Pane Francese

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Pane Francese

star rating (4) rate this recipe »
Published prior to 2008

No, a chef isn't just a guy in a tall white hat; it's a little piece of dough you hold back from your bread dough, which will be added to your next batch of dough to leaven it. It may seem a little European and daunting, but really, nothing could be easier. The piece of dough -- the chef -- simply sits in your fridge, wrapped in plastic, till you're ready to bake bread again.

The following bread is a bit tangy, but not terribly sour -- French bakers scoff at the ultra-sour breads Americans seem to love. Open-holed and chewy, the texture is what distinguishes this rustic European-style bread.

We used our sourdough starter as a chef to get this loaf going. A piece from the resulting dough is now tucked away in the refrigerator, ready to use when we bake this loaf again. We thank Joe Ortiz and his wonderful book, "The Village Baker" for the inspiration that created this recipe.

Creating the Levain
chef (1/4 cup leftover dough, or 1/4 cup sourdough starter, unfed)
1/4 cup warm, chlorine-free water
1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour

Let the chef soften in the warm water, then whisk out any lumps. Mix in the flour until yo8u've formed a stiff dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead it for 5 to 8 minutes. The chef (now called a levain) should be moist but firm. Place the levain in a bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm place till doubled. This will take 5 to 6 hours.

    Second-Stage Levain
    All of the levain (from above)
    1/2 cup warm, chlorine-free water
    1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour
"Refresh" the levain by placing it in a medium-sized bowl, chopping it into small pieces, and adding the water and 1/2 cup of the flour, stirring till smooth. Add the remaining flour gradually to create a stiff dough. Knead the dough for several minutes, then return it to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise for 3 to 5 hours, till it doubles in size. Punch down the risen levain, and reserve 1/4 cup as your next chef. (Let the piece ferment at room temperature for 3 hours, then wrap it in plastic and store it in the fridge. It'll develop a hard crust; that's OK.)
    all of the second-stage levain (from above)
    3/4 cup warm, chlorine-free water
    2 teaspoons salt
    2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour
Chop the levain into small pieces, and mix them with the water, stirring till they begin to dissolve. Add the salt, then 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured or lightly greased work surface, and knead until the dough is smooth and satiny, adding only enough additional flour to keep the dough from sticking unbearably. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm place for 8 to 10 hours.

Shaping: Cut the dough into 2 pieces, and shape each piece into a round or oval. Transfer the loaves to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, or to a floured banneton; cover with a heavily floured cloth, and allow them to rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until they're almost doubled in bulk.

Don't slash or glaze the loaves. Bake the bread in a preheated 450°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they're a deep, golden brown. Yield: 2 loaves.


  • star rating 10/18/2011
  • laureljc from KAF Community
  • Gosh, I was SO disappointed in the results of ALL my hard work from this recipe. I chose to make Gerald Childers alterations because of the comments from him and others. I knew the dough was going to be softer than my normal breads (my fave is Ultimate Sourdough Baguettes, a KAF recipe). Anyway...this dough was SO wet. I had to scrape it off my board and add more flour and this was after I had already put 3 cups more flour than the recipe called for. Also, Gerald's recommended 4 tsp of salt made the bread really salty. So, I gave this recipe one star because the results were so bad we threw it out! :(
    Sorry to hear this didn't work out for you. Please do keep in mind that we aren't able to test out different customer variations, but the recipes have all been tested as written for success. MJR @ KAF
  • star rating 03/18/2010
  • Michael from San Francisco, CA
  • I am tickled pink with this recipe. The secret does seem to be for the dough to be just a little on the soft side and to let the final proof be long enough for the loaves to completely double in size. The texture is lovely, the crust is just thick enough and crispy (right out of the oven, it gets chewier over a day or two). I used my own starter which I've had for some months. The flavor of this bread is nutty and ever so slightly tangy, without being super sour.
  • star rating 11/09/2009
  • Highheat from
  • i have made this numerous times but only once did I get the large holes. Most of the time the crumb is tight with a fine crisp crust. Overall, the taste if fine but not the tuscan loaf one is looking for.
    A good rule of thumb, is the wetter the dough, the bigger the holes. Check out our web site for tips on how we suggest you measure flour for the best results. Mary@ KAF
  • star rating 03/28/2009
  • Gerald Childers from Maine
  • I came across this recipe at Ilva Beretta's delightful food-and-photography blog, "Lucullian Delights" (jump to March 2009 under Month After Month in the sidebar, and scroll down to March 15). It was a "Bread Baking Babes" project. Ilva links to the other Babes' blogs where you should be able to find their reviews. My daughter-in-law called this bread, "Perfect." Well, no. But it's the best white bread I've ever baked. The crust is nicely caramelized, thin, and brittle. The interior has an open crumb and is soft, chewy, and flavorful. My only complaint echoes Ilva's: the loaves are tiny. So I doubled the recipe, keeping the same ratio of flour to water: After I pulled the chef off the second-stage levain, I added a third stage with 1 cup of water and just less than 2 1/4 cups of flour to make a levain which was a bit softer, so it would meld with the next step. Then, for the dough, I mixed 1 1/4 cups of water with about 2 3/4 cups of flour to make a soft dough, let that autolyse for thirty minutes, then threw down 4 teaspoons of salt and a little flour and kneaded the new dough with the levain, adding sprinkles of flour as necessary, until the salt was all taken up and the dough was "smooth and satiny," and not "unbearably sticky." I folded the dough a few times during its long fermentation ( I thoroughly preheated a large pizza stone in the oven to 550 degrees F., and poured 1 cup of hot water into a shallow pan on the bottom for the last five minutes of preheat. I slashed the loaves on top to allow for oven-spring. Once the loaves were in, I turned the heat down to 450 for twenty minutes, and then 425 for another twenty, pulling the bread out when the loaves sounded hollow on the bottom. This bread was every bit as good as the smaller loaves. I'm very pleased to have found this recipe, and I'll be baking it again and again, with maybe a bit of King Arthur White Wholewheat Flour and/or some wheat germ or malted wheat flakes for a variety of flavors.