Ah, supermarket bread!
Beloved of children, remembered with nostalgia by their crusty-chewy-artisan-loaf-eating parents. Close-grained, soft, moist, dense, and perfect for sandwiches. And toast.
But not for rolling into bread balls and firing at the kid across the lunchroom table.
That would be air bread, the equally loved (but oft maligned) Wonder. No, I'm talking Pepperidge Farm here. Or Arnold. Or [fill in the regional higher-priced mass-market bread bakery of your choice].
I grew up with Arnold and Pepperidge Farm breads. Both had large bakeries in Connecticut, where I lived. Arnold "brick oven bread," in fact, was baked in the largest brick oven in the world, in Greenwich, Connecticut. Pepperidge Farm bread came from just up the road in Norwalk.
While we kids clamored for Sunbeam Bread ("It's batter whipped!"), the local Wonder wannabe, Mom preferred bread with a bit more substance. And since she held the purse strings and pushed the shopping cart, our lunchbox PB & J sandwiches were made with Arnold or Pepperidge Farm. They had some heft to them.
Though I've been baking my own bread for years, a slice of Pepperidge Farm white, made into cinnamon toast, is still an occasional pleasure – usually when I'm visiting my non-baking in-laws. With its fine, even crumb; pleasant moist texture, and very slight sweetness, it's true comfort food.
These days, though, I usually make my own comfort bread: pain de mie. It's just like good supermarket bread - but without the calcium propionate, mono and diglycerides, and high-fructose corn syrup those mass-produced breads need to survive on the shelf.
My lidded pain de mie pan has produced many a loaf over the years, as I've gradually moved from white bread, to 100% whole wheat, and now to Honey-Oat Pain de Mie – white bread with a nice charge of oats.
Can you bake this bread in a loaf pan?
Sure; you can bake it in a 9" x 5" loaf pan. But the bread won't have that perfectly even, fine texture.
If you're a fan of just-like-supermarket-but-better sandwich bread, I highly recommend a pain de mie pan. I'm thinking sourdough pain de mie next...
Place the following ingredients in a mixing bowl:
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons honey
Note: This recipe is written for a 9" pain de mie pan. Though we haven't tested it, I suspect that increasing all of the ingredients (except the yeast) by 50% (e.g., 3 cups flour becomes 4 1/2 cups flour) would transform this into a recipe suitable for a large (13" x 4") pain de mie pan.
Add 1 cup to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
How do you know how much water to use? Generally speaking, use the smaller amount in the summer, or in a humid climate; the larger in winter, or in a drier climate.
This time of year, in between seasons? I'd start with the smaller amount.
Combine all of the ingredients, and mix until cohesive.
Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes, to give the oats a chance to absorb some of the liquid.
Scrape the dough into the center of the bowl.
Knead the dough for about 7 minutes. It'll start out very sticky, then gradually start to come away from the sides of the bowl.
It helps to stop midway through, scrape the sticky dough off the sides and bottom of the bowl, then continue kneading.
By the time you're done, the dough should be sticking just a little, at the very bottom of the bowl.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or in an 8-cup measure (so you can track its progress as it rises), and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it's risen noticeably. It won't necessarily double in bulk.
Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a 9" log. Place the log in a lightly greased 9" pain de mie (pullman) pan, pressing it gently to flatten.
Place the lid on the pan (or cover with plastic wrap, for a constant view)...
...and let the dough rise until it's about 1" from the top of the lid, 60 to 90 minutes.
This should be just about right.
If it's not risen enough, it won't fill the pan. But let it rise too much, and you run the risk of the loaf actually popping the pan's lid off. Yes, rising bread is that strong!
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Remove the plastic (if you've used it), slide the pan's lid completely closed, and bake the bread for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid, and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers at least 190°F.
The finished loaf will be a gorgeous golden brown.
Turn the loaf out of the pan onto a rack.
Run a stick of butter over the top, if desired; this will yield a soft, buttery crust.
Cool completely before cutting; wrap airtight and store for several days at room temperature.
Peanut butter and Fluff? Egg salad? Ham and cheese?
What's your favorite "comfort food" sandwich? Tell us below.
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Honey-Oat Pain de Mie.