Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Posted on 24 November 2017

Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Oh, those French bakers. They take great pains (no pun intended) to make slender baguettes with thick, shatteringly crisp crusts. And yet, as if to thumb their noses at the whole artisan baking thing, they also crank out rectangular sandwich loaves with virtually no crusts at all.

Pain de mie (“bread of crumb”) is the anti-baguette. A baguette takes days to make and goes stale after three hours. Pain de mie takes about three hours to make and stays fresh for days. (Julia Child said it tastes even better after a day or two.)

Enriched with milk, pain de mie delights with a fine, light crumb and holds its shape even when sliced thin for sandwiches. But as good as it tastes, and as tender as it is through-and-through, the real fun lies in its angularity. You’ll cut perfectly square slices and perfectly cubed cubes. It makes adorable toast and French toast, and ideal grilled cheese.

The right angles come courtesy of the Pullman loaf pan, once a specialty item that’s now easy to find online. Its lid keeps the dough from crowning as it bakes. For my first loaf, I half expected the dough to balloon up and ooze out all over the oven, à la Lucy. But the dough accepted its confinement, and the top cameSmall Pain de Mie out perfectly flat, as advertised.

Yes, it’s “Pullman,” as in Pullman railway cars. Although these crustless loaves originated in 18th Century Europe, they became popular in America when the Pullman Company baked them in their small on-board kitchens. Three of these stackable loaves could squeeze in where only two round-top breads would fit.

My 101-year old mother recalls the fine dining on family train trips in the 1920s and 30s. She would peer into those compact Pullman kitchens—careful not to get underfoot—as chefs quickly prepared elegant meals to order, despite the tight quarters.

So get on board and try this simple recipe for classic, first-class sandwich bread.

Note: Most recipes call for the traditional 13” x 4” x 4” lidded Pullman loaf pan. This recipephany uses the smaller, more convenient 9” x 4” x 4” pan.

Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s “A Smaller Pain de Mie” Recipe

Equipment: 9” x 4” x 4” Pullman loaf pan (from King Arthur Flour or from USA Pan Bakeware), lightly greased inside the pan and the lid

  • 7/8 cup to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or soft butter
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • ½ cup bread flour
  • 2 ¾ cups cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder

1. Put all ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed and mix. Knead by hand or with a stand mixer to make a smooth, elastic dough. Add a little extra water if needed to get it stretchy.

2. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 to 2 hours, depending upon how warm the room is. It should become light and puffy, but may not quite double in size.

3. Gently deflate dough, and flatten into about a 9” square on a lightly floured surface. Roll up tightly into a cylinder, and pinch the seams to seal. Place seam-side down in the greased pullman pan, flattening again, and push edges into the corners.

4. Slide the greased lid over the pan, leaving about an inch open at the end so you can see how high the dough rises. Lightly cover the opening with plastic wrap.

5. Preheat oven to 350°F during the rise. Watch to see when the dough rises within about 1/2″ of the lip of the pan, which should take about an hour. Close the lid, and let rise another 10 minutes, allowing the dough to reach the lid.

6. Bake 25 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. The loaf will pull away from the edges of the pan, and its internal temperature should read 195-200°F when done.

7. Turn out the bread from the pan onto a rack to cool before slicing.

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