As fate would have it, as we near the end of our Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge journey, in which we have baked everything from French and Italian breads to celebration breads to breads filled with meat and cheese, for the fortieth bread in the Challenge, we hit on a very simple (some might argue too simple) white bread. The French call it pain de mie, which translates to “bread of the crumb” but is really just a fancy way of saying everyday sandwich bread.
I wasn’t as ambivalent about this bread as some BBAers, like Paul from Yumarama. In fact, I really liked it toasted with homemade jam. But I can see his point. It’s not what you expect this late in the game. This is more of a first-loaf, getting-your-feet-wet kind of bread. I know the recipes are in alphabetical order. Still, it felt like a bit of an anticlimax to be making such a basic loaf the 40th time out.
I baked this bread twice: once using variation #1 and a second time using the sponge in variation #3. I used my Pullman pan both times, although the second time I didn’t put on the lid. Here’s how the first version came out:
Note that the Pullman pan gives you a perfectly rectangular loaf, and nice, square slices of bread. Perfect for sandwiches, but not so artisanal looking.
Version #3 starts with a quick sponge. Unlike the typical preferment, the sponge is only allowed to ferment for about an hour before it is mixed into the dough. Otherwise, it is a fairly standard enriched dough. It kneaded beautifully and had a nice texture.
I didn’t divide the dough after it fermented, as the Pullman pan requires almost 3 1/2 pounds of dough per loaf.
When I made version #1, I allowed the dough to rise until it was about 1/4-inch from the lip of the pan, then I sprayed the lid with cooking oil and slid it on the pan. I began preheating the oven at that point, and baked the loaf with the lid on for about 20 minutes. I removed the lid and allowed the loaf to finish baking.
With version #3, however, I decided to use a Dutch crunch topping, which meant I couldn’t use the lid, as I was afraid the topping would all stick to the lid and probably burn. For the Dutch crunch, I used cornmeal, flour, yeast, salt, oil, and water. I brushed it on after the bread had proofed in the pan, shortly before I put the loaf in the oven.
I baked the loaf at 350 dF for 20 minutes, turned it 180 degrees, inserted a probe thermometer, and continued baking until the internal temperature reached 187 dF.
Check out that crazy oven spring! The top of the loaf was about 1/8-inch below the top rack. And it baked over the sides of the pan quite a bit, too.
As far as taste goes, version #1 was a decent, but not remarkable, loaf of white bread. Fine for sandwiches or eating toasted with jam. Version #3 was still not an out-of-the-ballpark bread, but it was much tastier than the first version. I’m not sure whether it was the sponge, Dutch crunch, or a combination of both. I suspect they both played a role in the flavor of this bread. Again, it was a good sandwich bread and great for eating toasted with homemade jam. And it was tasty enough to eat toasted with just butter.
I will make this bread again, as I enjoy making pain de mie to use for sandwiches and toast. I’ll definitely use version #3 again. And probably Dutch crunch, too. I might try using the crunch with the lid on just to see what happens.