French Bread with Week Old Pâte Fermentée
A few months ago I gave my colleague some rye starter, using which she's been successfully baking 100% rye breads at home. Now some more people have expressed interest in baking a "rustic" white bread. My job was to develop a simple formula that a someone new to bread baking could easily follow, while at the same time yielding a good-looking, crusty loaf with good flavor. I pondered whether to develop a simple formula using sourdough or commercial yeast and finally decided on the later.
After making that decision I knew that one of the most important factors will be for how the bread keeps, so using a simple preferment and having somewhat higher hydration was inevitable. After baking trials using each of three preferments: poolish, biga and pâte fermentée, the decision was made to go with pâte fermentée since it really made the bread keep much better than the other two, while the taste from all three was similar.
The next step was to see what is the optimal fermentation time for the old dough, meaning that you shouldn't have to wait too long, but the end result should also be good. Baked a few trials of that and chose a week long pâte fermentée, given a couple hour kickstart before refrigeration.
Now this formula is ready for more widespread use and I think it honestly makes a good crusty white bread with a nice flavor. The bread keeps very well for a non-sourdough, about three days: the first day unpackaged, later kept in a plastic bag (yes, the crust does soften, but between that and staling I think it's better with a soft crust).
I baked the bread using a stainless steel bowl as a cover. It could have baked up better, but the results in the pictures are, if not great, at least OK. I chose this way of baking because it is a reasonable approach for people new to the game. The scoring pattern consists of random shallow cut along the top of the loaf. No crumb shot -- gave the bread away uncut.
A final note: you can use sourdough pâte fermentée for this bread, but I don't recommend keeping it in the fridge more than 4 days, lest you risk significant overfermentation.
Link to worksheet with formula.