Week 66: Pane Francese

ITALY: Looks like a baguettte, but tastes like a ciabatta – what could be more perfect? This Italian “French bread” has a creamy chewy interior, a dark exterior, and gets its flavor boost from two overnight fermentations, and an addition of milk and olive oil in the dough.

I could only find a few verisons of this bread, and they varied widely. I tested three (all from cookbooks: The Italian Baker, Bread Illustrated, and Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread), then concluded that although they each had some great points, they also came with some tricky and/or non-authentic steps. So, I did a fourth test using what I’d learned from the first three and came up with this method below, which worked out really well.

I found Kingdom Bread’s instructional video to be really useful, and recommend watching it to get an idea of what the process will be (linked below as well). You’ll need a tea towel, and a spray bottle before you get started.

STEP 1: Make the biga (pre-ferment)

  • 300g white flour
  • 1/8 tsp yeast
  • 300g water 
  1. Mix biga ingredients in medium bowl until thoroughly incorporated. I use two chopsticks, then scrape the sides of the bowl down with a dough scraper.
  2. Cover and let rest overnight for 10-13 hours.

STEP 2: Make dough (next day)

  • 450g white flour
  • 50g whole wheat flour
  • 2-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp (heaping) yeast
  • 235g whole milk
  • 70g extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Measure the flour, salt, and yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Pour some of the milk around the sides of the biga, then scrape the sides inward to help release it from the bowl.
  3. Turn the biga out into the stand mixer, using a dough scraper it it doesn’t slide out easily.
  4. Add the olive oil and the rest of the milk.
  5. Mix, with dough hook attachment, for 4 minutes on speed #1, and then for 5~6 minutes on speed #2.

STEP 3: Rock & Roll kneading

  1. Lightly oil work surface and hands.
  2. Slide dough of the dough hook, and then empty dough out onto the lightly oiled work surface
  3. Gently press dough into a rectangular shape, then do 10 “roll and folds” (video instruction below). It might seem tricky at first, but keep going. You will eventually get there!
  4. Tuck in sides with your hands, then place in an oiled bowl, seam side down.
  5. Cover and let rest 1 hour

STEP 4: Envelope kneading & two 1-hour rests

  1. Lightly oil hands, and a rectangular baking pan
  2. Very lightly flour the countertop
  3. Turn dough out onto the countertop, using your dough scraper if neccessary, seam side up
  4. Pick up sides and gently pull out to achieve a rectangul measuring about 12″ x 20″. Pick up the top wide side, stretch it out, then fold it 1/3rd of the way down. Do the same with the bottom third: pick it up, stretch it out, then fold it up over the top. Like an letter for an envelope.
  5. Now fold the sides in. Pick up the left side, stretch it out, and fold it over 1/3rd of the way, then pick up the right side, stretch it out and fold it over.
  6. Cup your hands, around the dough, and rotate dough while tucking the sides under .
  7. Place the dough, seam-side down, in the baking pan, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rest 1 hour
  8. Lightly oil countertop and hands
  9. Repeat steps #3 – 8.

STEP 5: Shaping

  1. Line the 9″ x 13″ baking pan with a tea towel that’s been dusted with flour
  2. Lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour.
  3. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and let it spread, then gently form it into an 8 x 13″ rectangle, by pressing to expand it, and stretching out the sides.
  4. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, each measuring about 2″ x 13″.
  5. Place first log, cut side down, onto the dusted tea towel, tent a portion to form a divider, then place the next one in. Repeat until thtey are all in, cut side down.
  6. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
  7. Place the covered pan in the fridge and chill for at least 12 hours.

STEP 6: Bake! (next day)

  1. Preheat the oven to 550° (it’s okay to just heat it to 500 if that’s as high as your oven goes)
  2. When hot, place a pan on the bottom rack, then add boiling water.
  3. Bring oven back up to 550 degrees and place an inverted baking sheet onto the middle rack
  4. Grab the edges of the tea towel and gently lift the loaves out of the pan.
  5. Spread the towel out flat.
  6. Use a bread board, (or piece of cardboard) gently flip the loaves off the towel onto a bread board (piece of cardboard), then flip onto a bread peel that’s been lined with parchment paper.
  7. Slide the loaves onto the inverted baking sheet.
  8. Lower oven temp to 450.
  9. Bake about 25 minutes until dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom
  10. Cool on wire rack – do not cut into them until they’ve cooled!!
  11. Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours.

Comments/Questions

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s