Pain de Mie Sandwich Bread

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This sourdough pain de mie is a sandwich bread that radiates warmth and coziness. As-is, it’s remarkably soft, but crisps up in total when exposed to the heat of a toaster, transforming into the perfect stage for quality butter and all the jams and jellies made through the summer. There’s a depth of flavor to be found here, too: flavor that strikes a delicate balance between sweetness and warmth.

And yet, my recipe can hardly be called complicated or involved. You can use a ripe sourdough starter directly, make a mild overnight levain, and even push the proof of the dough overnight until the next day. This sort of back pocket bread is something every baker should have in their repertoire. An “oh man we have guests coming tonight?!” bread — much like my focaccia recipe.

This recipe is quite straightforward, the only extra effort required is adding a few pats of butter into the dough during mixing. I opt to mix, shape, and bake it the same day. The removal of an overnight cold proof means less sourness in the result, which is welcome in a sweet-ish bread such as this.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf
This pain de mie is sublime when heavily toasted and topped with a good margin of butter

This style of bread is sometimes called a “Pullman Loaf,” or simply just “sandwich bread,” but they all have the same undeniable characteristics: a soft and minimal crust, a slightly sweet flavor, warmth and depth from just enough butter in the dough, and an ethereally light interior. It’s typically baked in a straight-sided Pullman loaf pan with a lid, but I often just bake this sans lid, as you can see below.

Flour Selection

It’s rare for me to bake bread without any whole grain flour, but this is an exception. In testing I played with many flour blends but in the end, I settled on using only all-purpose flour.

This pain de mie is a sort of baseline recipe, one that targets a mild and light flavor profile. Future iterations will surely work in whole grains — I’ve been playing with a significant addition of whole white wheat, and it’s fantastic — but as a starting point, this bread is perfect.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

Sourdough Pain de Mie Sandwich Bread Recipe

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 naturally nonstick nature of my USA Pan Pullman Loaf Pan (9″ x 4″ x 4″). I also have the cover for this pan and, as you can see in some of the photos here, you’ll end up with square slices when using the lid.

Below is a table of alternate pans with corresponding dough weights for each. Feel free to halve the recipe ingredients here to fit one pan, or even double the recipe and split it among 2-3 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

If you’re not using a nonstick pan,  be sure to liberally grease the sides of the pan  to ensure the bread removes cleanly after baking. Additionally, check out my post on shaping a pan loaf for tips on shaping, pans, and more.

Vitals

Total Dough Weight1,600 grams
Pre-fermented Flour7.25%
Hydration (water & milk)70.00%
Yield2 x 800g loaves

Total Formula

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
835gAll-purpose flour, 11.7% protein (King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)100.00%
100gUnsalted butter (Kerrygold)12.00%
59gHoney7.00%
184gWhole milk22.00%
401gWater48.00%
15gSalt1.80%
6gSourdough starter (100% hydration)00.73%
Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf
Mature sourdough levain ready for the Dough Mix

Levain

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
6gRipe sourdough starter (100% hydration)10%
61gAll-Purpose flour, 11.7% protein (King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)100%
61gWater100%

This levain will ripen (mature) overnight and be ready to use first thing in the morning if kept at around room temperature, 75-78°F (24-25°C).

You can make a levain for this recipe or simply use some of your sourdough starter in the dough mix (see here for the difference)

There’s flexibility at this step: you can choose to make a specific levain (as outlined in the table, above) for this bake or use some of your mature sourdough starter to mix directly into the dough. There are two advantages to making a levain:

  • The Levain is used when very mild, not overly acidic
  • You might not keep a large enough starter to cover the 127g needed in the Dough Mix, or you maintain your starter with mostly whole grains (might be more acidic)

I’ve made this bread many times a variety of ways and each has turned out excellent. The times when my starter was a bit too mature or I was feeding it with mostly whole wheat did have a slightly more sour flavor profile, but not overpowering or excessive in any way.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

Dough Mix

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 76°F (24°C).

For an in-depth discussion on temperature when baking, have a look at my post on the importance of dough temperature.

WeightIngredient
774gAll-Purpose flour, 11.7% protein (King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)
100gUnsalted butter (Kerrygold)
59gHoney
184gWhole milk (straight from the fridge)
340gWater
15gSalt
127gMature levain (from Levain section, above)

Method

1. Liquid Levain (optional) – The night before baking day, 10:00 p.m.

Mix all the ingredients listed in the Levain section, above. Place in a jar and store somewhere around 75-78°F (24-25°C) overnight. This levain typically matures for me in about 12 hours.

As I mentioned above in the Levain section, you can opt out of making a levain for this dough and simply use your sourdough starter (still use the same 127g as called for in the Dough Mix table, above).

2. Autolyse – 9:30 a.m.

See my guide to the autolyse technique for more information on its benefits and why I used this technique in this recipe.

First, take out the butter and cut it into 1/2″ pats. Place the pats into a bowl and on the counter to warm up for mixing, later.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add the flour, whole milk, and water (hold back about 25g of the water for mixing, later) and mix on STIR until just incorporated. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.

3. Mix – 10:00 a.m.

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

To the mixing bowl, add the levain (or sourdough starter), salt and the reserved 25g water. Mix on speed 2 for about 4 minutes, scraping the sides as necessary. Add honey and mix for 2 more minutes on speed 2.

Next, add butter to the mixing bowl while it’s running on speed 1. Add one pat after you’ve worked in the previous pat. Scrape down the dough from the sides and off the paddle as necessary.

If the dough starts to cling to the paddle and you feel it needs more mixing, switch to the  dough hook attachment  and continue.

After you have added all the butter, continue mixing on speed 2 until the dough smooths out and gluten reaches moderate development.

4. Bulk Fermentation 10:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

At around 75-78°F (24-25°C) bulk fermentation should last approximately 4 hours. Note that this dough can be a little sluggish and needs sufficient time to rise during bulk (and later, proof). Give the dough the time it needs to sufficiently rise in the bowl, read on for some signs. If your kitchen is on the cool side, try to keep the dough in a warm spot (or use a dough proofer).

Update: Many bakers are reporting the need for 1-3 additional hours in bulk fermentation for their dough to rise and strengthen as mine shows below. Give the dough this additional time as necessary!

Perform 3 sets of stretch and folds during bulk, the first starting after the first 30 minutes (10:45 a.m.) and the remaining two at 30 minute intervals thereafter. If the dough still feels extremely slack, wet, or very weak after that last set, perform another set after another rest.

Let the dough rest, untouched but covered, after the last set of stretch and folds until it’s ready to be divided.

Dough at end of bulk fermentation
Pain de mie Sandwich Bread dough at the end of bulk fermentation

At the end of bulk fermentation the dough will have risen significantly in the bowl and show signs of smoothness. If you wet your hand and gently poke and pull at the dough, it’ll feel more elastic and strong. You’ll also see bubbles at the sides and top, the edges where the dough meets the bowl will be dome down (convex).

5. Divide & Preshape – 2:15 p.m.

At the end of bulk fermentation, dump the dough from your bulk container to a lightly floured work surface. Using your bench knife, divide the dough directly in half. Then, liberally flour the tops of each half and preshape each into a tight round on the work surface.

Shaped bread dough

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

6. Shape – 2:45 p.m.

I shaped these loaves as shown on my guide to shaping a pan loaf. If your pans are not nonstick, be sure to liberally grease the pan before placing the shaped dough inside.

If you opt to not use a lid for your pan, be sure to shape the dough so the top is smooth and taut when placed into the pan, this way you’ll end up with a smooth, domed top when baked.

7. Proof – 3:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Cover both pans completely with plastic so no air reaches the dough. I used one of the large bags listed on my tools page to hold both pans and then sealed the opening shut.

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

The final proof time can vary depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen. My kitchen started to cool and I had to push the proof to 2 hours and 45 minutes. The dough should relax to fill the pan, rise to some degree, and spring back slowly when gently poked (the “poke test”).

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

In the image at left, above, you can see my dough just after I shaped it and placed it in the pan. On the right, the dough has risen and relaxed out and is just about ready to be baked.

8. Bake – Preheat oven at 5:00 p.m., bake at 5:45 p.m.

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

  • At the left, I didn’t use the lid and the dough rose naturally in the oven. A simple egg wash (about 1 Tbsp whole milk whisked with one egg yolk) was brushed on top of the dough before baking
  • At the right, I slid on the snug lid and no egg wash was used
Bread crust, wonderfully golden

Place a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it, without a baking stone, to 425°F (218°C) for 30 minutes. When hot, and the dough is ready, place baking pans in the oven side-by-side and bake for 35 minutes at 425°F (218°C). After this time, turn the temperature down to 375°F (190°C) and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until done. The interior temperature of the loaves should register above 208°F (97°C).

Carefully remove the pans from the oven, uncover any that had lids, and turn out the baked loaves to a wire rack to cool. Be sure to wait at least 1-2 hours to slice after baking to ensure the interior has set and flavors have melded. Follow my guide to storing sourdough bread to keep it fresh for the next week (or freeze for longer!).

Pan loaf's golden crust

Conclusion

This wonderfully simple pain de mie sandwich bread comes together without a fuss and fulfills the old adage that it’s more than the sum of its parts. I adore the gentle and round flavor from the small inclusion of butter, the natural sweetness from the honey, and the subdued tang from the natural fermentation.

Crust

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

The thinnest of crusts, just as it should be with a pain de mie sandwich bread. When baked without the lid, as seen above, you’ll have a more substantial crust (just barely) than when baked with the lid. But honestly, both ways are just wonderful to me — each a bit different.

Crumb

Pain de Mie via @theperfectloaf

So light, so airy, so delicate — the interior I search for in bread like this. Proper fermentation plays a key role here so be sure to push the proof far enough to open up the interior sufficiently. If you find dense spots or an erratic rise when baked, the dough was likely under proofed and could have used more time to ferment.

This bread, with its absorbent interior, makes some of the best French toast I’ve ever had. Slice it extra thick and leave the slices out overnight to dry slightly, adding to their structure and absorbancy.

Taste

A thick slice warming in the toaster will slowly fill the kitchen with the warm, lingering smell of butter — not in a forceful way mind you, but rather, much like the wool blanket you pull over your shoulders with no intention of letting go. This bread is just perfect in the winter.

It’s lovely to have a simple, versatile bread like this to accompany just about anything. Its delicate nature and balanced flavors push it into the realm of the perfect bread for toast. This pain de mie sandwich bread is beautifully simple and delicious. Buon appetito!

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!

Thank you so much to Nagomi for sending me the beautiful bread knife you see in this post!


Troubleshooting

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, 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’ve intended here. Fermentation will continue in the fridge overnight, even though dramatically reduced, and will likely lead to more of that signature tang with natural leavening.

Can I halve this recipe and bake only one loaf?

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

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