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:

2128 Comments

  1. This looks like a great recipe! I’m trying to make breadbowls for soup this weekend and was wondering if you have any thoughts on what size pyrex bowls or ramekins to use for a reasonable sized breadbowl? Any ideas for how many serving sizes this recipe might make for that? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Kay! Great idea. OK, the pyrex 322 and 441 I think are a little too big for one soup bowl. I think a size about half as large, so about a pint, would be about right. If you are able to find a bowl about that size, I would say this whole recipe would yield 4 soup bowls. Hope that helps! Let me know if you find a size bowl that works — I would love to do this, too!

      Reply
  2. Looks so good, but “spongy” is not a word I look for when I’m looking for good bread! Spongy means tough or something like angel food cake. Its not like that is it?

    Reply
  3. I tried this bread and my family loves it. The next batch I just made into muffins and added rosemary to some and thyme to others. They were wonderful. Thanks for sharing…..it’s going to be added the the Thanksgiving table this year

    Reply
  4. In case anyone wants to scale this for two 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pans, I did 6 c flour, 3 tsp salt, 3 tsp sugar, 3 tsp yeast and it worked great. I may brush some melted butter on top of the loaves next time because the tops don’t get that crust from contact with the buttered pan, which is clearly the best part!

    Reply
  5. thanks, I am a 1st timer & never tried baking bread B4, this looks easy & yummy. ThankU for posting your video !! I am baking !!

    Reply
  6. I finally made this bread and it’s delicious! I appreciate the simplicity. I used white spelt flour with an added tbsp of vital gluten. I used my 1.5 qt bowls. Next time I’ll use my 1 qt. the crust is great due to the buttered bowls. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  7. I coppied the recipe and a link for this page to send to my daughter. She will love making this recipe, and so will I ! ! This sounds so easy, I will be trying it today with Garlic and Dill. Thank you Alex ( my Grand Daughter’s name too )

    Reply
  8. First time making homemade bread…it turned out great! I used instant yeast and followed the instructions exactly. I only had a casserole dish that was 1.5qts so I used that and still turned out great…I only wish the top was as crunchy/buttery as the bottom but I totally forgot to put it back into the oven after I put it on the cooling rack. I used the 1.5qt casserole dish for half the dough and the other half went into 6 muffin tins for yeast rolls. Both baked up perfectly in the time described. The flavor is yeasty and spongy and delicious! I nearly made myself sick eating too much…I could have eaten an entire “bowl” of bread with butter by myself. Totally worth it and I will be making again! Thank you!

    Reply
  9. I’ve made two loaves of this bread in two days in the hopes of having homemade grilled cheese and tomato soup. My kids however, have different plans. They’ve been eating it warm from the oven with real cream butter. (I have to admit that it’s fantastic that way.) Tomorrow, I’ll try two loaves and see if any survives past half an hour out of the oven.
    FYI: I put the full amount of dough in one loaf pan and followed the directions exactly, only adding 5 additional minutes to the second baking time.

    Reply
  10. This bread looks de-lish! However, I don’t have oven-proof bowls. Can I use traditional bread pans instead? If so, would I use the same measurments?
    Thank you

    Reply
  11. I have made this recipe many times but can’t get the rise you do at the end. I had to add water to the flour mixture in the past because it was too dry – thought maybe having to add water was doing something to the temps and the yeast. Today I put more water in (from the initial measurements)and I didn’t have to add any when mixing. Still no big rise at the end. I then thought I was punching down too much before separating into the small bowls so I made sure to do it just like your video shows but still no poofy rise. What could I be doing wrong? I let the small bowls sit for 20 min and the dough gets to, or above, the bowl level, as well. Help!?

    Reply
    • So sorry to hear this, Melanie!

      Ok, how are you measuring your flour — with cups or by weight? It sounds as though you are using dry measuring cups, which is fine, but I would suggest using a lighter hand with the flour: measure scant cups. This should prevent you from having to add more water. The dough should be sticky, but not too wet, if that makes sense. Watch the video of the mixing to compare the texture of the dough before it makes its first rise.

      Also, how long is your first rise going? I wouldn’t go more than 1.5 hours. Is it doubling?

      What kind of yeast — instant or active dry?

      Finally, what size bowls are you using? It sounds as though you are doing everything right. The fact that the dough is rising to the rim or above for the second rise is a great sign. When you do the second rise, it’s next to the oven, right? Part of me is wondering if the second rise is going too long and that it’s falling in the oven versus springing.

      We’ll get to the bottom of this!

      Reply
      • I do use cups and I have been filling them to the correct level and then banging the measuring cup on the counter to pack it down, in a way.

        I have been doing the first rise for 1 hour and 45 minutes and it comes out of the warm oven looking like yours does. When I take the plastic off it does deflate a bit though – is that supposed to happen? Should I decrease the time to 1.5 hours?

        The second rise has been all over the place – I didn’t realize that one mattered. I have been putting the bowls in different places on the counter. That is when I set the timer on the oven. I need to have then right next to the oven – – or on top next to the burners?

        It is DEF falling in the oven and not springing. :(

        I am using one round and one square bowl – the same size and the same size as the ones you use.

        I use the blue label Red Star instant yeast. It’s been in the freezer and I had not been leaving it out for a while before using it in the recipe but this time I let it get to room temp but it didn’t make the difference I was looking for.

        Reply
        • If I may suggest, get a scale and sift flour into it. 510 grams worth, plus 474 grams water and the rest of the ingredients I just use spoon measures.
          Don’t tamp the flour if you don’t use a scale, instead spoon flour into the cup measure and level off with the back of a knife.
          My next suggestion is, less is more: I go an hour to an hour and fifteen for the first rise, and the second rise about 20 -25 minutes while the oven preheats.
          Good luck!

          Reply
  12. My first time baking bread was this recipe a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve made it many times and have shared it with others. It’s so delicious and easy that I’ll never buy bread again. I’ve experimented a bit and thought I’d share with you:
    * Greasing the bowl/pan – I’ve used less butter and had it be fine. I’ve also used a bit of olive oil and it worked well too.

    * Single loaf – Instead of dividing into two small loaves I’ve put the whole batch of dough in a standard sized bread pan and it comes out perfect!

    * Cinnamon-Raisin – Today I experimented with making raisin bread and it turned out great! I added 2 tsp cinnamon and ‘a small handful’ 1/2-1/3 cup of sugar to the dry flour mix before the water/yeast is added. Once the dough is half mixed and sticky I sprinkled in 1 tsp of additional cinnamon as it leaves a nice little trail, and added 1/2 cup of dried raisins. I’ll definitely try this again.

    Michelle

    Reply
    • Wonderful to hear all of this!

      Thank you for sharing all of these variations — so helpful and informative. Definitely trying the cinnamon raisin variation soon. Sounds so good!

      Reply
  13. I really love that you added the videos. I’m more of a visual person and you make this look very easy. I can’t wait to try making this. It looks delicious!

    Reply
  14. I just made this bread. It came out perfect and is “oh my gosh” delicious. When I told my husband I was making bread he gave me the ole side eye as I’m known for my many mishaps when it comes to baking or cooking. If I can make this, anyone can make it. Thank you for posting the recipe & you tube videos. Very helpful!

    Reply
  15. I am very new to bread making (this is only the third yeast bread recipe I’ve tried) and I just had to leave a comment to thank you (and your mum) for this fantastic recipe! This bread ticked all the boxes: easy, fast, good crust and crumb and wonderful balanced flavor. This will be my go-to bread recipe from now on. Thanks again!

    Reply
  16. What a fantastic recipe! I tried it yesterday with great success. I did mine with my sourdough starter, I reduced the flour to 3 cups and the water to 1 cup and used 2 cups of my starter. Mmmmm so good. I don’t know if I can ever go back to the kneaded kind of bread now! Thank you for the great recipe and delicious pictures!

    Reply
  17. Question about turning this into faux focaccia: Do you let it rise twice, punching down in between like the original recipe, or do you simply let it rise once in the 13×9 pan as the brief instructions state? Trying that one out is a definite, but I don’t want to screw it up! :)

    Reply
    • Hi Katie! Yes, let the dough rise twice. I just read that variation, and I can see why it would be confusing. So, let the dough make its first rise in the mixing bowl for an hour or hour and a half. Punch it down, then transfer it to the buttered/oiled 9×13 pan. You might find that you’ll need to stretch it out a bit with your fingers, then let it rest for a bit, then stretch it out again — the resting time helps the gluten relax and will allow you to get a better stretch. Let me know if there is anything else!

      Reply
  18. I made this bread today for the first time, and I actually halved the recipe because I was low on all purpose flour, and it turned out great! The flavor is wonderful, and this bread is super easy to make. I make a white sandwich style bread, and I really thinkthe flavor of this one beats my other one, hands down! The next time I make it, I’ll probably use the whole recipe, but if anyone is wondering, it halved perfectly!

    Reply
  19. This sounds wonderful! Gonna make it tomorrow. Any suggested changes in times or temps for high-altitude prep? At 5,000 ft., baking can get weird.

    Reply
  20. I made this last night and it was delicious. I purchased a set of Pyrex mixing bowls that are oven proof as well just for this recipe. They worked out perfectly. I didn’t have a great second rise but in reading the comments, I think it was how I measured my flour. I will definitely make it again.
    As I am only cooking for two, I had the entire larger loaf left over. I used it to make French Toast for breakfast. It was great! Still have half a loaf to use. Thinking about bread pudding for dinner tomorrow.
    Two questions: 1) do you have a recommendation on storing the extra bread to keep it fresh? Perhaps even crunchy? 2) any other suggestions on how you have used this leftover bread?

    Reply
  21. I live this bread. We ate it all in a couple hours the first time I made it. But, eaxh time I make it, it barely rises the second time. I can’t get it to the top of the bowl. Do you think it would help to need it a few times in between rising.

    Thanks

    Reply
  22. REALLY want to try this. Maybe tomorrow if I can get the ingredients. I’m in Scotland and don’t think I’ve ever seen all-purpose flour here, only plain / self-raising / strong bread flour. I’m guessing I’d go with the strong bread flour? Lisa

    Reply
  23. We love this recipe so I have taken to doing 2 batches to make 4 loaves at a time… I then freeze them. My problem is they are a bit dry after being frozen, what do you think I should do? Could it be that I use bread flour?

    Reply
  24. My dad is a baker but I never really tried baking myself. I tried this recipe today for the first time (first time baking bread in fact) and it worked WONDERFULLY! So yummy! My only fail was that I didn’t grease the baking bowls nearly enough. The taste and the texture were spot on, though.
    Thank you for posting this! It’s so simple and cheap!

    Reply

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