Craft | Peasant Bread

As the weather cools and the snow start to rumble in the belly of mother earth, husband and I trade out lighter dinner fare for hearty soups. About 4 or 5 days a week we have a soup or stew slowly simmering on the stove (sigh … I love alliteration, and I didn’t even try that time).

But, as much as I love soup, I’m a woman who can’t get full on broth and vegetables. No, this sister needs substance: meat, potatoes, and ooey-gooey cheese. Since not every soup recipe can be beefed-up (literally or figuratively), we have made this bread recipe part of our weekly routine. No kneading, no bread machine, just pure peasant bread bliss.

We love the routine – there is something liturgical in watching the dough rise, slowly but surly. And as the smell of baking bread rambles around our little apartment we know two things: winter weather has arrived, and dinner is going to be delish.

You ay have seen similar recipes around the internet – I know I have seen my fair share on Pinterest. But my variation comes from trying several of them, tweaking them just a bit, and tailoring it to our tastes.

Peasant Bread | What you’ll need

6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 t. instant or active-dry yeast
2 1/2 t. salt
2 2/3 c. cool water
A Dutch Oven or heavy stock pot with lid
Large mixing bowl
Tea Towel (not terry cloth)

Peasant Bread | What you’ll do

Measure your flour, yeast, and salt into the large mixing bowl (and I mean large, needs to be big enough to let the dough rise substantially). Slowly add the water and mix. The dough will be really sticky and messy. You will probably look at it and think, “Man, that’s the ugliest dough I have ever seen, and I can’t even get my spoon out of it!” Resist the urge to add more flour or water, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise 12-18hours on your kitchen counter. Generally, I make it before bed and let it rise overnight, or make it before work and let it rise throughout the day. You’ll know it is done when you can readily smell the yeast and little bubbles have formed on the top – oh, and it’s bigger than the last time you saw it.

Once it has risen, flour your hands and the counter (I find flouring a large cutting board makes for easier clean up), and turn the dough onto the floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on the top of the mound of dough so that you can handle it. Then, use your fingers to tuck the dough’s edges underneath itself two or three times, until it makes a smooth ball. Flour your tea towel, and lay the dough on top of it, cover the dough with your plastic wrap, and let it rise another two hours.

When the dough has 30 mins left to rise, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Put your dutch oven or stock pot – lid and all – in the cold oven, and let it heat up as the oven does.

Once preheated, take your pot out and remove the lid. This is the tricky part. Slide your hand under the tea towel so that the dough is somewhat balanced in your palm. This is where you get to pretend to be a basket ball player. You’re going to very carefully (because your pot is smoking hot!) plop the dough in the pot, sorta like a slam dunk. Go ahead – plop that sucker. Now, take a deep breath. My ugliest plops have made some of my prettiest loaves!

Return the lid to the pot and the pot to the oven. Bake for 45 mins, remove the lid and bake another 15 mins. Let the loaf cool completely before you slice into it. Enjoy it with your favorite fall or winter soup!

 

Side Note:

Once you get the main recipe down, you’ll be able to do it easily from memory. And that’s a recipe I love – there’s something beautiful in the habitual tradition of making a recipe you know you and your family love. Recently, husband and I had a dinner party and I was feeling like exploring different flavors of bread. So I made my dough in two bowels instead of one – just half each ingredient and mix separately. And then I added fun stuff to the dough at the initial stage of mixing the dry ingredients. To once bowl I added basil and sun-dried tomatoes, and to the other I added rosemary and lemon zest. And they were a hit! Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, try adding all sorts of yummy flavors to your dough, and let me know your most successful combinations!

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