Peasant bread can refer to a variety of breads, most often European in origin, that make use of whole wheat flour, often rye flour and sometimes other coarsely ground grains to produce a very hearty bread. Such breads are known for their hearty crumb, a bit of stiffness and crustiness, and generally for their coarseness as compared to breads made with more refined flours. You’ll find numerous recipes online for these rustic breads, with many different suggestions on ingredients. Most are very simple, though, with yeast, flour, water and a little salt being the predominant ingredients, and many are shaped into round loaves.
One thing peasant bread tends to offer in its simplicity is healthfulness. When whole grain flours are used, the bread may contain more protein and offer more dietary fiber than other types of bread. Though such breads are thought the province of “peasants,” maybe due to their rougher crumb, they are enjoyed by many, and likely were enjoyed by many people, high and low in class structure, because of their good taste and satisfyingly filling qualities.
Other breads that might rightly be considered peasant bread include Irish soda bread, simple to make and flavorful, or many European local versions of rye bread. Pane Rustica is the name given to Italian versions of this bread, and may not contain rye flour. Like many other types of this bread, Pane Rustica is often shaped into rounds, and has a crusty exterior. Local regions in Europe may add extra ingredients like pumpernickel seeds, poppy seeds, graham flour, or sesame seeds. This makes it a little difficult to define any single bread as peasant bread.
Even in the US, you’ll see numerous bread types called peasant bread. Some have soft crusts, which would have been unusual in European types. Most should have a crusty exterior and be mainly composed of whole grain flours. Dark wheat and plenty of rye flour are common in American renderings, especially from artisan style bakeries.
Many agree peasant bread in any of its incarnations is extraordinarily good comfort food. It can be served in hunks or slices with hearty soups or stews, and is excellent for dipping into sauces. With the near limitless recipes available for various renderings of this simple bread, you’ll find plenty of ways to experiment to make your own bread. If you prefer a closer crumb and slightly lighter bread, you can substitute part white flour for coarser flours in many recipes.