Rustic Italian Sourdough Bread

May 11, 2021
8 Ratings
Photo by Maurizio Leo
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • makes 2 large loaves
Author Notes

To me, the idea of “rustic Italian bread” evokes a wide range of sensorial feelings rather than a specific loaf. It conjures thoughts of bread with a deep golden, crunchy crust, hefty thanks to durum wheat and whole grains; an amber-colored interior as flavorful as it is wholesome. I think of a loaf that’s meant to be torn and shared, eaten at the dinner table with juicy tomatoes or a hearty stew. It’s a bread that’s earnest, substantial, and satisfying.

This loaf follows suit: a thick, crunchy crust that’s not overly tough. Due to the high percentage of durum in the mix, its crumb is tightly woven, more closed than a country loaf. Because of the protein quality of durum, which is higher than traditional wheat but not able to trap as many gasses during fermentation, the result is a loaf that tends to have a closed but very tender crumb—and all of this is to say this is a delicious loaf of bread.

While durum flour isn’t always used in Italian breadmaking, I like to include it when baking an Italian-style bread because of its ties—and importance—to Italian cuisine. The world’s second-most cultivated grain, durum wheat is heavily used for both dried and fresh pasta, but it’s also an excellent grain to use in bread when finely milled. It imparts a distinct, rich hue to the crumb and an undeniable flavor that, for me, is reminiscent of fresh pizza (not a total surprise as the flour is also often used in pizza dough).

When sourcing durum flour to bake this bread, be sure to use durum that’s very finely milled, sometimes labeled “extra fancy durum flour” or even “semolina rimancinata.” You might find packages of semolina at the market, but be cautious using it unless it specifically states it’s for bread-making. While semolina is made from durum wheat, it’s typically much coarser than the style called for in this recipe, and better suited for pasta-making than bread. This bread is 100 percent naturally leavened, so be sure you have a strong sourdough starter bubbling away on your counter before you get started. Note: This recipe has 1 hour of active prep time, and 23 hours inactive prep time; plan accordingly using the time stamps at each stage of the process in the recipe. —Maurizio Leo

What You'll Need
  • Levain
  • 45 grams all-purpose flour
  • 45 grams whole wheat flour
  • 45 grams water
  • 45 grams ripe sourdough starter
  • Bread Dough
  • 391 grams all-purpose flour
  • 338 grams durum wheat flour, “extra fancy” (see headnote)
  • 150 grams whole wheat flour
  • 725 grams water
  • 17 grams sea salt
  • 178 grams ripe levain (see first part of ingredients list)
  • Ice, for generating steam during baking
  1. Make a levain (9:00 a.m.)

    In the morning, when your sourdough starter is ripe (when you’d typically give it a refreshment), in a medium bowl, combine 45 grams all-purpose flour, 45 grams whole wheat flour, 45 grams water, and 45 grams ripe sourdough starter. Because this levain only has 50 percent water to total flour, it will be dry. Use your hands to mix together and then knead the ingredients until smooth. Place in a jar with a loose-fitting lid to ripen at room temperature for five hours.
  2. Autolyse the dough (12:00 p.m.)

    While your levain is ripening, start the dough. In a large mixing bowl, add 391 grams all-purpose flour, 338 grams durum flour, 150 grams whole wheat flour, and 675 grams water (50g is held back until mixing). Mix everything with damp hands and cover with an airtight reusable cover. Let the dough rest in a warm place for 2 hours.
  3. Mix the dough (2:00 p.m.)

    Uncover the large mixing bowl, and pour in the ripe levain. Sprinkle on 17 grams salt, and pour on about 25 grams of the reserved 50 grams of water. With wet hands, pinch the salt and water through the dough, then fold it over itself repeatedly until the mixture is homogeneous. If the dough doesn’t feel excessively wet or soupy, add the remaining reserved water and fold the dough over itself until it comes back together. Continue folding for another minute or two until the dough becomes more elastic and just a little more smooth.

    Transfer the dough to another large bowl or container for bulk fermentation.
  4. Bulk ferment the dough (2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.)

    Cover the dough with a reusable airtight cover and let it rise at warm room temperature (76°F/24°C) for a total of 3 hours. During this time, you’ll give the dough three sets of “stretches and folds” (see next step for explanation) to give it additional strength. The first set is done after 15 minutes, and subsequent sets at 30-minute intervals. Set a timer for 15 minutes and let the dough rest, covered. After 15 minutes, give the dough its first set of stretches and folds.

    To stretch and fold: Wet your hands slightly (you’ll do this for each stretch and fold) and grab the north side of the dough (farthest away from you) in the container for each set, stretch it up and over to the south side (nearest to you). Then, perform the same folds from east to west and west to east. You’ll now have a folded-up square in the container. Let the dough rest, again covered and at room temperature, for 30 minutes. Repeat this process two more times at 30-minute intervals for a total of three sets. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for the remaining hour and a half of bulk fermentation.
  5. Pre-shape the dough (5:30 p.m.)

    After three hours, your dough should have risen in the bulk fermentation container, smoothed out, but have a few bubbles on the top and at the sides. Using a bowl scraper or flexible bench scraper, gently scrape out your dough to a clean, unfloured work surface. Next, using a bench scraper, divide the dough in half. Then, using the bench scraper and your other hand (floured or, my preference, wet with water), preshape each piece into loose rounds. Place the rounds to the side of your work surface and let rest, uncovered and at room temperature, for 30 minutes.
  6. Shape the dough (6:10 p.m.)

    After 30 minutes, lightly flour your work surface and the top of one dough round. Using a bench scraper and a floured hand, flip one of the rested rounds over to the floured work surface and shape it into a long oval or round shape, whichever you prefer.

    To shape like an oval (my preference), fold the dough’s left and right sides toward the middle to make one long rectangle in front of you. Then, fold the top quarter of the dough farthest from you down and gently press to seal the small fold. Continue rolling down the dough from the top to the bottom of the dough closest to your body. You should end up with a tube with the seam-side down on the work surface. Pinch the ends closed or gently roll the edges with each hand to form a taper.

    Transfer the shaped dough, seam-side up, to a 10-inch long proofing basket. Repeat for the other piece of dough.

    To shape round loaves, fold the bottom of the rested round up and gently press to seal. Then, fold the right side of the round over to the middle, and then fold the left side over to the middle. Fold the top down to the middle—you should now have a letter shape in front of you. Flip the dough over so the seams are down on the work surface. Finally, using both hands, drag the dough toward your body as your pinky fingers create tension between the dough and the work surface. If the dough needs more tension, push the round away from you while turning it slightly, and drag it toward your body again. Repeat this pushing and pulling as necessary to create even tension and a round shape.
  7. Proof the shaped dough (6:30 p.m. to 9:00 a.m., overnight)

    This dough can be proofed at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or placed into the refrigerator to retard (proof at cold temperature) overnight. I like splitting this into a two-day recipe so I typically proof it overnight in the refrigerator.

    Cover each basket with a reusable bag and place the baskets in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. Bake the loaves (9:00 a.m., next day)

    Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place an oven rack in the bottom third with a pizza stone or baking steel on top and a roasting pan at the very bottom. When you slide in your dough, you’ll also throw in a cup of ice into the preheated roasting pan to generate steam in your oven.

    Place a wide piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel or large cutting board. Gently tip one dough out to the left and one to the right, with four to six inches of space between them to allow for their rise in the oven. Using a lame (baker’s razor blade) or a sharp serrated knife, score the top of the dough with a single vertical slash or two smaller, vertical slashes that start at the top of the dough moving down and overlap about 20 percent Then, carefully pull out the oven rack and slide the piece of parchment paper with loaves onto your baking surface. Finally, carefully pour a cup of ice cubes into the preheated roasting pan and quickly close the oven door.

    Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the pan used for steaming. Continue to bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes until the loaves are deeply golden, and the internal temperature is around 206°F (96°C).

    Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool on a wire rack, and wait at least 2 hours before slicing.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ainslie Binder
    Ainslie Binder
  • PSVic
  • Renee Bouwens
    Renee Bouwens
  • Wendy Marshall
    Wendy Marshall
  • Susan RN
    Susan RN
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. Since baking his first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough. His New York Times Bestselling sourdough cookbook, The Perfect Loaf, is now available.

47 Reviews

Ainslie B. December 2, 2021
I used Bob's Red Mill No. 1 Durum Wheat Semolina Flour and it turned out beautifully! Baked in a combo cooker. Check out @ainsliecooks on Instagram for photos!
Maurizio L. December 2, 2021
So glad to hear it turned out well for you, Ainslie!
PSVic November 23, 2021
Tremendous results and always turns out. I adapted this recipe to use my own covered baking vessel using the same times and temps. Still worked perfectly. I use home milled durum wheat, home milled whole wheat, and Beehive AP Flour from central milling. Perfect results.
Maurizio L. November 23, 2021
Fantastic, glad to hear that! You know, I have yet to mill my own durum. I mill just about everything else, but haven't picked durum berries up yet. Next on the list! Thanks for the feedback and enjoy!
PSVic November 23, 2021
We did discuss that durum wheat milling thing last winter. You won't regret it.
Ed November 4, 2021
The bread is easy to make and was excellent. I baked in cast iron combo cooker ( form of Dutch oven)and removed lid after 20 minutes. Preheated the cooker. I have been using this method for 15-20 years and it produces consistent results. Excellent results and no messing with ice cones and water.
Maurizio L. November 4, 2021
So glad to hear the bread turned out well, Ed!
Michael D. June 1, 2021
Hey Maurizio! Recipe looks great as always. Hoping to make this for my (very Italian American) dad's bday next week. I don't have a baking stone or roasting pan and was wondering if you've made this recipe with a Dutch oven. Any tips on how you might bake it in one? Thanks!
Maurizio L. June 1, 2021
Thanks, David! Yes, this bread will bake up just fine in a Dutch oven. In fact, I baked the one you see above in one! Check out my guide to baking in them, should answer any Q you have:
Renee B. March 13, 2021
Have tried this twice now and somehow this just cannot manage to turn out right. I’m an excellent recipe follower and it’s too much liquid and not enough rising agent- I’m curious what the starter is for this dough- I used my sourdough starter I’ve been successfully using and feeding for a long time. I even tried lowering the liquid content.
Maurizio L. March 14, 2021
Hey, Renee! My starter is 100% hydration (as much water as flour). I'd say you should try dropping the water in your mix. Leave out 25g of water and see how the dough feels. It should feel stronger, less slack, less sloppy. I know you said you tried this, but give it another try.

Also, the type of durum you're using does make a difference for this recipe! If you're using semolina which is very coarse, it will result in a denser loaf. Make sure you're using "durum flour" that's very finely milled.

It might also be that your durum isn't able to take on as much water, and that's ok!
Rather.Be.Baking March 12, 2021
I’ve been making these loaves once a week, and I LOVE it (as does my family). It’s a beautiful mixture of nice crust and soft crumb. It’s become my go-to bread.
Maurizio L. March 12, 2021
Happy to hear you guys like this recipe! It's been in regular rotation over here as well, I just can't seem to get enough of that crunchy crust and creamy crumb. Thanks for the comments and enjoy!
Wildbill March 7, 2021
Great flavor! I baked these yesterday. The crust and crumb matched your photos! I was worried about the dough being a little loose when I removed them from round proofing baskets so I put them on parchment after preheating the oven and two pots to 500F. Scored them and dropped them into the superheated pots (tight fits). After 20 minutes I removed tops and dropped temperature to 400F for 30 minutes more. Your recipe is now my most favorite! I can’t wait to bake again with no changes! Thank you.
Maurizio L. March 7, 2021
Just perfect, sounds like you nailed it! So glad to hear the recipe worked out well for you 🙂 Enjoy (these make awesome sandwiches)!
Wildbill March 7, 2021
You bet!.....Tapas, croutons and bruschetta also.😁😁😁this is a really great recipe!
Wendy M. March 4, 2021
Is semolina rimacinata the same as extra fancy durum?
Maurizio L. March 4, 2021
Have a look at my article on just this topic!
Wendy M. March 4, 2021
Thank you! Can't wait to try it
Susan R. March 2, 2021
I'm captivated by the idea of a crusty Italian loaf! Perfect for dunking in a stew or sopping up leftover sauce. Because I have some on hand, can I use Atta flour for the Durum? Is it fine enough or too fine?
Maurizio L. March 3, 2021
That's a really interesting idea! I'd say go for it, although I've never tried atta in bread (need to, now).
breadbaker July 29, 2021
So glad to find someone else who has thought of atta flour. Necessity really is the mother of invention--on my baking day I didn't have enough bread flour. Finely ground whole grain atta was beckoning and that package included barley, millet and urdu dal flours. It's heavenly if you add no more than about 20% of total grains.
PSVic March 1, 2021
Just took my 2 loaves out of the oven. As usual, the recipe was flawless to follow.
They turned out nicely but not quite the look pictured. I'm sure they'll be fine inside and they seemed to spring up OK. I'll post the pics on Discord and see what improvement I can make.
Maurizio L. March 1, 2021
They look great! Thanks so much for the feedback, glad the recipe went smoothly.
PSVic March 1, 2021
Just took my 2 loaves out of the oven. As usual, the recipe was flawless to follow.
They turned out nicely but not quite the look pictured. I'm sure they'll be fine inside and they seemed to spring up OK. I'll post the pics on Discord and see what improvement I can make.
PSVic March 1, 2021
Sorry for the double post....
Mary W. March 1, 2021
Maurizio, I am planning on baking this bread tomorrow and I am wondering if I can bake this bread in my clay cloche instead of on a baking stone and using the tray with ice cubes.
Maurizio L. March 1, 2021
Yes, that will work just fine!
Mary W. March 1, 2021
Thanks Maurizio for your quick response. Heading to the kitchen....
Mary W. March 1, 2021
Maurizio, one last question. When retarding the dough overnight and baking the following morning, are the loaves baked directly from the refrigerator, or, do they need to come to room temperature before baking?
Maurizio L. March 1, 2021
Directly from fridge is ok!
Isabella T. February 27, 2021
Gorgeous! As a professional, I’ve had a hard time pivoting from high volume bread production to smaller home batches during the pandemic and it’s caused me to revisit home baking through a different lens (things don’t translate as seamlessly from commercial to home). This loaf was one of the first I’ve made since being in a commercial kitchen. It came out absolutely delicious in both texture and flavor and almost exactly like the photo. (Wish I could attach a photo to my review!) The only feedback I’d give is maybe water temperature suggestions, but maybe the folks who try to tackle this will already have some idea of how temperature correlates with dough activity.

Excellent job, Maurizio! I set aside my ~professional~ ego and followed your instructions to a T and you have helped me restore my confidence in home baking.

*I used all Central Milling flours.
Isabella T. February 27, 2021
Edit: This loaf was one of the BEST I’ve made since being OUT of a commercial kitchen**
devorah13 February 27, 2021
Thank you for your response, I use Central Mills flour also, will check the water temperature further...Trying to scale my bakes up to fit my oven and have them be beautiful and delicious...I'll keep trying...
Isabella T. February 27, 2021
Sending you good vibes! I’ve been baking bread professionally for about 5 years now and I still learn new things about how to improve from the knowledgeable and kind bread community. Cheers!
Maurizio L. March 1, 2021
Your comments really mean a lot to me, Isabella, thank you! I've spoken with many pro bakers who echo the same: it's a challenge going from higher production to home baking! But having done the reverse (home baking to a few bakery classes and baking days), it's also challenging the other way 🙂

So happy to hear this loaf turned out great for you—enjoy and happy (home) baking!
Maurizio L. March 1, 2021
I almost always target a final dough temp of 78°F (26°C) for my doughs. If it comes in a little under, it's ok, just expect bulk will need to be lengthened to compensate!
devorah13 February 26, 2021
I haven't baked this bread yet, but, I'm looking for info on baking it in a Rofco oven with the steam trays? Help???
scott_d February 26, 2021
Maurizio has a long post on the oven.
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Thank you!
scott_d February 26, 2021
It came out beautifully today. I used Einkorn for the whole wheat.

Editors you might want to add semolina to the search terms for this. It doesn’t show up when searching on that.
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Thanks for reporting back, Scott! I'm going to be making this again myself this weekend—cant seem to get enough 🙂 Enjoy!
scott_d February 26, 2021
Super crunchy toasted for my lunch sandwich. Photos on IG.
PSVic February 28, 2021
Couldn't find you on IG.....
scott_d February 28, 2021
Adrienne K. February 25, 2021
Hi Maurizio, do you think khorasan flour would work as a durum sub here? From my reading seems they are similar...
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Now that you mention it, I do think it would work well! Khorasan has some similar properties, but in my experience perhaps a little easier to get a lighter loaf with khorasan. It should work well!