Few of us would turn back the clock to the days before rough-crusted, long-fermented loaves returned to America in the rustic bread craze of the 1980s. We love our boules and bâtards and pains de campagne. But they do not belong in a lunch box.
That calls for white bread. Made properly, this loaf will seed a lifelong love of bread. Its wheaten sweetness plays in our mouths. Its soft crust is gentle on our gums.
Its essential nature is down to the dough, not the shape. In one guise, it might be a baguette, in another a dinner roll. In its most accessible form, it’s a white sliced sandwich loaf. My personal fantasy is that artisan bakeries might start baking it in imprinted pans, so their names come out indented on the sides of the loaves, in the old English style.
However it’s made, this would have to be the recipe they use. It is the work of the distinguished Parisian, Raymond Calvel, retired professor of the milling school Ecole Francaise de Meunerie. Ed Behr, a food scholar now at work on a bread book, deserves credit for bringing it to the attention of English speakers some years ago in his Vermont-based newsletter “The Art of Eating.”
Calvel’s white bread has a light acidity resulting from the use of a pre-fermented starter, which is then mixed into a fresher dough, formed into loaves and baked in the traditional manner.
As with any naturally fermented loaf, it is best to use organic flour. Use of filtered water will also improve the ferment.
The mixing of the flour, water and salt well before the addition of the yeast in the main dough may sound eccentric, but it does much for the flavor.