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

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**
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar (I use 2, my mom uses 3 — difference is negligible)
  • 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:

1978 Comments

  1. I just have to say thank you so much. My house smells delicious. I brushed the top with butter and it’s so golden. Thank you, thank you!

    Reply
  2. Have really been loving this. I cut the ingredients to 3/4 of the original and it fills my two small loaf pans perfectly. Family has literally been chasing me around the house to make it repeatedly (four loaves and 1 pyrex round casserole–also done at the 3/4 measurement) in TWO days!!
    Just for something different, I was wondering if can it be made with other types of grain (rye, for example)?

    Reply
    • Wonderful to hear this, Tibby! And so smart to scale the recipe back a bit — i’m going to try that.

      I have not tried rye, but I would love to be able to make a simple, good rye loaf. My suggestion to these questions is always to start by subbing half of the white flour for a different flour, and then adjusting after that first batch. Hope that makes sense. Let me know if you have any luck!

      Reply
  3. I made this last night – fantastic! This is my new favorite bread recipe. I bake all of our bread – sandwich buns, tortillas, pretty much everything except croissants at this point (that’s coming), so something this easy and delicious is wonderful! Thank you!

    Reply
  4. This is fantastic!!! My new favorite bread recipe. My loaves stuck to the bowls (mostly bottom) and I had used as much butter as I could get to stay on the bowl, but not a big deal, just going to add more butter to the bottom next time. It tastes great, and I used 2 1/2 tbsp sugar. Thanks for the recipe!! And the tips for making the water temp for yeast and how to make a warm place to rise worked great, going to adopt those methods for other baking :D

    Reply
    • Wonderful to hear this, Amanda! And sorry about the sticking…frustrating. The bowls weren’t warm at all when you buttered them, were they? REcently, I buttered warm bowls, and the butter melted a bit, and I had sticking issues, too. Just a thought. Hope next time you don’t have sticking issues!

      Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve never had the patience to bake bread before, but this is so easy I think I’m going to be making it a couple times a week, and more importantly, camping. I just need to figure out how to cook it in a Dutch oven…

    Reply
    • Wonderful to hear this, Erik! Last summer, one man wrote in telling me that he successfully baked this peasant bread in a dutch oven. He didn’t give any details, but I hope his success inspires you. If I try it on our next camping trip, I will report back. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Love this bread. I no longer purchase bread. This is what I use. On Shabbat I make Challah, which is not nearly as easy as this. It’s great but for a super easy super delicious bread this is a wonderful recipe. Btw do yourself a favor and get the Pyrex bowls. It makes the crust.

    Reply
  7. How do I get a copy for this to add to my cook book at home to have always. I seem to loose these posts before I get a chance to make them, and I so want to try this recipe.. thanks for sharing. looks yummy!

    Reply
  8. I live in an apt that has a small oven & am unable to put 2 bowls in at the same time … can I bake the batches separately w/o ruining them

    Reply
    • yes, what will be tricky is that the unbaked portion of the dough will need to be punched down once or twice while the first half bakes. This is no big deal, but I would suggest leaving the unbaked portion of the dough in the mixing bowl versus the baking bowl, because if you punch it down in the baking bowl it will absorb some of the butter, and then you might have trouble with sticking. Then, transfer the dough to the baking bowl when the first loaf is about 5 minutes away from being done. The oven will need to get back up to 425 before you put the second loaf in, so, you’re second loaf can rise during this time.

      Reply
  9. I just tried this recipe. My first rise was quite successful but my second rise didn’t happen. I decided to give it a shot and bake the bread anyway….it’s in the oven so we’ll see what happens.

    Anyone else ever have this issue with the second rise?

    Reply
    • nope, always been a foolproof recipe, unless your yeast is partially dead or most likely overproofed the first rise.

      how long did you let it go for (the first rise?)

      Reply
      • Thanks for chiming in here, Matt.

        Also, what size bowls are you using, Marybeth? Sometimes the bowl size (if it’s too big) makes the second rise seem nonexistent, but really, the bread is ready to go in the oven after 20 minutes or so.

        Reply
    • Yes, I’ve made two batches in two days now and my second rise doesn’t happen. My finished loaves come out of the oven looking like big fat buns, still good though.

      Reply
      • Debbie, so sorry to hear this. What size bowls are you using? Is the first rise going OK? And how long are you letting the first rise go? And are you letting it rise in a place that is too warm?

        Reply
  10. This has been my go to busy weekend bread recipe since I discovered it on your site about 7 months ago!
    I make it in regular bread tins and use it for sandwiches for the kids!
    Thank you so much for sharing (my kids thank you too)!

    Reply
  11. I had issues with my second rise, too. But it’s my fault. I let my first rise go for much longer, only because we had an impromptu family gathering and we left the house for the afternoon. So it sat on my counter till I got back. It still tastes delicious, and I’ll be making it again.

    Reply
  12. Just made this! As with all your recipes, it turned out wonderfully! I made the double loaf in 1 big (2.5 qt) pyrex as it’s the smallest size I have. The loaf is good, though I think I might bake it a five or so minutes more next go-around. Also, I’m curious to try it in a loaf pan….Thank you!

    Reply
  13. My loaves never raise as much the 2nd time (as yours show in the picture). The loaves are only 1/2 the size of yours)(however, the bread is fantastic and we’ll liked!). I’m using the same size bowls you do. Suggestions?

    Reply
  14. I have to say that am the worse cook when it comes to bake things as breads, but in the first try i made THE MUST WONDERFULL loaf of bread, am so proud of myself, that am thinking about starting to sell loaf of breads in our building. i know i got a market for this bread, next time i want to try to add dry tomatoes and some fresh basil to see how it comes out…and i want to say thanks once again for the recipe, I can make an extra income for my home.

    Reply
  15. your mom’s peasant bread is so addicting and I’ve made it twice now! my question is, can i use quinoa flour instead? if yes, should i use the same measurements? thanks again for sharing this wonderful recipe!

    Reply
    • Hi Karen — so happy to hear this! I think the results will be dramatically different if you use quinoa flour because it’s gluten free, right? If you are interested in making g-f peasant bread, I did do a variation. I think you will have better luck substituting the quinoa flour in that recipe, but if you are feeling adventurous and want to stick to the regular peasant bread recipe, go for it! And then report back. Here is the g-f peasant bread: http://www.alexandracooks.com/2014/03/21/gluten-free-peasant-bread/

      Reply
  16. Trying this on a “home alone” Saturday which I really look forward to. My question is, how do you recommend storing the bread? Ziploc bag, aluminum foil, large bowl with lid? Also, fridge or countertop? I can’t find the print icon, and I would love to print this out for future use (I’m kinda old school) ;)
    Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    Reply
    • Hi Keira,

      Because we eat this bread so quickly as a family, I just tuck it in a ziplock bag and store it at room temperature on the countertop. But do know that you can freeze it, sliced or whole, but that once it is frozen it definitely benefits from being toasted or warmed in the oven. It makes great toast. The print icon is to the right of the recipe title. Let me know if you still can’t find it!

      Reply
  17. I was curious what the adjustments were for us Coloradians. I am at 6800 ft, and the elevation is always something I have to consider cooking almost anything…

    Any advice would be great!

    ~Melody

    Reply
  18. I have made this twice now, still my dough does not rise the second time nearly as high as the first. Both times, waiting very long the second. I ended up baking after an hour. Very short stocky bread. My yeast froths when blooming and rises the the first rise. Any suggestions?

    Reply
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  20. my dough wasn’t just wet after the first rise (and i let it rise for 2 full hours on the breadproof temp of my oven), i was able to pour it into the buttered pyrex bowl (i used just 1 2qt. 2nd rise (30 mins) was still thin and well below top of buttered pyrex bowl. i am baking as instructed. after full baking looks pale and dense. maybe it’ll taste good anyway…

    Reply
  21. Thank you very much . I tried the recipe and it was great . I made two bread bowle . one was stuffed with black olive slices and one with olive and cheese cubes. Both I sprinkled with dry thyme and different seeds(sunflower,pumkin , black and white sesame seeds). they were delicious . thanks alot.

    Reply
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  23. Hi Alexandra, I was totally blown away upon just biting into the very first slice of this bread. I made it with rye flour and other time with dry rosemary. I love both versions so much, I am working on my own blog post with the recipe. Thank you very much for sharing your mother’s recipe with all of us and adding those very helpful videos. This is an awesome blog.

    Reply

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