Pain de Mie Sandwich Bread

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My sourdough pain de mie sandwich bread is pure white bread in all its glory–and it’s the toast lover's best friend. Each slice is remarkably soft and light, with the thinnest possible crust, but when toasted, the slice crisps and frizzles in an absolutely ideal fashion. A few slices of this bread toasted within an inch of burning and served with a thick pat of butter on top might just be your new favorite breakfast. But there's a depth of flavor to be found here, too, that sets it far apart from any supermarket white loaf: mild fermentation flavors and a touch of sweetness, all with the slightest hint of tang.

This style of bread is often called a Pullman Loaf, owing to the use of the Pullman pan, which purportedly was invented to be used in Pullman cars on a train to save space when baking. If you’re a frequent visitor here at The Perfect Loaf, you’ll know that the Pullman pan has pretty much supplanted all my other sandwich bread baking vessels. I love that bread baked in this pan has very straight sides, and that using the lid when baking results in a loaf that has an ultra-thin crust.

Pain de mie crumb
Super soft pain de mie interior with the thinnest of crusts.

Video: Let's make this sourdough pain de me

Flour selection

It's rare for me to bake bread without any whole grain flour, but I make an exception with this recipe. In testing, I played with many flour blends, but in the end, I settled on using only all-purpose flour. By not using any whole grain flour in the dough (and the levain), you end up with bread that has reduced sourness and the lightest and most open interior possible.

Special pans and preparation

You can bake this bread in almost any pan that's the right size, but I love the straight sides and nonstick liner of my USA Pan Pullman Loaf Pan (9″ x 4″ x 4″). If you slide on the cover before baking, you’ll end up with a loaf with four perfectly straight sides.

I’ve created a table of alternate pans with corresponding dough weights for each so that you can use what pan(s) you have and/or experiment with different sizes and shapes of loaves. Feel free to halve the recipe ingredients below to fit one pan, or even double the recipe and split it among 2 to 3 smaller pans.

Pan (Dimensions in inches)Total Dough Weight
9 x 4 x 4 (Pullman pan shown in this post)800-900g
8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 (small loaf pan)600-700g
9 x 5 x 2.75 (medium loaf pan)700-800g
13 x 4 x 4 (large Pullman pan)1,100-1,200g

Regardless of the pan you use, be sure to liberally grease the inside of the pan to ensure that the bread will come out cleanly after baking. Additionally, check out my post on shaping a pan loaf for tips on shaping, pans, and more.

Pain de mie baking schedule

Sourdough pain de mie baking schedule

This Pullman bread is baked the same day (except for the overnight levain that you make the night before) with a room temperature proof for a mild-flavored result. However, if you’re ok with a slight increase in sourness, feel free to retard the dough overnight by proofing it, covered, in the refrigerator right after shaping.

Sourdough pain de mie formula

Note that this formula has been slightly modified since I first published it in 2019. I wanted to increase the fermentation activity in the dough, so I upped the pre-fermented flour percentage from 7.25% to 8.5%. This change ensures that bulk fermentation will be completed in around 4 hours, as listed in the recipe.

Vitals

Total Dough Weight1,600 grams
Pre-fermented Flour9.0%
Levain percentage in final dough19.5%
Hydration (water)48.0%
YieldTwo 800g loaves

Total Formula

Desired dough temperature: 78°F (25°C) (see my post on the importance of dough temperature).

WeightIngredientBaker's Percentage
835gWhite flour (11.7% protein; King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)100.0%
184gWhole milk22.0%
100gUnsalted butter12.0%
401gWater48.0%
58gHoney7.0%
15gFine sea salt1.8%
8gRipe sourdough starter, 100% hydration0.9%
Pain de Mie

Method

1. Levain – 9:00 p.m., night before baking

Mix the following ingredients in a container and leave them covered at a warm temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), to ripen overnight.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
75gWhite flour100.0%
75gWater100.0%
8gRipe sourdough starter, 100% hydration10.0%

2. Mix – 9:00 a.m.

There is no autolyse step for this dough because the dough is quickly and effectively strengthened in my KitchenAid stand mixer.

WeightIngredient
760gWhite flour
184gWhole milk
100gUnsalted butter
326gWater
58gHoney
15gFine sea salt
158gRipe Levain (from Step 1)

Note: If it’s cold in your kitchen, warm the milk in the microwave or over the stove to help meet the final dough temperature of 78°F (25°C). See my post on how to bake sourdough bread in the winter for tips on encouraging strong fermentation in colder temperatures. Conversely, if it's starting to warm in your area, use the milk cold from the fridge and see my tips for baking bread in the summer.

First, cut the butter into ½-inch pats. Set them on a plate to warm to room temperature.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, water, milk, honey, salt, and ripe levain. Mix on low speed (STIR on a KitchenAid) for 2 to 3 minutes until the ingredients come together and no dry bits remain. Next, mix on medium speed (2 to 3 on a KitchenAid) for 4 to 5 minutes until the dough smooths and begins to cling slightly to the hook. This is a very soft dough and won’t completely clear the sides of the bowl at this point.

Turn the mixer on low speed (STIR on a KitchenAid) and mix for 2 to 4 minutes until the dough gains more strength and begins to cling once again to the dough hook. Next, with the mixer running, add the room temperature butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add each pat until the previous one is fully absorbed. Adding all the butter will take 5 to 8 minutes. In the end, the dough will still be very soft, and it won’t altogether remove from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

3. Bulk Fermentation 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. (4 hours)

At a warm room temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), bulk fermentation should take about 4 hours. If your kitchen is cooler, place your bulk container in a small home dough proofer, or extend the bulk fermentation time to give the dough more time to ferment. The dough is ready when it is smooth, puffy, and well-risen.

Give this dough three strengthening sets at 30-minute intervals. The first set starts 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation. Give the dough a series of stretches and folds for the first set. Wet your hands, grab one side, and stretch it up and over the dough to the other side. Next, rotate the bowl 180° and perform another stretch and fold (this forms a long rectangle in the bowl). Then, rotate the bowl 90° and do another stretch and fold. Finally, turn the bowl 180° and do one last stretch and fold. The dough should be neatly folded up in the bowl. 

Set a timer for 30 minutes, and perform the remaining two sets at 30-minute intervals. Then let the dough rest, uncovered, for the remainder of bulk fermentation.

4. Divide and Preshape – 1:15 p.m.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf
Sourdough Pain de Mie at the end of bulk fermentation.

At the end of bulk fermentation, the dough will have risen in the bulk fermentation container (perhaps around 40% volume increase), be smooth and elastic, have bubbles on top, and a domed edge where the dough meets the bulk container. If the dough is not showing these signs, give it an additional 15 minutes and check again.

Fill a small bowl with water and place it next to your work surface. Scrape the dough onto a clean counter. Using a bench scraper in your dominant hand and the other hand wet, divide the dough in half. Then, preshape each piece of dough into a moderately tight round.

Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes until it has relaxed and is ready to be shaped.

5. Shape – 1:45 p.m.

Grease two 9 x 4 x 4-inch Pullman pans with neutral oil.

I shaped these loaves as shown in my guide to shaping a pan loaf. Lightly flour the work surface and the top of a rested round. Using a bench knife, flip the round over onto the floured work surface. Fold the left and right sides of the dough toward the middle with a slight overlap. Then beginning at the side of the dough farthest from you, begin rolling the dough down to form a tight cylinder. Scoop the dough up with your bench knife and drop it into one of the prepared Pullman pans, seam side down. Repeat with the other piece of dough.

Cover the pans with a large, reusable plastic bag and seal.

6. Proof – 2:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf
Left: dough just after shaping; Right: dough just about fully proofed.

Be sure to give your dough the time it needs to fully proof; your dough might need more time if your kitchen is cold

At warm room temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), this dough should take 2 hours and 45 minutes to 3 hours to fully proof. If your kitchen is cooler, expect it to take longer. 

When fully proofed, the dough should rise almost to the rim of the Pullman pan.

6. Bake – 4:45 p.m.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf
Left: baked without the lid but with egg wash; Right: baked with Pullman pan lid on.

As you can see above, this loaf can take one of two different forms:

  • On the left, I didn't use the lid and the dough rose naturally in the oven. I brushed the top of the dough with a simple egg wash (about 1 tablespoon of whole milk whisked with one egg yolk) before baking. See my guide to topping bread dough for more details.
  • On the right, I slid on the snug lid of the pan before baking, and no egg wash was used.

Place an oven rack in the bottom-third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C) and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes. If using the lid, the crusts should be a light golden brown; if baking without the lid, the top crust will be a deep golden color. The loaves should have internal temperatures of around 200°F (93°C). If the temperature is lower, slide the covers back on (or not), return the pans to the oven, and bake 5 minutes longer. Then check the internal temperature again.

Remove the pans from the oven, uncover, and let the loaves rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, turn the loaves out onto a wire rack and let cool completely, 1 to 2 hours.

This sourdough pain de mie will stay soft and moist for up to a week if the bread is stored properly.

What’s next?

For a real treat, use this pain de mie as a base for French toast on the weekend—you won’t regret sacrificing some toast for this treat.

For another super-soft pan loaf, check out my sourdough shokupan (Japanese milk bread) which uses the tangzhong technique to bring even more tenderness to the crust and crumb.

Buon appetito!

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Pain de Mie

Pain de Mie Sandwich Bread

  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 20 hours
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 2 loaves
  • Cuisine: American, French

Description

My sourdough pain de mie sandwich bread is pure white bread in all its glory–and it’s the toast lover's best friend. Each slice is remarkably soft and light, with the thinnest possible crust, but when toasted, the slice crisps and frizzles in an absolutely ideal fashion.


Ingredients

Levain

  • 75g white flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 75g water
  • 8g ripe sourdough starter, 100% hydration

Main Dough

  • 760g white flour
  • 184g whole milk
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 326g water
  • 58g honey
  • 15g fine sea salt
  • 158g ripe levain

 


Instructions

  1. Levain – 9:00 p.m. (overnight)
    Mix the levain ingredients in a jar and leave them covered at a warm temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), to ripen overnight.
  2. Mix – 9:00 a.m.
    Cut the butter into ½-inch pats. Set aside. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, water, milk, honey, salt, and ripe levain. Mix on low speed (STIR on a KitchenAid) for 2 to 3 minutes until the ingredients come together and no dry bits remain. Next, mix on medium speed (2 to 3 on a KitchenAid) for 4 to 5 minutes until the dough smooths and begins to cling slightly to the hook. Turn the mixer on low speed (STIR on a KitchenAid) and mix for 2 to 4 minutes until the dough gains more strength and begins to cling once again to the dough hook. Next, with the mixer running, add the room temperature butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add each pat until the previous one is fully absorbed. Adding all the butter will take 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.
  3. Bulk fermentation – 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. (4 hours)
    At a warm room temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), bulk fermentation should take about 4 hours. Give the dough 3 sets of stretches and folds at 30-minute intervals where the first set is 30-minutes after bulk fermentation start.
  4. Divide and preshape – 1:15 p.m.
    Scrape the dough out of the bulk fermentation container, divide it directly in half, and preshape each half into a taut round. Let rest for 30 to 35 minutes.
  5. Shape – 1:45 p.m.
    Shape one round into a tight tube, and place in the pan seam side down. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover the pans with a large, reusable plastic bag and seal.
  6. Proof – 2:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
    At warm room temperature, 74-76°F (23-24°C), this dough should take 2 hours and 45 minutes to fully proof. If your kitchen is cooler, expect it to take longer.
  7. Bake – 4:45 p.m.
    Place an oven rack in the bottom-third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
    Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C) and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes. The loaves should have internal temperatures of around 204°F (95°C). Remove the pans from the oven, uncover, and let the loaves rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, turn the loaves out onto a wire rack and let cool completely, 1 to 2 hours.

Notes

Use the Pullman pan lid for a thinner crust.

Sourdough Pain de Mie Troubleshooting

Why do Pullman loaf pans have lids?

The lids help ensure that the resulting loaf has the thinnest possible crust.

How do you unmold a loaf made in a Pullman pan?

If you’ve sufficiently greased your pan, the loaf should simply fall right out when you turn the loaf pan over and knock on the bottom. If the bread is stuck at any point on the sides, use a thin plastic spatula (to avoid scratching the pan) to help gently release the sides of the loaf from the pan.

Do I need to grease a Pullman tin?

If your tin does not have a nonstick liner, then yes, you should great the interior with a neutral-flavored oil. Even if it has a nonstick liner, greasing the interior will ensure that the loaf will come out easily after baking.

Can I mix this dough by hand?

Yes, but adding in the butter can be challenging. I'd follow the same mixing procedure above but knead the dough using slap and fold (French fold) on the counter.

Why is my loaf rising erratically and splitting at the top when it's baked?

This can be a sign of under-proofed dough. Make sure you give the dough sufficient time in bulk fermentation and proof. If your kitchen is cool, your dough might need more fermentation time!

Can I use white sugar instead of honey?

Yes; in fact, that's actually more traditional than my approach. I would say start with 5% sugar in the dough and adjust up/down to your liking. Note that high percentages of sugar can impede natural fermentation, so the dough might require more time in bulk fermentation and/or proof.

Can I proof this dough overnight in the fridge?

You certainly can, just know that the result might be a bit sourer than what I intended here. Fermentation will continue in the fridge overnight, even though dramatically reduced, and will likely lead to more of that signature tang that you get with natural leavening.

Can I halve this recipe and bake only one loaf?

Yes! Halve all the ingredients in the recipe above (as described in my post on baker's percentages) and proceed as indicated.

How much dough goes into a large Pullman loaf pan?

To bake this sourdough Pain de Mie in the large Pullman pan (13” long), I would scale the dough up to 1200g per loaf.

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