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.
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.
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.
Highlights from “The Good Loaf”
- 1 lb flour, or 3 1/2 cups
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 cup tepid milk
- 1 package of yeast, dissolved in 3 tbsp warm water
- 4 tbsp cold butter (55 grams)
- 1 1/2 cups of raisins
- 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.
- If making raisin bread, add raisins to the dough at this point
- 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.
- 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.
- After 1 - 1/2 hours uncover and prepare the bake
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tip: double the recipe and freeze one loaf for later!