To be honest, I don’t even really know what classifies a particular loaf as a “Peasant Bread”. I’m guessing it’s just a term bakers use to make their breads sound more European, more rustic, and more flavorful.
As for myself, I tend to think of peasant breads as those containing at least 1/3rd whole grain. That’s a very arbitrary number, mind you, but it is what it is. Since this loaf hits that minimum here at 33% whole grain, I’m gonna go ahead and call it a peasant bread . . .
And also because it sounds more rustic that way.
This is a rich and complexly flavored bread. It’s whole grain content is split evenly between whole wheat, whole spelt, and whole rye. Each grain adds its own range of flavors and the combination is a perfect match. Coupled with a long slow rise — the result of a very small inoculation of starter — and you end up with a tangy aromatic bread full of whole grain goodness.
And yet despite its high portion of whole grain flour, when made properly this is actually a very light and airy loaf of bread. The whole grain makes it hearty, but the high hydration of the dough keeps it moist and open.
This loaf should be neither dense nor heavy.
Don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t come out perfect the first try. Mine didn’t. Keep at it and you’ll get it soon enough.
Just a warning though: With a high hydration and 11% whole rye, this is a sticky dough. I wouldn’t recommend this as a loaf for beginners — it WILL test your dough handling skills.
269g Bread Flour
50g Whole Wheat Flour
50g Whole Spelt Flour
50g Whole Rye Flour
50g Starter @ 100% Hydration (25g All-Purpose Flour, 25g Water)
Combine all the flour and water and mix until evenly incorporated. No need to develop any gluten here, just make sure the four different flours are wetted and fully dispersed. You’re aiming for the classic shaggy lump here.
The longer you let this sit the better. The more whole grain in a dough, the more important it is to let it rest for a good long while and hydrate. Let it sit for at least 1 hour. Two is better, and three better still. In fact, this recipe would be a great candidate for using the “Pre-mix” method.
After your dough has rested, add the salt and starter. Since this is a wet dough, there’s no need to reserve any water to add with the salt. As you can see from the video, I just sprinkle the salt on top of the dough, toss in my starter (yeah, I let the starter and salt touch) and mix it in.
For my mixing method, I used the technique shown in this video for mixing wet dough. It’ll give you a nice and fully developed dough. But a heads up: the rye in this dough lends it a “plastic” quality. As a result, it’s not the most extensible dough . . .
And it’ll give you a good fight as you mix it.
But the results are worth the effort. So just power through it and be thankful you don’t have to hand knead a whole trough of the stuff like bakers had to back in the day.
3. Bulk Fermentation/Folds
This is designed to be a slow proofing dough, hence the small starter inoculation. But times will vary based on differing conditions and differing starters.
So adjust as necessary.
This particular loaf took 6.5 hours before it was ready to pre-round. What matters is not so much the length of the fermentation, but the degree to which it has proofed. You want the dough somewhat airy, but far from doubled. Maybe a 30-50% rise — slightly young. At no point should your dough degas during any of your folds.
And speaking of folds . . .
I gave this dough 8 folds (not including the one right before turning out the dough). I fold my doughs based on what they need. This can differ from dough to dough and day to day.
But generally speaking, I like to give wet doughs 4 folds during the first 2 hours (every 30 minutes). This helps them to develop some tension and keeps them from sticking too much to the non-oiled bowl I use, which is important later on when I turn out the dough.
Then I usually move on to hourly folds after that. In this particular case, I gave it a final fold just 30 minutes before pre-rounding. The proof wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be before turning out, but had I waited a full hour after the fold it would’ve been a bit too far and likely lost some gas when turned out. So I just split the difference — half an hour — and it worked out perfect.
Always respond to the needs of the dough in hand instead of blindly sticking to some arbitrary schedule. Your dough will thank you.
But also, don’t be afraid to neglect the folds if you’ve got better things to do than hover over your dough all day. The bread making process should mold to your schedule, not the other way around. Sure, you might not get as high a rise or as open a crumb, but you’ll still get good bread. Never be a slave to the folds.
As you can see from the video, I have a pretty simple process for pre-rounding my loaves. By turning the dough just like when you fold it (this is a fold, actually), it releases the dough from the sides of the bowl and allows you to turn it out nice and easy.
This method of removing the dough minimizes the damage done when you turn it out. It doesn’t stick to the bowl and degas as it stretches. You don’t have to scrape it off from the sides. The dough comes out clean, unharmed and with full integrity.
Plus, as an added bonus, you don’t need to use any flour on your hands or the bench. The folds just before you empty the bowl add tension to the dough, and tension reduces a dough’s stickiness. And since your hand is still a bit wet after folding it, the dough won’t stick there either.
Just be very very careful when folding this late into the proof. If your dough deflates at all then you were either too rough, or the dough was too proofy for this method to work. It’s a fine line and requires good judgment. Experience is your friend here so keep at it until your hand and eye can reliably make the right call.
Now just grab your bench knife and carefully pre-round the loaf into a nice tight boule. Make it as tight as you reasonably can — the longer you can let this sit the better. Aim for an hour, but if it needs to be shaped sooner then shape it sooner. Don’t let it overproof on the bench.
The reason I like to let it sit for an hour — as opposed to the more often recommended 20-30 minutes — is because, if I timed the bulk fermentation right, the dough should still be just slightly young. It shouldn’t overproof, and the long rest will allow it to fully relax and become that much more extensible.
This allows you to give the dough fuller and tighter folds as you’re shaping, ultimately leading to a loaf with greater structure and tension. The more structure and tension your loaf can hold, the greater its ability to keep a nice shape and spring oh so mightily in the oven.
And the more open the resulting crumb will be.
You can shape your loaf however you like. I shape differently depending on the dough, circumstances, and what I’m trying to achieve. But generally, with really wet and/or extensible doughs I like to use Chad Robertson’s “Structural Shaping” method (which I just think of as swaddling the loaf).
If the dough is a bit stiffer/less extensible, I’ll either use the folding method you see in this video, or I’ll simply round it up on my apron-clad belly and shape it free hand in the air. But the latter method doesn’t make for very good filming so I usually shape on the bench when recording. Additionally, it can make for a tighter crumb if you don’t have well-trained hands.
One thing I want to make note of is the minimal amount of flour I use when shaping.
There are 3 reasons I can get away with using so little flour: 1) I let the pre-round sit uncovered for a full hour. This helps it to form a very slight skin on the surface (if it develops a lizard skin, it should’ve been covered). 2) I keep my hands floured as I shape. 3) I shape quickly. The quicker you can shape, the less your dough will stick. When filming, I actually shape a bit slower than I would otherwise — it’s better for demonstration purposes that way.
So use as much flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking. But no more. And always strive towards using less and less as your ability improves.
I like to proof this loaf seam down in a linen-lined, lightly floured basket. When you turn it out of the basket the seam-side becomes the top of the loaf and that’s what’ll give it that dramatic tearing in place of the regular cuts.
Makes it look more rustic, no?
Just proof it until ready, usually 2-4 hours. This particular loaf was closer to 4 hours. You can use the finger test if you like, but for reasons that I laid out in this post, I don’t think it’s always the best method — and that holds true here.
Because this loaf has that plastic quality I mentioned earlier, I find the finger-poke test to be a bit misleading. Plastic loaves like to hold deformation, whereas elastic loaves prefer to resist it. Had I been judging the proof of this loaf with the finger-poke test, I probably would have baked it 30-60 minutes too early.
So use your best judgement and adjust the next time if needed.
I baked this loaf in a cast iron combo cooker at 450F for 20 minutes covered and then 30 minutes uncovered. But you can bake however you prefer — dutch oven, baking stone with steam, hotter, cooler, etc. If you’ve been baking awhile, you’ve already got your preferred method so feel free to stick with that if you like.
Be sure to let this loaf cool thoroughly. Wet doughs with a high percentage of whole grain (especially if there’s a lot of rye in there) can get a bit gummy if cut into too soon. In fact, if you’ve got the patience, let it sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours before cutting into it. The flavor will continue to improve for up to a full day after baking, and the crumb will have set fully.
Still, I won’t begrudge you if you decide to rip into this thing while it’s still warm. Even the best of us do it from time to time.
So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the post and found the video helpful. Until next time . . .
Trevor J. Wilson