My Pain

One might think, if one merely pretends to speak French, that pain de mie might translate to "my pain." It doesn't.

I knew that but, until today, I didn't know that pain de mie actually translates to "sandwich bread." Pretty shocking for someone who is a pain de mie junky. I always thought that it referred to the "crumb" of the bread, because it has such a cake-like texture.

I was close. Translated literally, the mie is the soft part - or crumb - of bread. (In case you are wondering, the word for the crust is croûte.) If you reverse pain de mie to à la mie de pain, it is slang for 'worthless.' But I love the mie! It isn't worthless to me!

When I was a kid - and all you out there who were finicky eaters as kids need to come clean and admit it, too - I always wanted the crusts removed from my sandwiches. To this day, I think that is why I love those little quartered sandwiches served at tea.

My absolute favorite way to use it is for Toasted Bread Boxes. I made them for a post a couple of years ago - Toasted Bread Boxes with Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. Last week I made them and topped them with oven-roasted San Marzano tomatoes, and lardons cooked with shallots. Tonight I will serve them with a simple ragoût of shiitake mushrooms, pancetta, and rosemary.

The first time I served them to guests, the guests were - at the very least - an intimidating pair. They were Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, owners and chefs of one of the finest restaurants in which I have ever eaten. Arrows, seemingly rustic on the outside, was nothing but upscale elegance on the inside. I had the audacity to invite these two gourmands to dinner.

What to serve? I was a bit nervous, but decided, like Remy in Ratatouille, to serve simple-yet-elegant fare. The menu would consist of items that had few ingredients, but ingredients that were, themselves, special.

The bread boxes were made with pain de mie that I purchased at a local French bakery, farm fresh eggs, artisanal Italian cheeses, roasted asparagus and a drizzle of white truffle oil. The main course was sea bass poached in a tomato-saffron broth. And dessert was panna cotta with a mixed berry and port reduction.

After dinner (I believe they were duly impressed), I admitted my anxiety, to which they replied, "You could have given us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we would have been happy. No one ever invites us to their homes for dinner!" Well, if I had only known...

To share in my anxiety, check out this article in Travel + Leisure. Back in 2001 (when we lived there, Arrows was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States, and year after year were chosen as one of the top romantic restaurants, as well. Articles appeared annually in Bon Appétit and Gourmet Magazine. Both were named as James Beard Foundation Best Chefs Northeast in 2010. Here is another nice write up on The Foodie Journal blog for their 25th anniversary. Can you see why I was a wee bit jittery?

For my 55th birthday last month, Mark said he had no idea what to get me. I told him to sit down at the computer, go to, and search for pain de mie pan. He located one; I told him to click "purchase," and have it sent to our home. Can you guess he’s not much of a shopper? Happy birthday to me!

I made my first loaf a few days later on my actual 55th birthday and have now made it again, having made a few notes and changes to the original recipe, which is based on one from King Arthur flour.

I love this bread. It is the perfect toasting bread - it is cakey, dense, yet very tender. It is also good for cutting into little shapes for canapés, making pain derdu (French toast), and is the traditional bread for Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame sandwiches.

It is very much worth having this odd specialty pan, as this bread is very easy to make. I give directions for a stand mixer, but you will succeed just fine if you use traditional bread making techniques.

Happy buttering!

~ David

Pain de Mie

2/3 cup fat free milk
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/8 ounces nonfat dry milk
1 1/4 ounces potato flour
20 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 ounce instant yeast (scant 2 teaspoons)

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment, combine the milk, water, butter, salt and sugar.

Using a large bowl placed on a scale, add the nonfat dry milk, potato flour and all purpose flour, resetting the scale before each ingredient is added to ensure the correct weight. Add the dried yeast and whisk to mix. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir using the paddle attachment until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl.

Switch to the dough hook, and knead at level 2 for 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover tightly with cling film, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Lightly butter a 13 x 4-inch pain de mie pan and underside of the lid. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly oiled work surface ( I used a spritz of olive oil), shape it into a 13-inch log, and fit it into the pan. Cover the pan with lightly buttered plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise until it's just below the lip of the pan, about 1 hour.

Remove the plastic, and carefully slide the cover onto the pan, let it rest an additional 10 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, carefully remove the lid, and return the uncovered bread to the oven to bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until it tests done. My test for doneness is usually a “thwack” with my finger to listen for hollowness, but that doesn’t work for pain de mie. The internal temperature should be about 190°F. Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 1 13-inch loaf.

Notes: for the two risings of the dough, I run the microwave empty for 1 minute to create some warmth in a draft-free place, then put the covered dough in to rise. I reheat the microwave before each rising. Do not heat a bowl of water in the microwave, as you do not want the humidity.

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