Pane Francese


I was given a copy of Carol Field's 'The Italian Baker' for Christmas, and have been working my way through her recipes for Italian regional breads, as well as converting some of them to sourdough. (She seems to have a bias against naturally leavened breads and refers to the technique repeatedly as terribly complicated).

The recipe she gives for Pane Francese uses a commercial yeast Biga, and she mentions that she adapted it from a sourdough recipe. I have attempted to convert it back to sourdough.

It is essentially a high hydration (69%) sourdough white bread (with a little wholemeal flour for flavour). The dough is very soft and sticky, and the technique I used for dealing with it is based on Dan Lepard's (The Handmade Loaf).

Starter - you need 180g of starter at 80% hydration. This is what I did to obtain this:
15g starter
30g water
30g bread flour
(stir to paste, leave at room temperature for 12 hours)

Then add 50g water, 100g flour
Mix to a paste, leave for ten minutes.
Pour a teaspoon of olive oil onto a clean board or surface.
Knead the soft dough for ~10 seconds. Return to bowl, cover and leave for 12-24 hours. (This will yield a little more starter than is actually required for the recipe)

180g starter (36%)
350g water (70%)
65g wholemeal flour (13%)
435g white bread flour (87%)
10g (2tsp) salt (2%)

Mix the starter and water, add the flours and salt and combine to a ragged mess. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.
Turn out onto an oiled surface and knead for 10 seconds. Leave for 10 minutes
Knead for 10 seconds, leave for 10 minutes
Knead for 10 seconds, leave for 30 minutes.

Fold the dough. (Following Mick - bethesdabaker's example I usually do a double fold. Lift the dough up by one end and let it stretch under its own weight. Pick up the other end and do the same. Fold one end in by a third. Fold the other end over the top. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat the stretching and folding). Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Fold. Leave for one hour
Fold. Leave for one hour.

Shape the dough.
Divide in two. place on a floured surface and roll up into a tight cylinder. Dimple the surface vigorously with fingertips, and place the dough seam-side up on a piece of greaseproof paper, or a linen towel (generously coated with rye flour). Cover

[At this point I usually put the dough in the fridge overnight]

Second rise.
Leave to rise for ~4 hours at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 210C
Gently invert the dough onto a peel (sprinkled with semolina). Transfer onto heated stone.
Add a cup full of boiling water onto a hot tray at the bottom of the oven.
Bake for ~30 minutes

I usually make my starter at 100% hydration, but the Biga used in Italian breads is more like a soft dough. I have replicated that in the recipe above, but I don't know if it makes any difference.
Carol Field uses unbleached all-purpose flour, but to date I have only used white bread flour (Manildra).

Edit: photo added



332 users have voted.


SourDom 2006 May 13

When I cam back to look at this recipe I realised that I had made a mistake when talking about the starter hydration.

The above recipe makes a starter at 64% hydration (not 80%), which is more like a soft dough than a conventional paste or batter like starter.

I wondered aloud when I tried it the first time whether it would make a difference if you used a more conventional starter (eg 100% hydration). I altered the water to do this in [url=]this post[/url]. I haven't tried the two recipes side by side, so I am unsure whether there is detectable difference between the two methods.


SourYumMum's picture
SourYumMum 2006 June 6

Hi Dom,

I'm back! And I am going to try this recipe next.

I've learnt so many great things from the forum members ... and the encouragement one receives about even 'bricks' is really great!

I spent a few hours with a REAL baker today ... and learnt even more fabulous things, including getting my hands into HIS dough and seeing how it felt compared to my own doughs.

Very fabulous!


SourDom 2006 January 16



ivyhui 2013 December 16

Yes, the starter looked slightly dry like a dough but I am glad it worked out well for me.  Because of timing problem I could only retard the doughs for 6 hours in the fridge and then leave them at room temperature for over 5 hours.  The doughs had some oven spring with lots of air pockets.  The inside of the bread feels a bit sticky though.  Should I have baked them longer?  I had problems in shaping the doughs.  They looked like dumb bells because I couldn't make the ends pointed.


farinam's picture
farinam 2013 December 16

Hello Ivy,

Your bread looks fine. Now you just need some practice to refine your techniques.

As for the internal texture it is a bit hard to say as the baking time required depends on the size if the loaf.  It will also depend on how soon after baking you cut the loaf as the starches continue to set for some time after the loaf comes out of the oven.

However, if you feel that it should be baked for longer, go right ahead.  As long as you oven is not too hot, all that will happen is that the crust will get  a bit thicker.

Good luck with your projects.


rossnroller 2009 September 4
Not sure if SourDom is still active on this board, but I was going through old posts and came across this one. Sounds like a nice recipe, and I'd like to try it with my 100% hydration rye-white flour starter.

Looking over the recipe, though, I have a query.

The original recipe as posted above calls for:
15g starter
30g water
30g bread flour
Then add 50g water, 100g flour

That's a total of 225gm.

However, the weight of starter required in the dough mix is 180gm. Just wondering if anyone can clarify - there appears to be an error one way or the other.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 September 4
Some recipes like this one make a little bit of extra starter.  This way you put 180 grams into the dough and you 45 grams left over for the next time you want to make bread.

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