What's a Pullman Pan?

Have you ever heard of a Pullman bread loaf? It’s a square-shaped bread loaf with a light crust. (Think of a tube in the shape of a square.) The Pullman loaf is a somewhat dense, tight-crumb bread with less of a crust than we are used to seeing in typical sandwich breads. And it's square, so it doesn't have the more rounded top we are used to seeing also. They loaves have a thin crust and a soft, finely textured crumb. These loaves are also called "pain de mie" in French, which means "bread of the crumb".

The Pullman loaf is baked in a (you guessed it!) Pullman pan. Those pans are loaf pans with straight sides and a top that keeps the dough compressed as it bakes. The top slides on using glides on the pan or lid’s edges which holds the top in place. This keeps the bread contained and condensed as it bakes; keeping large bubbles from forming. That’s responsible for its distinctive crumb and crust. In fact, one of the main reasons these pans were invented (about 150 years ago in Europe) was to do away with a heavy crust.

And speaking of history, yes there IS a relationship with those Pullman rail cars you are familiar with from the late 19th and early 20th century. As you would expect, the kitchens that served  the Pullman cars were quite small. To save space, the Pullman company decided to use these pans to bake its bread. The resulting loaves were easier to store in the tight space of a dining car kitchen. It has been said that three loaves could fit in a space that otherwise would have stored two more standard loaves with a crowned top. 

I’ve mostly seen these pans in three sizes/lengths (16”, 13”, and 9”). Many people would probably opt for the 9” pan for home use (or maybe even the 13”). The 16” is a really long pan and might be more suited to commercial kitchens (unless you just have a really large family and/or eat a massive amount of sandwiches!). They are pretty narrow too - about 4" x 4".

If you want the almost-perfect sandwich bread, you might want to look into these pans. You can find them at many kitchen stores and certainly online. And here's the perfect recipe to try: Pain de Mie from Leite's Culinaria.

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