My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best Easiest Bread You Will Ever Make

peasant bread

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.

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. It is not artisan bread, and it’s not 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 Leahy, 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.”

peasant bread

A foolproof way to make sure your yeast is active is to sprinkle it over lukewarm water in a small bowl with a little sugar (detailed instructions below). After about 10 minutes, the yeast mixture will appear foamy as it does here:
flour and yeast

unmixed dough

Just-mixed dough, ready to rise:
just-mixed dough

Dough after first rise:
dough, risen

Dough, punched down:
dough, punched down
Dividing the dough in half:
dividing the dough

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.
pyrex

Buttering and filling the bowls:
bread bowls

Dough after second rise, ready for the oven:
dough, ready for oven

This is the yeast I buy in bulk. I store it in the freezer, and it lasts forever.
red star yeast

peasant bread

peasant bread

My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best Easiest Bread You Will Ever Make

Notes:

The bowls: The vintage Pyrex #441 bowl is my favorite bowl to bake the peasant bread in — the perfectly round shape of the bowl creates a beautiful round loaf. It belongs to a set of four nesting bowls (also called Cinderella bowls, specifically the Pyrex #441, #442, #443, #444), which I have purchased from Ebay. I absolutely love the set in general, but I love most of all that I can bake the whole batch of peasant bread in the second largest bowl (#443) and half of the batch in the smallest bowl (#441). The set runs anywhere from $35 to $50 or higher depending on the pattern of the Pyrex. More pictures of the bowls can be found on this post.

Another cheaper, very good option is the Pyrex 322.

The bread: This is a sticky, no-knead dough, so, while the original recipe doesn't call for one, some sort of baking vessel, such as pyrex bowls (about 1-L or 1.5 L or 1-qt or 1.5 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. 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- or 1.5-qt bowl, bake 3/4 of the dough in a loaf pan and bake the rest off in muffin tins or a popover pan — I recently made 6 mini loaves in a popover pan. The second rise should take no more than 30 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (510 g | 1 lb. 2 oz) all-purpose flour* (do not use bleached all-purpose)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water**
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active-dry yeast***
  • room temperature butter, about 2 tablespoons

    * My mother always uses 1 cup graham flour and 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour. 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. Also, measure scant cups of flour if you are not measuring by weight: 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.

    ** To make foolproof lukewarm water that will not kill the yeast (water that's too hot can kill yeast), boil some water — I use my teapot. Then, mix 1 1/2 cups cold water with 1/2 cup boiling water. This ratio of hot to cold water will be the perfect temperature for the yeast.

    ***I buy Red Star yeast in bulk (2lbs.) from Amazon. I store it in my 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 — I think it's 2.25 teaspoons. I have made the bread with active dry and rapid rise and instant yeast, and all varieties work. If you are interested in buying yeast in bulk, here you go: Red Star Baking Yeast Also, if you buy instant yeast, there is no need to do the proofing step — you can add the yeast directly to the flour — but the proofing step does just give you the assurance that your yeast is active. I love SAF instant yeast, which can be purchased from King Arthur flour as well as Amazon.

Instructions

  1. Mixing the dough:
    • If you are using active-dry yeast: 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.

    • If you are using instant yeast: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. Add the water. Mix until the flour is absorbed.
  2. Cover bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for at least an hour. (If you have the time to let it rise for 1.5 to 2 hours, do so — this will help the second rise go more quickly.) 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 300ºF. The goal is to just create a slightly warm environment for the bread. My mother always covers the dough with a tea towel that she has run under hot water and rung out so it's just damp.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Grease two oven-safe bowls (such as the pyrex bowls I mentioned above) with about a tablespoon of butter each. (My mother might use even more — more butter not only adds flavor but also prevents sticking). 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. 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 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: I do not do the warm-oven trick for the second rise. I simply set my bowls on top of my oven, so that they are in a warm spot. Twenty minutes in this spot usually is enough for my loaves.)
  4. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and make 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.

Notes

Variations:

#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 9x9-inch glass baking dish and one Pyrex bowl or just butter one large 9x13-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

http://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/11/07/my-mothers-peasant-bread-the-best-easiest-bread-you-will-ever-make/

This bread is irresistible when it’s freshly baked, but it also makes wonderful toast on subsequent mornings as well as the best grilled cheeses.
loaf_new2

cutbread

Peasant Bread Video Tutorial:

Blooming Active Dry Yeast: Here I’m using Red Star Active Dry Yeast. I order it in bulk from Amazon and store it in an airtight container in the freezer.

Mixing the Dough Using Active Dry Yeast:

Mixing the Dough Using Instant Yeast: Here I’ve used SAF Instant Yeast, which I also order in bulk and store in the fridge in an airtight container. When you use instant yeast (SAF or other brands), you can mix it in directly with the flour. Also, pardon the chaos of the children here — no need to watch this video if you’re using active-dry yeast and already watched the first video in this series. Skip to the next one if this is the case.

After 60 – 90 minutes of rising, Punching Down the Dough Using Two Forks; Buttering the Pyrex 322 Bowls; Dividing the Dough in Half for the Second Rise:

Placing Bread in the Oven:

Checking Halfway: Here I open the oven to show you how the bread is doing but it’s really best to just keep the oven door closed. After 15 minutes in the oven, turn the heat down to 375ºF and bake for another 17 minutes.

Removing the bread from the oven and turning it out onto cooling racks:

Slicing the Peasant Bread:

1861 Comments

  1. Here a respons from belgium.
    I made this bread this evening for the first time, i am curious what the kids will say tomorrow morning.
    Thanks for the great recipe.
    Maartje

    Reply
    • Yes you can make it Gluten Free. She has a link to her recipe for that. One thing I suggest is using psyllium husk powder instead of the xantham gum. You replace it in equal measure 1:1.

      Reply
        • I haven’t tried it yet but I’m going to this week. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks so much for taking the time to convert your recipe to GF.

          Reply
        • I made the Gluten Free version this weekend using the psyllium husk powder instead of the guar gum. That worked great but mine failed to rise the second time so my bread was more like ciabatta, which was great. Next time I’m going to let it make it’s first rise in the buttered bowl and go ahead and bake it then. I think even though I was very careful in the transfer after the first rise it was still too much handling. If there’s not a significant reason for the second rise I think this will solve that problem. I can’t wait to use this recipe for pizza dough and focaccia. I’m SO happy I found this! :) Thank you!

          Reply
  2. I am in the process of making this bread now to have with supper. I love making bread but have dexterity problems with my hands now and cannot knead bread, I truly think this bread is going to be a keeper. Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply
  3. ok so I rarely leave a comment about a recipe but this time is different. W O W i love this bread. I didnt have the pyrex bowls so i used bread pan and let me say,,, yum
    I was leary about making bread again after all these years. No kneading? I was waiting for a failure but to my surprise it was a hit. thanks so much

    Reply
  4. This is a great recipe! Looking forward to making it this weekend. I’d like to add some fresh rosemary to this. Have you tried adding herbs to it? Thanks so much for sharing this :)

    Reply
  5. Hi Alexandra, great post! Have you ever tried this bread with spelt four? I have just shy of 2 kgs of spelt flour (white and whole wheat) that I bought for another recipe and I would like to use it up. I’ll probably try it anyway but just wondering if you had :-)

    Reply
  6. I would like to try this recipe with a sourdough starter. Do you think it will work? Your instructions are clear and consise and I thank you for this post! I’m going to try it like your recipe first, then I’ll try the sourdough version. Thanks!

    Reply
    • +1 HERE!!!

      I just fed my starter and getting anxious to try this out…

      I think I will just omit some flour and water and replace with my firm starter…

      And maybe leave out the yeast and prolong the rising time.

      Anybody?

      Reply
    • Hi Frank,

      I just responded to Matt re sourdough starter, and while I have never tried it, a few people have had success and left some notes in the comments. This is what I found:

      1. I am SOOO happy and thankful for this recipe. Just to follow up yesterdays post. I 1/2 the recipe and used 1 cup of my sourdough starter here. I did everything else to the “T”. My bread turned out amazing! After many failures at different sourdough recipes, I’m sticking with this one. It had such a nice subtle but most present sourdough flavor. Thank you Alexandra for your recipe. <3

      2. SOURDOUGH NOTE – I had a 100% hydration sourdough starter on the go that needed to be divided/poured off, so I used 1 cup of it in the last batch of this bread (it replaced 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water from your recipe) – this also made an excellent loaf with heaps of flavour.

      Reply
  7. Question from someone who doesn’t bake at all….I don’t eat butter, can I coat the bowls/pans with coconut or olive oil instead?

    Reply
    • Tricia, you can use olive oil or coconut oil, but people have had issues with sticking. I suggest using coconut oil that is still somewhat solid but maleable — so that it’s not melted but almost the texture of room temperature butter. Does that make sense? And be very generous with your coating. This is crucial to prevent sticking.

      Reply
  8. Hi, hoping for a quick response because my bread is rising as I type! I am planning to use a 2.5L bowl to do the whole recipe because that is all I have. How will this change the baking time?

    Thanks!
    Julia

    Reply
  9. Alexandra,

    Thank you for the great recipe. I tried all breads. All methods… everything. I’ve had successes and failures everywhere.
    Then I discovered Jim Lahey… and the world changed.

    Now I discover this recipe and it’s like Lahey’s (already foolproof) reciped, turbo charged with zero loss of quality.

    Fast, foolproof and flavorful.

    Thank you,

    I am most certainly impressed and look forward to going into my habit of modifying the recipe.

    But, as I commented to another commenter today, is there a way to search the comments (all 1800+) for anyone that may have commented about something in particular?

    In my case, sourdough starter?
    Or cheese?
    Or?
    you get my drift.

    Thanks again for sharing this, you have given us something special and I hope you feel good about it.

    Reply
    • Hi Matt! I’m so happy to hear this. I have tried all of the bread recipes, too, and while I like them all for various reasons, this is the one I always return to for its speed and simplicity. Glad to hear you agree. I am a huge fan of the Lahey pizza dough, however: http://www.alexandracooks.com/2014/07/08/the-zucchini-anchovy/

      Now, as for your questions, unfortunately there is not a good method of searching the comments. I should look into some sort of wordpress plugin for that. A few people have used a sourdough starter. I searched the comments in my dashboard and came up with two that might be helpful:

      1. I am SOOO happy and thankful for this recipe. Just to follow up yesterdays post. I 1/2 the recipe and used 1 cup of my sourdough starter here. I did everything else to the “T”. My bread turned out amazing! After many failures at different sourdough recipes, I’m sticking with this one. It had such a nice subtle but most present sourdough flavor. Thank you Alexandra for your recipe. <3

      2. SOURDOUGH NOTE – I had a 100% hydration sourdough starter on the go that needed to be divided/poured off, so I used 1 cup of it in the last batch of this bread (it replaced 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water from your recipe) – this also made an excellent loaf with heaps of flavour.

      As for cheese: Lots of people have had success adding grated cheese and other herbs and seasonings. I would add the cheese after the first rise. Just sprinkle it over the punched down dough, and use the forks to turn the dough onto itself and incorporate the cheese. Hope that helps. Let me know if there is anything else!

      Reply
  10. I have never made bread before but this sounds too good to pass up. Thank you for sharing! And thanks to your Mom as well! :)

    Reply
  11. This bread has become a staple in my household since I discovered this recipe about a year and a half ago! Making it yet again today, and thought I would leave a comment. It really is the easiest (and may very well be the tastiest) bread I have ever made. This was the first thing my husband ever baked, and even then, he nailed it. Fantastic recipe.

    Reply
    • The whole recipe will not fit into one loaf pan. But, if you split the dough and bake it in two loaf pans, the loaves will be smallish. If you are up for it, I think the best move is to double the recipe and to bake it between three loaf pans. You can freeze the bread once it has baked.

      Reply
  12. How about using whole wheat flour in the recipe? I’m not gluten-free, but am trying to minimize my gluten intake and to use whole wheat or other flours when possible. Not a deal-breaker, because this bread looks so easy that I want to try it anyway. But if whole wheat flour will work, I’ll go that route. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Ann, I would suggest just substituting one cup of the all-purpose flour for one cup of whole wheat flour to start. You can, of course, make the whole batch whole wheat, but it will be denser and not as tasty. I find 1 cup whole wheat and 3 cups all-purpose flour to be a nice mix, and I do like 2 cups whole wheat and 2 cups a-p, too. It tastes best, of course, when all ap flour is used, but I understand wanting to use whole wheat flour when possible.

      Reply
  13. Thank You for this recipe! It is so easy and so scrumptious. I found the recipe last week, made it on Thursday and the bread was gone by Saturday night. My family loved it. I didn’t have small bowls, so I used my larger Pyrex bowls and the loaves turned out great. Not as round as yours, but inside just as light and airy. I made the bread again tonight to use as our bread this week. I am not a bread maker at all, and I am two for two with this recipe. Even though baking bread typically scares me, I am quick to try new things and tinker with recipes. I have read several of the comments on this recipe and thought I would try a little flavor. So I pinched off some of the dough and mixed in a touch of olive oil, a pinch of crushed rosemary, and a tad of minced garlic. I used a mini loaf pan. It was beyond amazing. That little loaf is gone already and the bread only came out of the oven about an hour ago. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply
  14. This is such a great recipe. I have tried to make bread before, biscuits, etc., but each attempt ended in failure. I had decided that while I can cook up a storm in the kitchen, baking is just not for me. I made this bread and it came out perfectly! Out of the oven, the outside was crisp and delicious while the inside was warm and soft. When it cooled, the outside gained a somewhat chewy texture (which I *love*) and the inside was spongy and soft, very resilient. This is home-made bread I could deck out with any number of spreads or toppings and it will hold up! Thank you for sharing this recipe! I have already made four loaves of the stuff since Sunday, and am already thinking of all the wonderful things I could do with this bread; rosemary and sea salt, jalapeno cheddar, raisin and cinnamon. Being able to make homemade bread for my family and friends is awesome, I may have to do runs of this stuff for Christmas gifts this year. Thanks again!

    Reply
  15. Oh, and as a note for other users, I used teflon bread pans for this recipe and while the loaves came out a bit smaller than a standard loaf, it worked perfectly well and because of the teflon (and prodigious amounts of butter) it rolled right out of the pan onto the cooling racks easily.

    Reply
    • Rae, It’s not that you can’t use bleached ap flour, but I just don’t find that the bread turns out as well with bleached flour. Many commenters have had success with it, and if that’s all you’ve got, go for it. But for future reference, I suggest non bleached ap flour. I love all of the King Arthur flours in particular.

      Reply

Leave a Comment.