My love of thrift store shopping is well documented. When I mention that I stopped by the thrift store to my husband, he generally rolls his eyes. At times, he is so bold as to ask my “why” as if I really need a reason. Truth be told, it is a bit of a game, a treasure hunt for needful things and at times, a source of inspiration. It is also the way I find a lot of my props and baking equipment and on one such trip, I hit the jackpot; I found a pullman loaf pan for less than $5.
Pullman loaf pans are not that common and finding one in a neighborhood thrift store typically stocked with clothing and housewares is unusual. Actually, the folks running the shop had no idea what it was and they assumed it was some sort of serving container. When I brought it up to the counter, I struck up a conversation with the woman at the register and she told me how they had just put that pan out for sale along with a similar serving container. Because I knew what it was, I cheerfully explained how it was actually a bread pan, one I had been hoping to find for a while. As I removed the lid, I explained how it worked and why one would want to use it. Then I explained that the other “serving container” on the display was in fact a pan for poaching whole fish. To say that she was stunned by the information is an understatement. As I paid for my purchase, I thanked her and she then thanked me for taking the time to teach her something about the equipment-they are all volunteers and sometimes, they have no idea what the donated items are. Then she went off in search of the poaching pan so that she could give it a proper label.
So what is so special about this pan? The shape, of course! The straight sides and the bottom width, as well as the top width are all the same, about 4 inches which gives a loaf of bread baked in the pan perfectly square slices. That is providing you bake it with the lid on. The lid prevents the dough from rising out of the pan and forces it to fill all the corners of the pan. It can also prevent large bubbles from forming in the bread therefore the texture is a little denser than typical sandwich loaves.
Since my large collection of kitchen paraphernalia also includes a wall of cookbooks, I have decided that I need to use them more often. Call this post the first of my “cooking the books” series and today’s recipe is from the classic baking book, Beard on Bread. Actually, finding a pain de mie recipe in my collection of baking books was difficult; only two books had a recipe. After reading them both, I went with the recipe from Beard on Bread because it was the simpler recipe of the two.
The first thing I noticed about the recipe, it had a lot of yeast in it. So much that when I set the yeast into the water and sugar to proof, it foamed up like crazy.
Then when I began to add the other ingredients and started mixing, I nearly panicked. The mixture seemed so dry and crumbly that I was sure I did something wrong. In the future, I would probably add a little less flour to get a slightly softer dough.
Luckily, as the dough mixed, it came together and the longer it kneaded, the smoother it became.
The ball of dough after the first knead is ready for the first rise. That is correct, the first knead, this dough is unique because it is kneaded at each of the three rises and then shaped and allowed to proof in the pan.
While the repeated rising and kneading does not make for a quick loaf of bread, the fact that it is so perfectly square gives it a great yield in slices making this the perfect loaf for a picnics worth of sandwiches! It not only freezes well, makes glorious toast and grilled cheese sandwiches the square shape lends itself to picture perfect croutons. There really are very few reasons not to make this bread so get yourself a pullman pan and get to kneading!
Pain de Mie
adapted from Beard on Bread by James Beard
Alfred A. Knopf, 1973
yields 1 pullman loaf, 13″x4″x4″ loaf
2 packages active dry yeast-4 1/2 teaspoons
1 1/2 cups warm water, 100-115 degrees F
2 teaspoons sugar
5 1/2-6 cups all purpose flour
5 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, soft
Proof the yeast in a half cup of the water with the sugar until it foams. Place 5 cups of the flour in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Using a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, cut in the butter so that the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir the remaining water into the yeast and then pour the mixture into the flour. Using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix the dough to form a stiff but slightly sticky dough. Begin kneading by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer for at least 10 minutes. When smooth and somewhat elastic, allow it to rest for a few minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, coat it in oil and place it in a greased bowl to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down, let it rise again for a few minutes and then turn it out onto the work space and knead it again for 3-4 minutes. Shape it into a ball and return it to the greased bowl, oil the top of the dough and let it rise again until doubled, about 1 hour. Once again, punch the dough down, let it rest and then knead it for 3-4 minutes. Grease the pan and the inside of the lid, shape the dough into a loaf that fits the pan in length and place the dough into the pan but set the lid aside for now. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, preheat the oven to 400F.
Slide the lid over the top of the pan and place the bread in the hot oven. Immediately turn the oven down to 375F. Bake for 30 minutes and then turn the pan over onto its side and bake for 5 minutes. Once again, turn the pan over and bake on the other side for 5 minutes. Turn the pan upright, remove the lid and continue to bake until it is golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Take the bread out of the pan and put it directly on the rack in the oven and bake for 5 minutes until the sides are nicely browned and the internal temperature is 200F. Remove the bread from the oven and cool completely on a rack before slicing.