Do you want to know a secret?
This is one of the secrets to making great tasting bread and is part of my series Bake Better Bread.
Pâte fermentée or Pre-fermented dough
Its French name is pâte fermentée (fermented dough) or PF for short. Traditionally, bakers kept some of the dough made on one day to start the next day’s dough. Unfortunately, it is also sometimes referred to as “old dough” which is somewhat less appealing!
Adding the pre-fermented dough (PF) to your bread recipe really develops and improves the flavour. You need to add less yeast (you must still add some) and you need to knead less.
It’s widely used in France especially when making “traditional” baguettes. There’s actually a law dating back to 1993 that decrees that only traditional flour (without additives), yeast and salt must be used and that the dough should not be frozen at any point. This is where the pâte fermentée helps kick start the bread making process. Always ask for “une Baguette de Tradition “when buying a loaf in France. Other types of baguette may have additives.
How to make pâte fermentée / pre-fermented dough.
You’ll be pleased to know that you do not have to keep back dough, you can make pre-fermented dough from scratch. Once made put it in the fridge and it is ready to use after 3 hours. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days and take out the amount you need for your recipe. The PF is added to bread recipes, but can also be added to sweet doughs and croissants although purists will insist on PF made of sweet dough.
It will rise a little in a cool fridge, but sits there quite happily until you need it. It can be made with whatever gluten rich flour you have to hand – white, brown or wholewheat. I tend to make white pâte fermentée which goes with everything. The yeast content is typically 1% and salt content in PF is usually 1 to 1.8% of the flour weight.
Other pre-ferments for bread
Other pre-ferments include: biga which is a firm mixture with no salt added (this ferment can be made with either baker’s yeast or levain); poolish which is liquid and contains less yeast than biga; and a sponge which is usually used for a short term ferment used to help heavier flours get going.
How to use pâte fermentée
The pâte fermentée can be used in any existing recipe, simply add in at the same time as the other ingredients typically use 20% of the flour weight. The amount of yeast required in most bread recipes can be reduced to 1% of flour weight if using the pre-fermented dough. You do not need to adjust the hydration of the dough.
Recipe for PF
Pate Fermentee - Pre-fermented dough
- 500 gr white bread flour (100%) eg Shipton Mill Organic No. 4
- 5 gr fresh yeast (1%) available from most supermarket bread counters
- 5 gr salt (1%)
- 325 ml water (65%)
- If you are making in a stand mixer, place all ingredients in the bowl.
- Mix for 3 minutes at a low speed, then a further 3 minutes at medium speed. The dough should come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
- If you are making by hand, place the flour in a large bowl. Rub the fresh yeast into the flour. Add the salt, then the water. Mix well, then knead until smooth - about 10 minutes
- Place the dough in a bowl or box and cover well. Place in the fridge and leave for at least 3 hours. Use within 3-4 days.
- To use, take 20% of the weight of flour in Pate Fermentee (eg 200 gr for 1 kilo of flour) and add it to the other ingredients at the same time as the flour.
Basic bread recipe using pâte fermentée
This is an ideal recipe to try. You can adapt it easily once you’ve made it the first time.
Basic Bread Recipe using pâte fermentée
- 500 gr white bread flour 100%
- 100 gr pâte fermentée (PF) 20%
- 350 ml water 70%
- 5 gr fresh yeast 1%
- 9 gr salt 1.8%
- Stand mixer versionIf you are using a stand mixer, place the dry ingredients into the bowl ensuring the fresh yeast and salt are kept separately
- Add the pâte fermentée and water (Read more about water temperature). Mix on a low speed for 5 minutes
- Increase the speed to medium and mix for a further 3 minutes or until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. You can test whether the dough is ready by: checking the temperature which should be between 24° and 26°C or pull some of the dough to check the dough has some resistance does not break easily (window pan technique).
- Hand mix versionIf you are making the dough by hand, add the dry ingredients to the bowl. Rub the yeast into the flour lightly keeping it away from the salt. Add the pâte fermentée in small lumps. Add the water and mix well
- When all the flour is absorbed, take the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth. Check the temperature, it should be about 24 degrees. Check the dough for resistance and that it will not break easily.
- ProvingFor either version, cover the bowl and leave at room temperature. It should be ready to shape after about an hour. Pre-heat your oven to 230°C. Read more about heat, steam and slashing your bread.
- ShapingShape your bread and leave for a further 45 minutes to an hour before baking. You can place it on a couche dusted with flour and cover, or in a banetton dredged with flour and covered.
- Pre heat your oven to 230°C /440°F an hour before you want to bake. If you have a pizza stone or equivalent pre-heat it too.
- BakingSlash the top of the loaf and place in the oven and bake for 35 minutes,
Learn to Bake Bread
Learn plenty of French breadmaking techniques in one of my breadmaking courses, there’s plenty to choose from.