Pain de Mie

As the long bank holiday weekend continues, it looks like we’ve run out of bread again. I don’t know how my kids can eat a whole loaf of bread in two days, but somehow they’ve managed it.

To be fair, they did have some help this time. Whilst I always try to have something wholesome in the bread bin, I am undeniably partial to a white loaf. Not just any white bread, mind – I like a loaf that’s been enriched to make the tender crumb even more meltingly soft and sweet.

There are many kinds of enriched loaves, and I’m a big fan of brioche and challah, but my absolute favourite is pain de mie. It’s basically a sandwich bread, quite similar to milk roll. My favourite version includes milk powder and sugar, as well as a generous amount of butter, and the end result is just wonderful when slathered with yet more  butter! Oh my goodness, my mouth is watering as I write this!

This loaf is a family staple in our house, and whilst it’s not as glamorous and exciting as some of the other things I’ve decided to blog about, it absolutely deserves to be celebrated alongside them. My daughter calls this bread ‘panda meat’, which I encourage for the sheer comedy value – honestly is a much better name for it. The english translation is very confusing, literally meaning ‘the bread of the inside part of the bread’ – clearly it sounds a lot better in french.

Anyways, like most breads, it can seem pretty daunting and complicated, but once you’ve made it a couple of times, you can do the whole thing on autopilot. It’s honestly very easy to make – I encourage anyone to give this a try.

You will need to make your pain de mie in a stand mixer. I suppose you could do it by hand, but it will be incredibly messy. If you do not own a stand mixer, and are serious about your baking, I strongly suggest you invest in one. If you’ve ever got blisters from stirring cake batter, you’ll understand why. When choosing one, I encourage you above all else to search for one that has the option of a spiral dough hook. This is what they use is professional bakeries, and it is far more effective than the c shaped hook that is popular amongst some of the more popular consumer models.

So let’s do this!

You’ll need to put all the ingredients, minus the butter, in the bowl of your stand mixer. I like to weigh in the water first, so I can easily make adjustments if I pour too much in. I follow this with the yeast, and then the flour. Adding the ingredients in this order helps to wake up the yeast, and also ensures that the salt is kept separate from the yeast; salt will kill the yeast if placed in direct contact, inhibiting the development of your dough and slowing the rise of your loaf.

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Add the milk powder, sugar, and salt, and then transfer your bowl to the stand mixer, and bring the dough together at a low speed. Once incorporated into a shaggy dough, you can turn the speed up to medium-low for about 5 minutes, while the dough continues to develop. The dough should be homogenous, and the bowl clean before adding the butter.

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You don’t want your butter to be fridge cold when you add it to your dough, otherwise it will take forever to incorporate. But you also don’t want it to be sloppily warm, so using it straight from the butter dish is not a great option, especially if your kitchen is really hot, like mine is. I like to take butter directly from the fridge, and beat it flat with a rolling pin between 2 pieces of baking parchment. This makes it malleable and warms it up quickly enough to be used directly. You don’t need to be too brutal about pounding it, just make sure that you can easily push your finger into the butter, and you’re there.

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Add the butter a small amount at a time, with the mixer running. Try to wait until the butter is mostly incorporated before adding your next piece, and scrape down the sides of the bowl as required – you want all that lovely butter in your dough!

Once all the butter is incorporated, you’ll need knead the dough for a further 5 minutes or so. You will know it is ready when it has a lovely soft skin, and flows between your fingers when you lift it up. It’s just gorgeous. I’ve often been tempted to just sink by teeth into the raw dough at this point – you can just tell it’s going to taste amazing!

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Ball up the dough, and place it back into the mixing bowl for a first prove. Make sure to cover the bowl to stop the dough from drying out. Tea towels and cling film are popular, but I like to use a shower cap. These can be reused many times, and seem more environmentally friendly than using cling film every time. You can buy these very cheaply online, or simply grab a load of them the next time you’re in a hotel!

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The first rise needs about 90 minutes, but I like to break this up with a fold about halfway through. Folding your dough helps to even out fermentation, and make the dough stronger and more plump. It’s also a great opportunity to deflate the dough, as you want the crumb in this loaf to be small and tight.

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Simply spread your dough into a rough square shape, and use your knuckles to squash the dough and force out all the air. Fold the top third down and seal gently, then fold the bottom third up over the top, and gently press down.

Fold the right third over, and finally the left third over, and then place upside down back in you mixing bowl, with the smooth side facing up. Cover again, and leave for another 45 minutes.

After the full 90 minutes, your loaf is ready to be shaped. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing into a rough square, and knocking out all the excess air with your knuckles, just as before. Divide your dough into 2 portions, as equally as possible. You can use a bench scraper or even a large knife to do this, but my weapon of choice is a plastering knife. I originally bought this to help me manipulate high hydration sourdoughs, and it’s become one of my favourite kitchen tools. I bought it online for about £3 – bargain!

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With your dough divided into two pieces, you need to shape them into long cylinders. I like to begin by lifting the dough up lengthways and giving it a gentle shake to help it stretch, and then lay it down on my bench. From there you can even it upon with your hands, before folding in the ends to neaten them up.

Next, roll the sections up lengthways like a swiss roll, tucking in gently as you go. Once fully rolled up, firmly press the seam closed with the heal of your hand. To be extra sure that the pieces won’t unravel, I like to firmly pinch the whole seam, including the ends, before flattening it down again.

With your long sausage of dough prepared, it’s important to roll it out to the right length. I like to make sure that my dough sausage is about 1.5 times the length of my pan, as this will allow for the shrinkage caused from twisting the two pieces together. Once both piece are rolled out to the correct length, cover them loosely with a tea towel and allow them a few minutes to rest and relax before final shaping.

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While your rolled sections are resting, it’s a great time to prepare your bread tin by lubricating it with a thin coat of vegetable oil. This recipe is designed to fit a 33cm square ‘Pullman’ bread pan. If you want to make bread for children’s sandwiches, this is a great investment. They are not the cheapest bakeware, but they definitely give you a great result. You can of course make this bread in any loaf tin that you have – I wouldn’t recommend doing a freeform loaf though, as the dough would probably spread a lot and become very flat. I haven’t ever attempted it, mind you, as I wouldn’t want to risk one of my favourite breads!

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After 5-10 minutes resting, you can start to wind your dough together to form a rope twist. I find this to be the best way to make the pullman loaf; If you make it just one piece then then it’s very hard to minimise imperfections, but if you use a plait of even 3 strands, it often looks very messy on top, and quite plain on the side. I think the 2 strand twist is a happy balance.

As quickly and carefully as you can, lift your dough into the bread pan, and do your best to tuck and tidy up the ends. Then slide on your pan lid, and leave it for a second rise. I like to start preheating my oven now, to make sure it’s reached the necessary temperature in time – sometimes ovens can tell you lies about how hot they are, so always preheat early with bread. I would always recommend not using a fan oven, if you have the option to switch it off. Convection encourages a good crust, which is desirable in some baking, but not in this loaf.

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Check on the loaf after about 45 minutes, as it might be ready to go in the oven at this point. You want the dough to have risen almost to the top of the tin before you close the lid and put it in the oven. Obviously you don’t want the lid to scrape along the dough and destroy the lovely twist, but you also want it to be as close to the top as possible. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so once it’s reached this point, I will often check on it every few minutes – it can rise that fast.

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Once you are happy that your dough has risen dangerously close to the top, carefully slide on your lid and clip it shut. Place in the centre of the hot oven, and set your timer for 10 minutes. Putting the loaf into a very hot oven encourages a rapid rising of the dough to fill out the pan beautifully. After that 10 minutes, you’ll want to turn the oven down much lower, to help keep the crusts as soft as possible, but still ensure that the loaf is baked all the way through.

After another 25 minutes as a lower temperature, it’s time to slide off the tip and give the top of your loaf another 10 minutes to crust and colour. This is my favourite part of making the pain de mie (other than eating it, of course!), when you can see how the pattern turned out. If it’s gone well, I’m sure you’ll feel your pride swelling, just as I do!

After the final 10 minutes, it’s time to remove your loaf from the oven, and turn out onto a wire rack. If the sides and bottom of your loaf seem pale and flimsy, you can return your loaf, top down on a baking sheet, to the oven for 5 more minutes to firm up. I don’t seem to have this problem with my oven, but it does run a little hot.

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And there it is! Resist the temptation to cut your bread before it has cooled completely; The residual heat will continue to cook the delicate crumb inside.

My kids are going to be so happy when they see this in the morning 🙂

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Pain de mie makes the absolute best sandwich bread for kids. When I’m feeling especially benevolent (or if I just really want my kids to like me!), I make some buttered jam sandwiches and cut off the crusts as well. This bread makes amazing finger sandwiches, as the delicate crumb matches the dainty sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches for a picnic, for example. So good, so British! 😀

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Just look at that crumb…

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Pain de mie

380g water (~20ºc)
7g instant yeast
630g strong white bread flour
25g castor sugar
30g milk powder
15g salt
113g butter

Remove the butter from the fridge and flatten it between 2 pieces of baking parchment.

Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on slow speed for 5 minutes.

Increase the mixer speed to medium, and add the butter piece by piece. Once all the butter is completely incorporated, mix for an additional 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic with a smooth skin. If not, continue to knead a few more minutes.

Cover the dough and let it prove for 90 minutes, folding once after 45 minutes.

Lubricate a 33cm Pullman pan with vegetable oil

Carefully turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently deflate the dough and form into a rough square shape, and divide roughly in half.

Shape each piece into a sausage about 50cm long. Rest for 5 minutes under a tea towel. Twist the ropes together and transfer to the pullman pan.
Put the lid on the pan and close loosely for second prove.  The dough will take about an hour to reach the top of the pan in a warm kitchen. When the dough is very close to the top of the pan, close the lid completely and put into the preheated oven.

Bake at 230ºc for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 175ºc and bake for another 25 minutes. Remove the lid from the pan and bake for another 10 minutes to brown the top of the loaf.

Turn loaf out onto a wire rack. If the sides and bottom are still pale and flimsy, return the loaf to the oven for 5 minutes, inverted on a baking tray.

Leave to cool completely.

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