The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

a little help with peasant bread?

dtiertant's picture

a little help with peasant bread?

Good people of the Internet,

I'm trying to bake a plain round loaf of peasant bread in a conventional oven. I just want a dark, hearty loaf with big holes and lots of texture. After several miserable failures, here I am, begging for your expert advice.

My latest attempt:

1. Put together a poolish (a bit of yeast, a cup of cool water, a little brown sugar and flour) and let it sit out for 18 hours. Room temp 73 degrees.

2. Combined flours (40% whole wheat, 40% rye, a little oat flour and a little baking flour) with the poolish, some more yeast, some molasses and salt. Let rise for 90 minutes. The dough was on the wet side. 3.5 cups of dough, 1 cup of water.

3. Gently folded the dough w/o punching down or kneading heavily, added flour as needed. Did this 3 times, 45 minutes apart. Thought I had a nice ball of dough.

4. Pre-heated the oven and a baking stone to 475 degrees. Had a pan of water and a spray bottle to create steam for a solid crust.

5. Scored the loaf, put it in on the top rack, sprayed all over for the first 5 minutes. The oven lost a lot of heat because of this. Turned it down to 425 and baked for 25-30 minutes. Let cool.

The crust comes out great, but my crumb is nowhere near what it ought to be. It's half cooked, and there are NO holes! It's super dense, like brownies. Inedible. I've tried to do this with plain baking flour and without a poolish, with the same result.

What am I doing wrong? Is there not enough yeast to begin with? (Using one packet of active dry.) Is it not rising long enough? Am I manhandling my dough? Clearly, the oven's not baking it long enough, as the internal temp was only 170 degrees instead of the target of 210. But something else is just wrong...

Thank you!

Ford's picture

I am not sure about your proportions.  For large holes, you need to have a slack (wet) dough 70+% hydration (i.e. 70 plus parts BY WEIGHT of water for each 100 parts by weight of flour.)  Of course, you must let the final loaf fully proof before putting it into the oven. 

I am a bit concerned about the use of molasses with the yeast, if the molasses has sulfites, bisulfites, or sulfur dioxide in it.  These compounds are used to kill yeast in molasses.  To be on the safe side use only "unsulfured" molasses or use brown sugar.

Other items that might be causing you problems are the use of rye, oats, and even the whole wheat.  The rye and oat flours are very low in gluten and thus make a dough that does not rise easily.  Whole wheat contains bran that has a tendency to "cut" the bubbles in the dough.  Soaking the whole wheat for an hour or so in the liquid used in the dough will soften the bran.  From your description of the flours, I would say you had very little gluten in the dough.

Proper shaping technique is also important to get a high loaf and not a flat one.  Build tension in the surface by stretching during the shaping.

You are right that your loaf was not fully baked with an internal temperature of 170°F.  You should let the temperature reach 200 to 205°F.

Are you using a recipe from a trusted book, or just winging it?  From your discription of the process, I suspect the later.  Also the use of scales for measuring the flour and the liquids would be a great help.

I hope this is helpful, and welcome to The Fresh Loaf."


LindyD's picture

Wondering about your process.  You mix your preferment (a poolish contains equal amounts of flour and water plus a tiny amount of yeast - and nothing else), then the next day combine it with your flour, etc. and let it sit for 90 minutes - which I see as a form of autolyse in spite of the extra ingredients.

You fold the dough during the bulk fermentation.

You then shape the dough and bake it.

I think you may be missing a step: the final fermentation, or proofing.  Or did you just forget to note it?

BTW, welcome to TFL!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I see the 90 min rest as the bulk rise.  Step 3 with the folding every 45 minutes is more of a sourdough technique but could be the final proof phase.  I see no real problems with the way you threw it together.  If the sugar is for flavor, don't put it into the poolish.  Save it for the main dough mixing.

Baking on the top shelf in the oven is what stood out to me, that is why the crust is done and the inside not.  I suggest moving the shelf down.  Get the heat centered in the bottom of the loaf.  In a standard home oven, I start with adjusting the shelf so that the upper part of my loaf-to-be is in the middle of the oven.  With bread pans rims at the middle.  Then move up or down from there.  If you use two inverted pans or a dutch oven to bake trapping steam, don't be afraid to use the bottom shelves.


clazar123's picture

Use the "Search" box on the left side. I think you will find numerous threads that include recipes and observations that may be helpful for "peasant bread".

Find one recipe and work with it over and over until it is the recipe you want.Write your observations for each bake and adjust the recipe each time. Change just 1 thing each time!

 Peasants actually needed to be quite skilled breadmakers because they often had minimal  or poor quality ingredients and no one (not even peasants) want to eat bad food. So they were quite skilled at getting the most from the least-that takes experience and time- and they had generations of teachers to draw from.

Do some research,get a recipe you think will work for what you want your final loaf to look like and start the process. Have fun!

dtiertant's picture

Thank you all for your warm welcome and kind assistance.

No specific recipe, though I had a look at a couple of recipes on the KAF site before giving this a shot. The importance of some steps may have been overlooked. (Also, I did not pay much attention in high school Chemistry class.)

Looks like I could try a few things differently...

- Use more high gluten bread flour in proportion to the darker flours.

- Skip the molasses and go with straight brown sugar.

- Allow flour and water to autolyse before the addition of yeast. Oops.

- Give the yeast more time to activate.

- Allow more time for final proofing. 40 minutes didn't cut it.

- Find a way to retain heat more heat in the oven. It lost so much after opening the doors to spray that it reverted from Bake to Pre-Heat. Bake longer to compensate.

I had a very wet dough to begin with. Used about 80% of the flour the recipe called for to form the initial dough, and added the rest of it between rising periods. Was pretty satisfied with the shaping. Maybe it would also have helped had I cut the dough in two prior to baking...

Here's to the next attempt.


pjkobulnicky's picture

1. Skip the sugar. It serves no purpose.

2.  Bake it in a dutch oven. See the no-knead bread recipe for instructions. This traps steam from the bread itself and gets you a better rise.

Like others have said, don't just wing this.  Even if you are working from recipes and instructions, getting to the point where you can bake good "peasant" bread is a slow process that requires patience.  Try the new book "Tartine Bread" for a really good, step by step, lots of pictures, process for getting to really good bread.

Welcome to the avocation.

dtiertant's picture

A dutch oven...that's different.

Came across this one, though. The results speak for themselves.


subfuscpersona's picture

Check out the entry dated November 6, 2010 in dmsnyder's blog for more good advice re baking bread in a cast iron dutch oven. The link is

Bottom line - while the oven must be preheated, there is no need to preheat the cast iron pot or lid. This makes it a lot easier (and safer) to transfer the risen dough into the pot.

David (dmsnyder) is a long time TFL member and frequent poster. If you're interested in using cast iron cookware to bake bread, this blog entry is very informative.

Welcome to TFL

sewgirl's picture

Hello : ) 


I am new to TFL, please bear with me if I stumble. 

While browsing the site and reading this discussion, several thoughts came to mind concering your problem, that I'm not certain have been addressed.  May I comment? 

You are using lower gluten flour.  I also use lower gluten flour with wonderful success, but I've learned there is more than technique at work.  IF you are using hammer milled flour... you have little picky pieces of bran that break bubbles and make dense bread.  If you have not tried a slow stone grind, you may wish to consider it.  It has flat, sliky feeling bran with feathered edges that work to suport weight and float above and below bubbles, resulting in a taller fluffier loaf.  

WORTH NOTE: Your technique sounds fine to me depending on conditions of ... pretty much weather, humidity and breeze, but I wonder about a few things.

Your starter.  Are you letting it grow long enough, and are you using broad spectrum nutrients?  Are you giving it time to get "hot" active/full of foam?  (I have good results with wild yeast that I keep going with loose measurements in a quart jar of: one part starter, one whole spelt flour, one half demerrara sugar, and one hard (not softened) water and good shake, loose lid and usually 12-24 hours on the counter.  I'll put it in the frige if necessary to make it hold a bit longer. (Which it will!) 

Second knead & container.  Don't do it with low gluten flour, punch down or knead a second time, that is.  As suggested above, just shape and bake.  I shape it, oil well, give it a twist and put it in the  container it's going to bake in.  You pick one.  It has to oven proof, that's all.  The reason the dutch oven bread comes out so well is... are you ready for this?  The sides of the pot.  They help to support this weak structured (ie low gluten) flour.  It is a wide container, so use larger recipe or adjust your container size accordingly.

Moisture & heat.  We all know the benefit of moisture in the oven on the outcome of crust & puff.  There are several ways to obtain moisture, that I'm confident have already been covered elsewhere on this site.  I use a fast and simple method: dampening my stone (a marble quarry tile left from the downstairs bathroom remodel ;), heating along time to a tiny bit hotter than baking temp (maybe 25 degrees more for about a half hr.), a small amount of water... about a quarter to half cup handy on the oven top, slide bread in container onto stone, throw water on oven side and close the door quickly and reset to baking temp.  Notice I didn't say slam the oven door shut. 

Internal Temp.  I never bake my low gluten bread to 200-210.  I bake it to 185-195 degrees F.

OK, that being said, lets talk about other things to consider. 

Do you use a mixer to knead?  I add my starter as my liquid, reserving about a cup or so to continue the yeast, to about 4 cups of flour with some salt.  I keep a bit of water nearby to add a few drops at a time to develop the consistancy I'm looking for, and let it go for about 12-15 minutes or so, until it's climbing the hook.

Yeasts need b vitamins and minerals as well as sugan and starch.  Use unrefined sugar, slow grind or enriched flour and hard water.  Sometimes weather and other unforseeable reasons make yeast take it's own sweet time; (like up to 18 hrs.) just give to it, it will right itself.  If you have already put it in the mix, just oil it well, cover it and wait.  You may have to eat it tomorrow, but it will be very good. 

Variations are great!  Sometimes I'll add sugar and eggs then mix until the dough slaps the bowl a lot... long time, then add bashed butter ...or not (don't tell anyone) ok, I'll squeeze it through my fingers.... and mix for what seems forever, until the mixer is hot and the dough is back to climbing the hook.  Sometimes I'll add a little oil, sometimes a little herb, fruits, nuts, work with it.  Practice makes it come to life.  You or the dog or the compost eat the mistakes.  Cool. :)


With best reagrd,


sewgirl's picture

I forgot to mention a couple of things : ) 

When adding your liquid to the flour, stop when the dough comes together in a ball, so you have a soft, pliable but not stringy-sticky dough.  Then realize the importance of mixing/kneading a LONG time.

After mixing and turning your dough out on the board, give it a few quick kneads to "feel" the resistance.  It MUST HAVE resistance.  If it doesn't, knead it until it does, either by hand or back into the mixer.  This is what develops that "tension" Ford is referencing, and will provide structure for "holes".

Did you know that this is what you do when you make biscuits too?  LIGHT & FLUFFY every time! ;P

I love bread.


dtiertant's picture

You love bread. Indeed, that comes across.

dtiertant's picture

A few more notes...

I don't use a mixer. Rather do it by hand. I think there's a certain feel that I'm looking for - and apparently haven't discovered yet - that will only come by working with my hands. Does that sound strange? Oh well. My parents used to have a bread machine that produced very good dough - for olive bread, lemon bread, bread with thyme and rosemary, pretzels, you name it - but that was a long time ago and I'd like to figure this out. As for kneading, I've tried kneading for 10-12 minutes as well as a very light "no knead" process of folding, and have seen the same results. Kind of lost faith in the "no knead" idea. So you're saying that if I knead the hell out of it next time, there will be a chance of a happy accident?

Going to try with high-gluten bread flour again on the next attempt, and save the other flours for later. My starter wasn't foamy enough to, well...start. Chalk that up to inexperience and impatience. I added some flax bran or some such thing to add some texture and irregularity. If that killed the few CO2 bubbles that I may have had, well I'll be damned.

Not counting the starter...Once you guys have formed the ball of dough, how long do you typically allow for the initial rise?

Thank you!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and all these comments have left your baking feathers ruffled.  Move the shelf down in the oven and try again. :)

Mini  (second comment)

dtiertant's picture

Someone said there'd be more heat near the top. That turned out not to be true. Taking it back down a notch or two...

sewgirl's picture

Dear I'll be damned ;)  

I just have to ask, did you put the flax in your starter?  Ouch!  It may have been the culprit; it's both oily and sharp, though it is good for you! 

Knead the hell out if it ... grin... and happy accidents.  Aaahhh, you are becoming a bit frustrated, me thinks.  Hold on tight, have confidence, you will win this!  If I can do it without a mixer or bread machine, YOU can too! : )  

Rising time, is variable.  I'm sorry.  If the room is warm and there are no cool breezes flushing out the warmth (it's chilly fall here), then you are looking at (more or less) 1-2 hours, with good yeast and a good gluten structure or a baking dish for low gluten flour.  

Ok, I think your poolish was fine, except (flax) and that sometimes yeast takes a while to get going.  Sometimes you have to grow it, change the bedding and grow it some more.  This increases the population so you have LOTS of little yeasty bodies in your dough.  Try pouring off most of it and adding fresh flour, a little demerara or brown sugar and water.  Keep it warmish again and let it set until the next day.  If it's foaming up high, start scooping flour. : )  You will also notice a difference in yeast packets, some are ready to run and some are not so much. Might have to use two of those.  I don't know, maybe they got too warm in the truck or something, but that's the benefit of a sponge, or a culture jar at the back of the frige or on the counter if you are baking often.   I keep thinking this sounds like olde yeast, which sulphured molasses may have damaged even further.  

Your oven temp was quite hot.  I wonder also if the crust formed too quickly and kept the loaf from rising.... nope, you slashed it. hmmmm.... 25-30minutes in the oven...  Did you open the oven after you put the loaf in?  That cools the temp at least 25 degrees and adds about 4-5 minutes to the final time.  

I understand what you are referring to when you state that you are looking for a "feel".  It does have a feel when it's ready to rest/rise.  Bread making is a tactile, artsy activity with marvelous benefits!  You will notice it becoming a living, breathing thing.  As you master it, you will truly enjoy making it by hand.  I am happy for you; I no longer have the strength to be able to knead it by hand.  

Ya, knead the heck out of your dough on the first knead.  It gets pretty stiff.  Gets the frustrations on the table, face up!  If you are using additional gluten, high gluten or all purpose flour, knock it down after the first rise and knead lightly.  Then rest and roll to remove large bubbles and shape your loaf.  IF you are using low glute flour, knead the heck out of it the first time and let it rest a few minutes before shaping and placing in baking pan.  

May I inquire, if you have made scratch biscuits that are cut rather than drop?  I ask this because it is a great place to learn the "feel" of the dough becoming ready to rise, or in this case pat out and cut.  The same "feel" holds true for yeast dough, except it is magnified to a much greater degree.  If you would like to try that a time or two, see what I mean and apply it to your yeast dough.  I would share my recipe/technique, if you wish.    With best regard,    Judy

dtiertant's picture

Yup. Flax went in the starter. Along with molasses. That's just bad news. I noticed that Ford used to be a chemist. Hope others have a chance to learn from my mistakes!

The oven temp was hot to begin with, but it lost soooo much heat, because I opened the door a couple of times within the first 5 minutes to spray water on the sides of the oven as well as the boule. Also had a roasting pan full of water on the bottom of the oven, so the spray bottle may be redundant. Next time, I'll close the door for good, and try to retain more heat.

Thanks for the advice on kneading. I can cook like nobody's business, but baking is a whole new beast. I was afraid to over-knead, but here goes nothing...

I'm from France, so I've never made homemade biscuits. We grew up on baguettes, baked fresh twice daily. One loaf would be ready for pickup at 6am for breakfast and lunch, the other at 4pm. I'd be interested in your biscuit recipe - as others would be - if you wouldn't mind sharing in another thread. Welcome to the forums, by the way.

Ford's picture

I am always happy to share my recipes with anyone who wants one.  Buscuits in the south of the USA are not sweet, are not made with yeast, and are not kneaded.  They are supposed to be flakey, but not as are croisants.  They are also supposed to be eaten hot.

1 1/4 cup (5.3 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2  tspn. salt
1 tspn. double acting baking powder
1/2  tspn. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
1/4  cup (1.8 oz.) Earth Balance, or Crisco Shortening
3/8 cup (3 oz.) buttermilk
*Note: Butter, margarine, and “spreads” all contain water, as much as 15 to 30%, or even more.  Consider this, if you substitute these for shortening.  Earth Balance Shortening contains no “trans-fats” and makes the best biscuits, in my opinion.  This shortening must be refrigerated and note the container has only 15 oz, not a full 16 oz.  Not all groceries carry it, but Whole Foods does.  Crisco shortening now has no trans-fats, does not need to be refrigerated, and may be substituted for Earth Balance.  Originally, lard was the shortening of choice.

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Sift together the dry ingredients.  (Baking soda tends to have clumps.)  Then add the shortening in teaspoon size bits.  With the fingers of one hand, mix the shortening with the dry ingredients, then mash and rub the shortening with the dry ingredients to form thin flakes of shortening covered with flour.

Add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients and lightly stir the ingredients; dough should be slightly sticky.  Add more buttermilk, if necessary.  Place on a floured surface and sprinkle dough lightly with flour.  Flatten the dough with a floured hand to about 3/8 to 1/2  inch thickness. (If you use only one hand, the other will be clean for handling other things in the kitchen.)  Fold double four times, flattening after each fold.  Cut with 2 inch diameter biscuit cutter, straight down and do not twist.  Alternatively, just cut the biscuits into 2” squares with a knife.  Should make about eight biscuits.  Place biscuits on ungreased, or slightly greased, baking sheet or other suitable pan.  King Arthur bakers claim that freezing cut biscuits for a half hour before baking will make them flakier.  (It doesn’t hurt them, and I have frozen them for a week with good results.  Ford.)

Bake until brown, about 12 - 14 minutes.  If you use a forced convection oven reduce the temperature to 425°F and bake 10 to 11 minutes, or until brown.  Serve hot with real butter and honey, preserves, marmalade, etc.

I hope y'all enjoy them.


dtiertant's picture

Re: freezing

Saw somewhere that to make proper croissants, you slice butter into very slim pieces, almost shavings, and freeze them before use. That helps produce their characteristic flakiness. I don't know if you would do the same with the actual dough.

dtiertant's picture

dtiertant's picture

Took a few things into account and this one was an improvement. (In the sense that it was edible and would actually be pretty decent with some brie or soup.)

- The poolish. 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, 1 cup of water, some activated yeast. It sat out for 16 hours in a warm room and ended up gooey and sticky. Great stuff.

- Added the poolish and 1 cup of water to a mix of flours. 1 cup each of bread flour, rye flour, some salt and a bunch more activated yeast. The yeast was activated with a little brown sugar. Kneaded it by rolling it, throwing it, putting palms & back into the thing full force for 30 minutes. Added a mix of the 3 flours as needed to keep from sticking. It built up some real resistance this time. Let it rise in sunlight (it pretty much doubled) for 90 minutes.

- Took the dough and stretched and folded gently to re-form the ball. Let rest 2x for 45 minutes at a time. After the 3rd one, I let it rest for 30 minutes while preheating the oven.

- Oven was preheated to 450 degrees with a pizza stone on the middle shelf and a roasting pan of water on the bottom. Water was steaming by the time the loaf went in.

- Scored the loaf, as you can see, and made the outside a little wet before throwing it in.

- Baked for a full 45 minutes at about 425 degrees, rather than 25 minutes. The internal temperature came out at 195-200 degrees. Much better than 170. It cooked all the way through, but the bottom was a little soft. I took the pizza stone out, flipped the bread upside down, and broiled it for 2 minutes to get the bottom crust a bit more firm. Let the boule cool for 30 minutes.

Other notes:

No molasses. No flax. No oat bran. Moved from the top shelf to the middle. Eliminated the spray bottle to help the oven retain heat. The yeast I used was of far better quality and had nearly an inch of foam. The dough rose better and I skipped this no-knead nonsense and really gave it something to think about. It came out more dense than planned (no large holes) but this may have been because of the darker flours involved, even at smaller proportions.