Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bread Baking Babes - Pane Francese

Yup it's the middle of the month and time for the reveal on the Bread of the Month for the Bread Baking Babes, our flour and yeast loving group of bakers. I volunteered to be Kitchen of the Month for March, our first bread after our First Anniversary Celebration and then panicked to find a suitable (read interesting) bread for the group. Since I only own one book on bread making, The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook, from which I picked the Challah Bread for October, I turned to one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Flour Bakers Banter. I was looking for an interesting bread, one that had some sort of twist to it. I found that in their Pane Francese bread.

What was different and new to me about this bread is that it uses a Chef to leaven the dough. A Chef is a small piece of dough from a previous batch of bread dough, and this is the only source of yeast in the recipe. I had never heard of that before.

There are 3 stages to this bread - creating the Levain (the Chef mixed with flour and water), the Second Stage Levain (the Levain mixed with more flour and water) and then the Dough. The recipe isn't difficult, but you do need some time - at least 20 hours.

We started this bread on a Friday afternoon, so it wouldn't take up our entire weekend. Around 2 Scott dissolved the Chef in the water, then kneaded in the flour. Then he placed the in a bowl and put it in the oven with the light on, as Mary taught me to. We ran into a problem though. Was it the metal bowl Scott put the Levain in, was it the heat from the light in the oven, was it the fact that it was a relatively small amount of dough..... I'm not sure but when I got home and checked on it around hour 4 of the 5 hour rise the bowl was really hot and the dough almost seemed to be cooking. Eek. I was afraid that the yeast had been killed, but decided to keep going. If the dough didn't rise when we made the Second Stage Levain, then we'd have to start again the next weekend with a new Chef. But the dough rose.

The start of my Second Stage Levain.

After the 10 hour rise I divided the dough into 2 boules, and after the last 2 hour rise they went into the oven.

They were absolutely gorgeous, but pretty small. I think we damaged the yeast when we made the First Levain. BUT they tasted lovely. The sourness mentioned in the recipe was very light, lighter than I'd expected, but it was still very nice.

Pane Francese

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.

Source: King Arthur Flour

Bread Baking Buddies: I hope you enjoy this bread! Cut off date to post is March 29. Please send me a link to your bread so I can include you in the round up and send you your badge - iliketocook AT shaw DOT ca.


Lien said...

Thanks Sara for picking this great bread, I loved baking with a chef that was new for me. Gives a great taste at the bread along with the long rise. Your boules look great. Next time I'll make this bread I'll double the recipe... it was just too good, we wanted more!

NKP said...

I love the round boules you made! So lively with great texture. Thanks for picking out this awesome loaf - I had lots of fun with my new friend "the chef"!

breadchick said...

Sara, your choice of this bread was inspired. I can't thank you enough for re-introducing me to chefs/levain.

Your bread is so fantastic looking! I'll bet it tasted great too. You get to go to head of the class with this one!

LadyConcierge said...

Wow! I learn something new everytime I visit your site. Thanks for the 'chef' info!

Engineer Baker said...

What cute little boules! Brilliant pick for this month; I'm definitely going to make the time for this one. One question though - if you don't have a chef and are using dormant starter, is the starter at 100% hydration, or is it a stiff starter?

Ilva said...

a great choice, it was amazing to see how it became a real bread all by itself! Thanks!

Sara said...

Engineer Baker - ha ha! I am so not the person to answer that question. However I have asked Mary to come comment on that for us both.

Cindystar said...

I have sourdough starter and I 'll be delighted to follow you!
I just have to get confidence with cup measures...that's all!
Happy baking to everybody!

Monique said...

So thats what a great bread looks like !
Thanks for bringing this recipe up , Sara.
I'll just try again , with a proper Chef !!

Katie Zeller said...

There are so many breads I want to make once I get my oven back.... I love the idea of the 'chef'...

Karen Baking Soda said...

Thank you Sara for picking this wonderful recipe, we all loved it so much that the double batch I baked disappeared in one sitting! Now they're begging me for soup (when in fact they want this bread for dinner)

breadchick said...

Caitlin and Sara (and anyone else wanting to do this bread with a liquid starter),

You can use a liquid starter pretty easy. Just use 1/4 cup of the liquid starter and follow the directions for a levain. You will have more of a "sponge" than a stiff dough.

When you get to the forming the dough stage, you may find you need to use about 1/2 a cup to 1 cup more flour depending on how sticky your dough is.

I'd start with the amounts called for in the recipe, see where you are and then add flour in 1/4 cup increments until you have the tacky dough described in the recipe.

Now, the recipe calls for the starter to be "unfed" but I think if you are like me and you have a dormant starter (i.e. a starter that hasn't been baked with in a while) You will want to feed it at least once before using it just to wake it up. You may also find that your first levain is a bit "slow".

Feel free to contact me directly at The Sour Dough if you have any questions!

Anonymous said...

Sara, this was great! I really enjoyed making it, although the "process" was a tough commitment! Great pick!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

This bread took some attention from time to time but what a great friend in the Chef I have now and I owe it all to you Sara. This was just fantastic bread.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Thank you, Sara, for picking this great recipe! I loved the process, learned something new, and ended up with delicious bread.

Engineer Baker said...

Thanks Sara and Mary for answering my starter question! Just as I thought - I'm going to have to wake George up for this one...

Anonymous said...

I am totally gutless when it comes to stuff like this. What if I wanted to make this, but had nothing to start with? No "chef", no sourdough starter, just a quaking heart and the belief that big, fat, politically incorrect fools rush in where Angels fear to tread? What would I (did I say, "I"? I meant this imaginary friend of mine) start with?

Annie said...

That is some gorgeous looking bread!

Anonymous said...

sounds delicious...the artistic presentation make it more delightful.

Anonymous said...

I loved it! And loved to learn about the Chef too! He lives with my sourdoughs in the fridge now ;o)
Thanks for hosting this month!

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

I would like to improve my bread baking skills by joining in as a "Buddy".
Can you tell me how to go about it?