yeast, see notes above.)
- Let it rise. Cover bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for at least an hour. (In the winter or if you are letting the bread rise in a cool place, it might take as long as two hours to rise.) This is how to create a slightly warm spot for your bread to rise in: Turn the oven on at any temperature (350ºF or so) for one minute, then turn it off. Note: Do not allow the oven to get up to 300ºF, for example, and then heat at that setting for 1 minute — this will be too hot. Just let the oven preheat for a total of 1 minute — it likely won’t get above 100ºF. The goal is to just create a slightly warm environment for the bread.
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Grease two 1-qt or 1.5-qt oven-safe bowls (see notes above) with about a tablespoon of butter each. Using two forks, punch down your dough, scraping it from the sides of the bowl, which it will be clinging to. As you scrape it down try to turn the dough up onto itself if that makes sense. You want to loosen the dough entirely from the sides of the bowl, and you want to make sure you’ve punched it down. Then, take your two forks and divide the dough into two equal portions — eye the center of the mass of dough, and starting from the center and working out, pull the dough apart with the two forks. Then scoop up each half and place into your prepared bowls. This part can be a little messy — the dough is very wet and will slip all over the place. Using small forks or forks with short tines makes this easier — my small salad forks work best; my dinner forks make it harder. It’s best to scoop it up fast and plop it in the bowl in one fell swoop.
- Let the dough rise again for about 20 to 30 minutes on the countertop near the oven (or near a warm spot) or until it has risen to just below or above (depending on what size bowl you are using) the top of the bowls. (Note: Do not do the warm-oven trick for the second rise, and do not cover your bowls for the second rise. Simply set your bowls on top of your oven, so that they are in a warm spot. Twenty minutes in this spot usually is enough for my loaves.)
- Bake it. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and bake for 15 to 17 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and turn the loaves onto cooling racks. If you’ve greased the bowls well, the loaves should fall right out onto the cooling racks. If the loaves look a little pale and soft when you’ve turned them out onto your cooling racks, place the loaves into the oven (outside of their bowls) and let them bake for about 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.
- How to Bake the Peasant Bread in a Dutch Oven: Preheat a Dutch Oven for 45 minutes at 450ºF. Dust a clean work surface with flour. After the first rise, turn the dough out onto the floured surface and shape it into a ball: I like to fold it envelope style from top to bottom, then side to side; then I flip it over and use the pinkie edges of my hands to pinch the dough underneath and create some tension. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper. Let rest for 20 minutes. If you feel your dough is spreading too much you can lift up the sheet of parchment paper, dough and all, and place it in a bowl of a similar size. After the 20 minutes, transfer the dough, parchment paper and all to the Dutch oven. Carefully cover it. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake 15 minutes more.
- To bake the peasant bread in a loaf pan: If you are using an 8.5×4.5-inch loaf pan or a 9×5-inch loaf pan, you can bake 3/4 of the dough in it; bake off the rest of the dough in ramekins or other small vessels … the mini loaves are so cute. You can also make 1.5x the recipe, and bake the bread in 2 loaf pans. If you have a large loaf pan, such as a 10×6-inch loaf pan, you can bake off the entire batch of dough in it. For loaf pans, bake at 375ºF for 45 minutes.
- How to Bake at Hight Altitude:
- Add a little bit more water because it rises fast and it is so dry: about a quarter cup for every 512 g of flour.
- Try decreasing the yeast to 1.5 teaspoons.
- If your dough is especially gooey, try decreasing the water by 1/4 cup. But, if you aren’t using a scale, my first suggestion would be to buy a scale and weigh the flour, and make the bread once as directed with the 2 cups water and 512 grams flour, etc.
- Punch the dough down twice before transferring it to the buttered Pyrex bowls. In other words, let it rise for 1-1.5 hours, punch it down, let it rise again for about an hour, punch it down, then transfer it to the buttered bowls.
- #1. Cornmeal. Substitute 1 cup of the flour with 1 cup of cornmeal. Proceed with the recipe as directed.
- #2. Faux focaccia. Instead of spreading butter in two Pyrex bowls in preparation for baking, butter one 9×9-inch glass baking dish and one Pyrex bowl or just butter one large 9×13-inch Pyrex baking dish. If using two vessels, divide the dough in half and place each half in prepared baking pan. If using only one large baking dish, place all of the dough in the dish. Drizzle dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil (if using the small square pan) and 2 tablespoons of olive oil (if using the large one). Using your fingers, gently spread the dough out so that it fits the shape of the pan. Use your fingers to create dimples in the surface of the dough. Sprinkle surface with chopped rosemary and sea salt. Let rise for 20 to 30 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes at 425ºF and 17 minutes (or longer) at 375ºF. Remove from pan and let cool on cooling rack.
- #3. Thyme Dinner Rolls
- #4 Gluten-free
- #5. Everything Bagel Seasoning Bread. Simply coat the buttered bowls with Everything Bagel Seasoning. Watch a how-to on Instagram Stories here.
- #6: Whole Wheat Peasant Bread. Use as much as 50% whole wheat flour. I like King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat flour (see this post) or sprouted wheat flour (see this post).
- Category: Bread
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: easy, bread, simple, no-knead, peasant