Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread

Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread Sliced

Do you notice how these pane francese photos seem to be taken at a peculiar angle? How they show most of the loaf surface area but not quite the entire picture? There’s a reason for that. The hidden cropped areas is where the bread exploded like bats out of a cave.

The original recipe specifically advises against steaming and scoring the loaves. Doing either or both would’ve helped the loaves expand in a more controlled manner, but I’m not complaining. It still came out with a fairly open crumb somehow. These slices of toasted crispness and sour chewiness are just begging to be dipped in extra-virgin olive oil.

I went with the lengthier end of the suggested 2 to 3 hours for the final proof. I should’ve let the dough ferment for another hour or so, almost to the point of collapse and overproofing, to prevent said explosions. As with most recipes that rely on the unpredictability of sourdough, your mileage may vary.

By the way, if this post elicits that deja vu feeling (I can only hope that I have readers of the regular persuasion), I previously posted a more slender version of pane francese. I like to call it loaves of ciabatta in baguette form.

recipe adapted from Joe Ortiz’ The Village Baker via King Arthur Flour
Bread Baking Babes: Pane Francese Naturale hosted by Sara
Bake Your Own Bread

Pane Francese Naturale
Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread

makes two loaves

Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread Crust

For the First-Stage Lievito Naturale / Sourdough Starter:

Ingredients                  Volume          Ounces          Grams
lievito naturale / sourdough    1/4 cup           1.75          50
water, room temp                1/4 cup           2             57
unbleached bread flour          1/2 cup           2.25          64

First-Stage Lievito Naturale / Sourdough Starter Directions:

  1. Cut the sourdough starter into small pieces and place in a bowl. Pour the water over the sourdough starter and stir to dissolve. Add the flour and mix until thoroughly hydrated. Knead for a few minutes until a smooth dough is formed.
  2. Place the lievito naturale in a bowl and cover. Let stand at room temperature for about 5 to 6 hours or until doubled in size before using in the second stage.

Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread Starter
Second stage sourdough starter cross-section.

For the Second-Stage Lievito Naturale / Sourdough Starter:

Ingredients                  Volume          Ounces          Grams
all of the first-stage lievito naturale
water, room temp                1/2 cup           4            113
unbleached bread flour        1 1/2 cups          6.75         191

Second-Stage Lievito Naturale / Sourdough Starter Directions:

  1. Cut the sourdough starter into small pieces and place in a bowl. Pour the water over the sourdough starter and stir to dissolve. Add the flour and mix until thoroughly hydrated. Knead for a few minutes until a smooth dough is formed.
  2. Place the lievito naturale in a bowl and cover. Let stand at room temperature for about 3 to 5 hours or until doubled in size before using in the final dough. The second-stage sourdough starter will be much stiffer than the first.

For the Final Sourdough:

Ingredients                  Volume          Ounces          Grams
all of the second-stage lievito naturale, cut into small pieces
water, room temp                3/4 cup           6            170
unbleached bread flour            2 cups          9            255
salt                              2 tsp           0.4           12


Mix             In a large bowl, Pour the water over the lievito
                naturale pieces and stir to dissolve. Add the flour
                and salt. Mix until the dough is thoroughly hydrated
                and a shaggy ball is formed.

Rest            Cover the bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Knead           8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and no
                longer sticky.

Bulk Ferment    8 to 10 hours at room temperature

Divide          2 pieces

Preshape        loose rounds

Rest            20 to 30 minutes

Shape           tight round or oval loaves

Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread Proofed

Preheat Oven    450ºF / 230ºC

Final Proof     2 to 4 hours at room temperature, or until about
                doubled in size

Bake            Bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 450ºF / 230ºC, rotating
                the loaves halfway through baking if necessary.

Cool            Let the loaves cool completely at room temperature,
                at least 1 hour.

Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread Crust Crumb
Sourdough Italian-style French bread crust and crumb. Exploded crust cropped just above the top border of the photo.

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26 Responses to “Sourdough Italian-Style French Bread”

  1. Rosa says:

    That starter looks fantastic! A wonderful bread with a gorgeous crust!



  2. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella says:

    That looks fantastic and I liked the imagery of the bats out of a cave! :D

  3. purplesque says:

    That crumb looks Gorgeous! You’re an inspiration.

  4. Caitlin says:

    It’s so reassuring that yours exploded too :) Yours ended up with a more open crumb than mind, but the flavor – your description is spot-on. I love the tanginess and chewiness.

  5. Soma says:

    Looks great:-) i wish i could see the explosion LOL.. see this is the difference between professional bakers like u & a novice like me.. if i ever get air pockets like that, it always happened by chance.. may be i should take a class from u.

  6. Peter says:

    I luv when I cut into bread and see these airy, fluffy holes inside!

  7. Natashya says:

    My P.F. didn’t explode, but it didn’t have that fabulous open crumb that you have either. Yours is so lively and beautiful, any explosion would be forgiven.
    On a futher note… I tucked my leftover chef into some other dough later on just to use it up and it did explode out of there like Alien. :)

  8. lisaiscooking says:

    It looks delicious, explosions or not. Your second stage starter looks incredible. I don’t think mine is ever that active.

  9. kat says:

    Your breads are always so gorgeous!

  10. Leela says:

    Thanks the tip on how longer proofing prevents explosions.

    That picture of the sourdough starter is so gorgeous. I can’t keep my eyes off of it, in fact.

    Is that normal?

  11. snooky doodle says:

    Oh it looks wonderful! Yes, I m imagining a slice covered with extra virgin olive oil

  12. Joie de vivre says:

    The crumb looks absolutely amazing! I think scoring them would have helped, but you never know with sourdough since they are basically supposed to stop rising before you put them in the oven. How are you supposed to know when that exact point is though?

  13. lori says:

    Those bats left something good behind. Looks so yummy.

  14. The Duo Dishes says:

    Wow, the air pockets and craggly crust…that’s a good loaf right there.

  15. Natashya, hate it when that happens. Such a pain to clean up, too.

    Leela, the starter does seem like it rises and gets that slightly acidic smell rather quickly. Maybe my kitchen is a bit warmer than it should be.

    Joie, I usually do a poke test. For steamed and scored loaves, I want the dough to spring back about halfway after pressing lightly with a finger.
    For this loaf, I could probably get away with overproofing, where the proofed dough barely springs back when pressed. It might collapse on itself, though.

  16. Irene says:

    Yes! That’s exactly what I thought when I saw the photo – this bread is just dying to be dipped in olive oil… yum!

  17. cakebrain says:

    geez, I haven’t baked bread with a starter or used levain in ages. I miss the smell. I love seeing all those gigantic holes! Looks great!

  18. Audax Artifex says:

    Thanks for the comments on my blog, yours is on of the top food blogs on the net and I’m fluttered that you look elsewhere. LOVE your blog and it is one of the top 50 food blogs on the net Number 11 (

  19. Hayley says:

    I have yet to make a sourdough, usually going for something I can eat that day. But the flavor never compares to this timelier counterpart. I must try it soon, thanks for the recipe, and sorry about the explosion!

  20. CookiePie says:

    That bread looks SO delicious — I bet it would be amazing with a lovely fruity olive oil :)

  21. sweetbird says:

    I’ve really got to try sourdough. I’m afraid my bread making ability has stagnated at focaccia. Stop it with your awesomeness!

  22. Hannah says:

    Wow, what a beautiful, airy crumb!

  23. Nick says:

    Excellent instructions, crusty bread is one of the greatest wonders of the world in my opinion.

  24. Girl says:

    First I have to get the bread making skills down… before I even attempt fermenting… hehe You are SO talented.

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