Christmas came early for me this year!
My beloved baker aunt sent me two boxes full of pans and tins that she no longer uses. My baking horizons have expanded considerably. Get ready for a bunch of cute mini stuff!
One of the gems that was included was a Pullman loaf pan – a.k.a. the tin I needed to bake the Pain de Mie in my Bread Illustrated cookbook. If you’ve seen a Pullman pan, it’s rectangular box and it’s defining characteristic is that it has a LID. Rather that producing a loaf with a puffy mushroom-like top, it yields perfectly rectangular loaves with sharp right angles. Evidently, this is done for two reasons: 1) it reduces the amount of crust and 2) it makes it easier to stack breads.
Despite the fact that I quite enjoy crust and have no need to stack bread, I was eager to give it a go.
The pain de mie recipe is in the sandwich bread chapter. It consists of all-purpose flour, some melted butter, a few tablespoons of honey, milk, and the usual suspects of yeast, salt, and water. It’s the kind of bread that can be baked in the afternoon – it requires two rest periods of 1 to 1.5 hours plus 40 minutes in the oven.
At the one hour mark of my first rise, the dough was already bursting out of the bowl, so I decided to check on the second rise after only 30 minutes. I was a little surprised to see the dough had ballooned out over the pan – how the heck was I supposed to get the lid on? That’s when I realized I’d missed part of the instructions: I was supposed to slide the lid on before letting it rise, leaving a two inch gap at the end. Whoops.
No big deal – I just pressed out some of the air and made things work.
At the halfway mark, I pulled the tin out and, as instructed, attempted to remove the lid of the pan for the second half of the bake. Some of the dough had oozed out, so I just tore it off. Small problem: the lid wouldn’t budge.
I struggled with it for a good five minutes. I was wondering if I’d lost my mind – I tried pushing and pulling in various directions, but it didn’t give at all. I Googled “pullman tin stuck lid” – surely this is a common affliction – but nothing came up. Not even Google could solve this.
So, I just left the lid on for the second half of the bake. As far as I could tell from the book, the purpose of removing the lid halfway is to allow the top of the bread to get a nice, golden colour. The book warns, “if you keep the cover on for the full baking time, the bread will have a pale crust with a steamed texture”. I figured that was better than having a half baked loaf of bread, so back in the oven it went.
When my timer beeped signalling the end of the second half of the bake, something miraculous happened: the lid slid off effortlessly. I baked the now topless bread for five more minutes, but it didn’t do much – the top stayed pretty pale. Oh well.
Dense and square, this bread looks – and feels – a bit like a brick. “Deliciously bland” is the best way I can think to describe it. I mean, it’s good – I ate two slices while it was still warm – but it’s definitely not a show stopper. You might use it for a deluxe PB&J sandwich (the kind with homemade jam) or a gourmet grilled cheese – but at the end of the day, it’s just a plain white sandwich bread. An easily stackable white bread, mind you.
Playing with the Pullman was fun, but I think I’ll find a more exciting recipe to showcase its abilities. In the meantime, I’ll keep this one in the back pocket for the next time I’m entertaining a gaggle of picky children.
Post script: I’ve come to enjoy popping a slice of this bland bad boy in the toaster when the mid-afternoon munchies hit. The honey and butter make it taste almost biscuity. I quite enjoy it plain. Maybe I’m weird.