Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Julia Child's Pain de Mie

French lesson time! Pain is French for bread, which you likely know. Mie means "crumb", and refers to the dense, moist crumb this bread has. The crumb is the interior of the bread (i.e., not the crust). A dense crumb means that the bread has very tiny air pockets in it, while an open crumb refers to a bread more like ciabatta, which has beautiful big bubbles inside. The crumb of pain de mie makes it perfect for slicing, so it's often used for sandwiches or toast.

I've been eyeing this recipe for a while, and I finally had some time the other day while I was working from home. I had some downtime while I was running some things for my data, and I used those intervals to make the bread. It came out beautifully, and it's delicious! It looks so professional but really doesn't take much effort (it does take most of a day, but it's largely downtime). 

I also had a chance to get out some pent-up aggression by whacking a stick of butter with a rolling pin. I just love Julia Child's recipes. You always get to do something fun. I hope you give this recipe a shot!

Pain de Mie (White Sandwich Bread)
Yield: 1 9x5 in. loaf
Barely adapted from From Julia Child's Kitchen

3 1/2 cups (1 lb) all-purpose flour (measure by scooping measuring cups into flour and sweeping off excess)
2 tsp salt
1 package (0.25 oz or 2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast, dissolved in 3 T warm water (~105 degrees F)
1 1/3 cups milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter
  1. Place the flour and salt in a 4-5 quart mixing bowl (preferably straight-sided) or into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the dissolved yeast and milk. If you are doing this by hand, I found that a rubber spatula worked well. Let the dough rest either in the stand mixer or on a lightly floured surface for two minutes.
  2. Mixing by hand: Use a bench/pastry scraper or stiff spatula to flip the near side of the dough over onto the far side, then right onto left, etc. about a dozen times. You want the dough to get tough enough that you can start kneading it, or, in Julia's words: "until dough has enough body so that you can sweep it off the kneading surface, slap it down hard, and push it with the heel of your hand as you continue to flip it." I'm not sure that I really mastered that technique, but I had a lot of fun. After about 3-4 minutes, the dough will start cleaning itself off the work surface and retain its shape. I found I needed a little flour here and there during this process to keep the dough from sticking so much that it was unworkable, so use some if you need it (just be sparing).
    Mixing by machine: Knead at moderate speed for a minute or two, until dough balls on hook and draws back upon itself.
  3. Beat the cold butter with a rolling pin (this is the part where I really had fun) until it is somewhat malleable, then smear out with the heel (not palm - it's too warm!) of your hand so that it is fully malleable but still cold. I did this on the counter right next to the dough, which I'd recommend. Rapidly fold and smear tablespoon bits of butter into the dough (or beat it in with a mixer), one at a time. It will be a holy mess, and if you're doing it by hand, the situation will probably seem hopeless. Just keep swimming! The butter will start incorporating better and it will start seeming more like bread dough with some "vigorous kneading" (I channeled Julia here and got quite a workout). Let rest for another 2 minutes.
  4. Wash out the mixing bowl 1 and pour in 10 1/2 cups of water (I used warm water to get the bowl warm, since yeast prefer that), then make a mark or put a piece of tape on the outside of the bowl to indicate the water level. Knead the dough briefly with the heel of your hand once it is finished resting. When it cleans the butter off the work surface, dump the water from the bowl and put the dough in. The dough will be soft and still a bit sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel and let rise in a warm place (72-75 degrees). Dough should take at least 3 hours to reach the mark on the bowl; if it is rising to quickly, refrigerate to slow rise. The entire rise can also take place in the fridge to make a more flexible schedule.
  5. Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a rough rectangle about 12 inches long. Fold the right side over to the middle and then the left side over to cover it. Pat back into a rectangle and repeat. (This redistributes the yeast cells and makes for a finer grain.) Return dough to bowl, cover, and let rise again, this time to slightly below the 10 1/2 cup mark on the bowl. This should take at least 1 1/2 hours. This again can be done in the refrigerator - just put a plate with a weight on the dough so it doesn't rise too much. Risen dough may be frozen, too!
  6. Grease the inside of a 9x5-inch loaf pan with shortening. Turn dough out onto a work surface (minimally floured, and only if necessary), and push it into a rectangle about the length of your pan. Fold in half so that the two long sides meet, and seal with the heel of your hand. Roll the dough a bit so that this seam is on top, and press a lengthwise trench down the center of the dough with the side of your hand. Fold in half along the trench and seal again. Put dough in pan seam side down. Let rise uncovered until slightly more than doubled, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Preheat the over to 425 degrees F before the next step.
  7. Bake for about 35 minutes, until bread is lightly browned and comes easily out of the pan. Unmold onto a rack and cool on its side. Flavor and texture improve after 24 hours 2. Once totally cool, wrap the bread airtight and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
  1. Okay, we all know I didn't actually wash the bowl. I just swished some warm water around until it was mostly warm. This is good enough since you're just going to dump the dough back in.
  2. Then again, there's nothing quite like a slice of bread warm from the oven. I took a couple of slices and then let the rest cool. Use your judgment.
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spring Chicken and Vegetable Skillet

I realize now that the name of this recipe is sort of punny. It wasn't intentional, but I'm leaving it because I'm the type of person who loves food puns (and most other puns, for that matter).

It's finally spring! Going through the blog archives, we just skipped straight from the dead of winter to asparagus-laden tables at the farmers market. If only that's how it went in real life...

It was a rough semester (hence the lack of posts since January), but because of Michigan's weird schedule, I've been off for a few weeks now. I've got a lot of recipes to post! This is actually one I just made the other night. The farmers market has finally had asparagus the last two weeks, and I have been out-of-my-mind excited about it. Asparagus is one of those things I rarely bother buying out of season, because it's generally pretty sad, so its arrival at the farmers market is a big deal for me. I generally wake up early on Saturdays and head over to the market, but the first week of asparagus season I had just gotten back from California and could barely get out of bed until 9. I missed the asparagus and was very disappointed. But this week, no one was getting between me and the asparagus. I took the earliest bus over and was greeted with a thriving farmers market, the first such one in months. It was wonderful! So many seedlings - I had to control myself because I already have more plants than I was supposed to.

I did pick up some asparagus, though, and since I love it roasted, I threw it together with some little potatoes and chicken I had on hand. I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out! It made enough vegetables for two (I had to make sure the potatoes neatly covered the bottom of the skillet, of course), so I upped the number of chicken thighs in the recipe to correspond with that. You can easily double or halve this though - just change the size of the skillet, or use multiple skillets.

Spring Chicken and Vegetable Skillet
Yield: Two servings

Two bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Few pinches paprika
Two small pinches cardamom, optional (but encouraged!)
2 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3-4 smallish potatoes, any color (I used a mix of colors the size of medium red potatoes)
5-6 oz asparagus 1

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Heat 2 T olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. While the oil heats, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, plus a couple of pinches of paprika and a small pinch of cardamom on each. Rub the seasoning under the skin as well.
  2. When the oil shimmers, place the chicken in the skillet skin side down, making sure not to crowd them (or else they won't get crispy). I'd recommend using a splatter screen here, because it tends to spit. Cook the chicken for about 15 minutes, until the skin is browned and crispy. Turn the heat down if the skin starts to burn or brown too quickly. Remove the chicken briefly to a plate and take the skillet off the heat.
  3. While the chicken cooks, slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick coins. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and slice the stalks on the bias into 1-inch lengths.
  4. Leave the fat in the skillet and line the bottom with potato slices (I used just enough to cover, but if you have more you could probably stack them on top of the bottom layer). Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (I also used some garlic salt). Put the chicken, skin side up, in the middle of the skillet on top of the potatoes.
  5. Sprinkle the asparagus on top of the potatoes around the chicken, drizzle with more oil, and season with salt and pepper. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft (but not falling apart). Enjoy!

  1. For me, this was something in the neighborhood of 7-8 spears, but mine were kind of chubby. If you're using thinner asparagus, like the ones I usually see at the grocery store, you'll probably need 10-15. The amounts in this recipe are very forgiving, though.

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