Nov 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Rising Opportunities from Artful to Artisan

Category: Pastry & Baking

The Beautiful Versatility of Pane Francese

It seems for some time now that I have come to be known as “the decorative bread guy.” You know, the kind of zealous baker that makes bread showpieces that look amazing and are technically edible, but let’s face it, would probably break a tooth if you tried a bite.

While I am honored that my skills and techniques in decorative bread baking have been recognized, I am certainly not the only baker out there with a desire to showcase the beauty and versatility of decorative breads. That being said, I also would like to dispel the notion to some of you that all I do is decorative bread work. The intense training I went through while on the Bread Bakers Guild of America Team USA opened my eyes to the delicate nuances of all bread, and I was hooked; I started out with the artistic and then moved onto artisan.

Recently I released my first book, Baking Artisan Bread (Quarry Books, 2008), in which I present a simplified approach to the baking process. By simplified I do not mean quicker or speedier, but rather more rationalized. My philosophy is to maximize variety through minimal effort where each single formula creates several different breads. I am a firm believer that good bread needs time to ferment slowly in order to build the complex flavors that are so desirable. Just as grapes ferment naturally from a humble juice into a fine wine under the watchful eye of a professional, the same holds true for breads: with simple, quality ingredients and a proper understanding of the fermentation process, a baker can coax forth delicate and subtle flavors that are almost unimaginable.

One of the formulas presented in the book is for Pane Francese. As its name implies, it is the Italian version of French bread. As with most other basic bread formulas, it is made from only four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Every baker has their personal preferences regarding ingredients, and I will gladly share with you mine. I like to use an all-winter wheat with an 11.5 percent protein content, as it gives me the desired strength and flavor that I rely on in baking bread. The type of salt is not as critical, but I do use a fine crystal salt whenever possible since it dissolves more readily into the final dough. I also like to use instant yeast for consistent results, but if you prefer to work with fresh yeast, just multiply the amount given in this formula by 2.5 and you will have the correct amount of fresh yeast for proper fermentation. Water is of great importance because it enables everything to come to life. However, the source of water is of less importance when using commercial yeast (as with this formula) than when dealing with natural sourdough cultures; so straight tap water will work just fine.

Before you get started, here are a few points to consider. While Pane F r a n c e s e is inspired by French bread, do not be intimidated and assume it is as difficult to make as the French masterpiece, the baguette. In actuality, this bread is very easy to make. It requires no shaping, possesses a great rustic flavor profile, and has a very large and open crumb structure commonly seen in artisan breads. Another great feature is that all of the fermentation happens through the preferment— there is no extra yeast called for in the final dough. This dough can easily be made into rolls, loaves, decorative fougasse shapes, or even used for a sheetpan full of focaccia.

So what are you waiting for? Don an apron, roll up your sleeves and give this versatile Pane Francese a try!

Pane Francese


Ingredients Metric Pounds %
Bread Flour 1370g 3# 100
Water 821g 1# 12.9 oz 60
Instant Yeast 10g .35 oz 0.75

1. Combine all of the above ingredients in a mixer, place in an oil-sprayed plastic container, and cover with a lid.

2. Allow the preferment to double (this should take around 2 hours).

3. Degas the preferment by pushing it down in the container and place in the refrigerator for overnight fermentation.

Final Dough:

Ingredients Metric Pounds %
Bread Flour 2000g 4# 6.5 oz 100
Water (95°F) 1440g 3# 2.7 oz 72
Salt 60g 2.1 oz 3
Biga 2200g 4# 13.6 oz 110

1. Combine all of the above ingredients in a mixer and mix on first speed for about 4 minutes until a smooth paste is achieved.

2. Increase the speed to second speed (medium speed) and mix for 4-5 minutes until a medium window has developed. This mixing method is called the improved method of mixing.

3. Place in an oil-sprayed container, cover with a lid, and allow the dough to bulk ferment for 90 minutes.

4. After the bulk fermentation stage, invert the dough on a dusted surface and divide into the desired shapes.

5. Place on a flour-dusted surface (or seeds if desired) for the final proof.

6. Bake the product in a pre-steamed deck oven at 450-480°F for about 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of breads created). Make sure to vent the oven during the last 5 minutes of the bake to allow the steam to escape.


1. Since the consistency of the refrigerated preferment is much firmer than the final dough, it is best to cut it into small units before mixing it into the final dough.

2. After the bulk fermentation, there is no need to preshape or final shape; just divide the dough into the desired size increments and place them on a floured surface.

3. Proof on a floured surface, or to add variety to the surface texture and flavor, proof the bread on top of seeds. Cover and allow to proof for 60 minutes before baking.

4. To make an elegant fougasse, take a unit after bulk fermentation and roll it out flat. Cut the desired pattern into the dough with a bench scraper, pull the dough out into shape, and place on a parchment-lined sheetpan. To add more flavor, brush the top surface with a blend of savory oil before baking.


The open and cream-colored crumb structure of the Pane Francese is clearly evident in this cross section.

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