The Bell Kitchen

French Baking: Pain de Mie & Raisin Bread

Baking | May 4, 2015 | By

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Morning run in Prague

 

Ah, Monday, here you are again to rise me from my sleep in your defeated look, shrugging your shoulders from my bedside as if to say, “don’t shoot the messenger.” The room is a faded, vintage blue. The weather has not revealed itself as I pass under the skylights to wash the sleep from my face. It’s Monday but I have no despair – it’s a new day and I have a run to get going on.

 I think the morning is perhaps the best part of the day. I am a self-proclaimed early bird as I believe the morning hours are the most holy; they are untouched moments and void of the frustration splintering out from the metro rush, email notifications, long coffee queues, and obligatory office small talk. Mornings for me are private, contemplative, and even possess a sliver of selfishness as the time can be spent solely on you and a desired activity.
 
And you? Are you a morning person, too?
 
Last Friday we had set the alarm to start the day early as the 1st was a holiday here in the Czech Republic. Most European countries spent last weekend commemorating the liberation of Europe by the Allies 70 years ago. Regrettably, our plans to get away early in the day to Plzeň were washed out, a drizzling disappointment indeed. Friday was the opening day to a week-long festival celebrating the liberation of Plzeň and the western Czech lands by General Patton and the Third Army. Also, the anniversary is a special one to me as my uncle had served in the War and had helped to liberate the city. We vowed to make it there on Saturday, however, which we did! It was an impressive, proud display under blue skies set to the humming sounds of the historic tanks and horns, the fabric snaps of country flags in the breeze, and valiant Glenn Miller tunes calling from the square.
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Europe: 70 years on

But the pomp, parades, and pageantry weren’t until Saturday so what is a guy like me to do on a rainy, Friday, bank holiday morning? I may just be a bit of a niche, but for me it called for finally learning how to create and bake my first Pain de Mie, or French sandwich bread in addition to a raisin bread (which you cannot properly get here if your reputation depended on it!) Naturally I had seen Julia’s delightful episode “The Good Loaf” from The French Chef almost a year ago so I decided I would do just that – I would spend the morning with Ms. Child, first on the couch with a cup of coffee watching a refresher episode and then in the kitchen. C’est ca.

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Split the recipe and make two!

If you are to embark into baking bread ensure that your day is mostly clear as the different rises (in this case 3) will require attention about every 2-3 hours or so. Although it is a longer process, the benefits of learning how to bake your own bread are plentiful. Knowing what exactly is in your bread is number 1 for me as I can’t help but be paranoid on how much “-ose” or sugar, salt, food coloring, and preservatives are in my bread. The husband, by virtue of being a European, thinks that the freedom of being able to slice the right thickness is tops. Most European loaves actually do not come pre-sliced nor are pre-bagged and often the patron can decide to take home the whole loaf or to have it sliced fresh in-store. A much better approach I believe and I wonder why it fell out of fashion back in America.

So Friday morning I put my apron on and I went for it. What I discovered was that the process was surprisingly easy. Pain de Mie and raisin bread follow the same recipe — flour, milk, butter, salt, and yeast. That’s all. The recipe for me, a novice baker, was simple enough that next time I will double the recipe and freeze a loaf or two.
 
The Friday rain continued to flow down the flat’s gutters as I waited for my morning dough to rise and call me back to knead. During that time, however, I managed to whip up a French Mousse au Chocolat and set it to cool in cocktail glasses and also created a vinaigrette. During the bread’s second rise I spaced out about a dinner party, phoned a few friends and agreed on it (“don’t forget the wine!” I pleaded), and then I started to saute mushrooms for a party soufflé. I guess it was quite the French Friday — a coincidental dinner inspired by Normandy?
 
I love mornings and I love to be productive during my mornings. I also love education and learning to try new things that I sometimes always thought I wouldn’t end up being good at. Baking is one of them so when you do surprise yourself – no matter the challenge – and pull it off it feels pretty awesome. Pretty liberating, right? Right.
 
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a nap.
 
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Highlights from “The Good Loaf”

 
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Pain de Mie & Raisin Bread
Master French sandwich bread and your homemade raisin bread
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Ingredients
  1. 1 lb flour, or 3 1/2 cups
  2. 2 tsp salt
  3. 1 1/3 cup tepid milk
  4. 1 package of yeast, dissolved in 3 tbsp warm water
  5. 4 tbsp cold butter (55 grams)
If making raisin bread, follow same recipe but add
  1. 1 1/2 cups of raisins
Instructions
  1. Kneading in a stand-alone mixer (using a dough hook) or by hand, thoroughly combine flour, salt, milk, and yeast. Mix and let dough rest for 3 mins. Knead for the second time and let dough rest another 3 minutes. Knead the dough again but this time begin to work in the cold butter in pads with heel of your hand until it is elastic and does not stick to hand or have lumps. Thoroughly blend.
  2. If making raisin bread, add raisins to the dough at this point
  3. For the rising process: place dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a bath towel and place in a dry, cooler place (optimal temperature 75 F, 24 C). Let rise for at least 3 hours. Once the first rise is finished, remove from the bowl, deflate, and knead again. Return to a clean bowl for the second rise under plastic wrap/towel for another 2 hours.
  4. After the second rise is finished, remove from the bowl, deflate, and knead. Shape nicely into a dough form and pinch the bottom dough to seal. The task is to create an even, smooth bread top. You want surface tension. Place shaped, smooth-side up dough into a non-greased, un-floured loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap/towel and set aside for the third rise. Your dough should pat nicely into about 1/2 of the baking pan.
  5. After 1 - 1/2 hours uncover and prepare the bake
  6. Note: Raisin bread is not covered whilst baking but if making the Pain de Mie, improvise to make the square loaf size by adding a cookie sheet and cover sheet with a hard object, like a brick or tile, to keep the sheet flat. Having this fourth side will give the Pain de Mie the desired sandwich loaf shape.
  7. Bake the bread on the lower third of your oven in a preheated 435 F (225 C) oven for 35-40 minutes. Do not check your bread until the 35 minute mark.
  8. Remove from oven and roll the loaf onto the cooling rack. Avoid the temptation to eat warm - the best flavor will come when cool, if not the following day later.
Notes
  1. Tip: double the recipe and freeze one loaf for later!
Adapted from The Good Loaf
Adapted from The Good Loaf
The Bell Kitchen http://thebellkitchen.com/
 
         
 
 
    

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