BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Tastes of Nostalgia

41 Comments

For most of the Western world, thinking about Japanese delicacies would evoke images of sushi, fugu, and… Bread? No, scratch that last one off the list, you must be thinking. Even I have to pause for a moment and consider that statement, but for me, this one might as well top the list.

It was on my second trip to Japan when I was a freshman in high school, joining in on the annual school trip, that I really got to explore the city of Tokyo. After a week of home-stay and at times when we didn’t have tours scheduled, friends would bound about in clusters of four or five, free from adult supervision and free to do as we pleased (within reason, of course.)

[Bet you can't guess which one's me?]

A daily allowance of 1,500 yen (a little less than $15) was provided for food and we had to eat on the cheap. The first and last stop of the day would always be at one of the numerous conbini in the area, and the aisles of cheap snack foods were always the highlight of the expeditions. Ramen and pocky were bought in such vast quantities, it’s a miracle that no one returned home with indigestion. One day, however, I was lingering around the miniature pastries all wrapped up so nicely in transparent plastic when I saw my friend scooping up a loaf of bread and adding it to her basket.

What was she wasting her money on that for? I wondered with just a tinge of fear. No way was I going to share my own precious junk food when she got hungry that night. It was only later when she unwrapped that golden brown parcel and offered one of those thick slices that I understood. Tender, dense and yet light, the perfectly rectangular bread was unlike anything I had seen or tasted in the US. Often sweetened with honey and enriched with eggs and butter, it was one of my last times eating animal products, and how delicious it was still haunts me today. Later on I learned the name of my long lost love: pain de mie, otherwise known as a pullman loaf.

For years the thought to veganize it never crossed my mind, as I quickly discovered that it required special pans, and quite frankly, a $40 loaf pan just sounds like an absurd waste of money, especially considering how much I’ve already spent on my exhaustive collection of bakeware. That’s not to say I wasn’t tempted, or really gave up… It was only a matter of time before the solution hit me, and that huge selection of pans already in my kitchen proved to be more multipurpose than perhaps even the manufacturers intended.

Emerging from the oven as an almost perfect square with straight sides and sharp corners, the struggle to make it happen immediately seemed insignificant. All it really took was two bricks, two sheet pans, and one standard loaf pan; standard equipment that most any baker should have on hand. The procedure might be a bit unorthodox, sure, but you wouldn’t care either if you had tasted this soft, golden-hued loaf.

A tight, orderly crumb surrounded on all sides by a delicate but chewy crust, just one slice sent me back to that time in Japan. While it isn’t exactly the same- What ever truly is?- This bread is such a delicious treat in it’s own right, any dissimilarities or flaws are easy to overlook. Although I was so smitten that I couldn’t take the time to do more than just toast slices and slather them with a buttery spread, I can only imagine what a delight they would be in bread pudding, or fried up as french toast. Anyone want to be so adventurous as to try it out and let me know? … … Okay, in that case, here’s the recipe!

Pan De Mie

1 Cup Plain Soymilk
3 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
3 – 4 Cups Bread Flour (Or White Whole Wheat, if you just can’t stand white flour)
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Margarine, Melted

In a small saucepan, combine the soymilk and agave, and heat gently over medium. Easy does it here, because you don’t want the temperature to be any hotter than 110; exceed that, and you poor little yeast beasts will be dead instantly. Once the agave is dissolved into the mixture and it’s around 100 degrees, turn off the heat and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit and become frothy, about 5 minutes.

Pour the liquids into your stand mixer with the dough hook installed, and add in 3 cups of the flour, plus all the salt and melted margarine. Start it off slow just to combine, and let it work for a good couple of minutes to come together. If the dough seems excessively wet, go ahead and add more flour in, 1/3 cup at a time, until it mostly pulls off the sides of the bowl and feels tacky but not sticky. Let the dough hook knead it for about 10 minutes before scraping it out, kneading it briefly by hand, and shaping it into a smooth, elastic ball. Drop the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about two hours in a warm place.

The dough should more than double in volume, at which point you’re ready to punch it down and shape it. Lightly flour a clean surface and pour the dough out onto it. Either use your hands or a rolling pin to press it out into a square of about 8 – 8 1/2 inches on all sides. Roll it up as if you were making cinnamon buns and pinch the finishing edge closed. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, and drop the rolled dough into it, seam side down. Cover and let rise again, for about an hour, or until the loaf is almost peeking out above the rim of the pan.

In the mean time, preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and grab two bricks. Wash them off thoroughly if they have been outside, and then wrap them in aluminum foil. When the dough is ready, take one sheet pan, grease it thoroughly, and place it on top of the loaf. Scoot a second sheet pan underneath the loaf pan so that it’s easier to maneuver. Now, take your wrapped bricks and situate them on the top sheet pan so that they’re solidly balanced and the sheet is completely sealing the top of the loaf pan beneath. Warning: This will be heavy! You might want someone to help if you have miserable upper body strength like me. Carefully scoop up this whole assembly and move it into the oven. Let it bake for approximately 45 minutes. When you remove your bread, be even more cautious because those bricks are burning hot, and they stay hot for hours. Uncover the loaf, and if it seems a bit pale for you, return it to the oven for just 5 or 10 minutes longer. Let it cool on a wire rack completely before you even think about slicing it, no matter how incredible it smells. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded!

Printable Recipe

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Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

41 thoughts on “Tastes of Nostalgia

  1. beautiful Pan de Me!!!

    unfortunately in Chile we don’t have the most of ingredient that you mentioned :( but, it’s always an experience to find a similar ingredient ;) and try to do it

    love,
    tatiana

  2. Intriquing! It kind of looks like pound cake, I’ve never heard of this before but I’d really like to give it a try now. :-)

  3. My goodness! Does that ever look delicious! You are quite a resourceful baker!

  4. You’re making me homesick! I just moved back from Japan and this bread was one of my favorite comfort foods. Sigh.

  5. That looks so good! And the ingredients are so simple!

  6. Thanks for this! There is a Japanese bakery in TN that makes this stuff, and they sell it at a Japanese grocery near my house. I have been curious, and now I will have to try it for myself.

  7. We bake a lot of bread so I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. Thanks. Have a couple of questions though. Can I substitute the agave nectar for honey perhaps?

  8. Wow- that golden crust is taunting me! I love your solution to not having the proper loaf pan and it seems to have worked wonderfully

  9. wow, it looks so perfect and lovely. what fun to bake with bricks.
    :)

  10. Sounds yummy! You’re so lucky that you got to go to Japan as a freshman! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  11. Once again, you’ve proved you’re a genious! I remember pain de mie from my time living in France. What a wonderful treat!

  12. i so love asian bread! and this definitely will be something that i make in the near future. i actually have a mini pullman loaf pan that i bought. it was only about $5-ish and the quality is actually pretty good.

    thanks for the recipe!

  13. wow! the bread looks incredibly awesome! i need to try the recipe! thanks, Hannah! oh man – it looks so perfect and delicious! mmmmmmmmm!

  14. That bread looks amazing!

  15. LOL-which on is you! :)
    Some good looking bread you’ve got going on.

  16. Wow great job at improvising! The loaf looks delicious. I wonder if it’s the same type of loaf that I’m thinking of that you can get from Chinese bakeries here, which is so so soft and yummy.

  17. Woohoo times two! I too have very fond memories of pan de mie. Can’t wait to try this one!

  18. ooh that looks so good. good job!

  19. What a nice reminder of Japan!
    What would happen if I were to do without the brick and pan and just bake it like a normal loaf? I know the shape wouldn’t be right, but would the texture be wrong as well?

  20. Creative use of baking pans! Never knew that had great bread in Japan…. Must have been wonderful to closely recreate the taste and texture of something you have fond memories of.

  21. this looks neat! it reminds me of a cross between a milk loaf and brioche! mmm.

  22. I really enjoyed reading this blog entry! I need to go out, find some bricks now and make that loaf. You are awesome!

  23. Wow! It looks incredible and nice work on replicating, even without the pan. I can’t wait to try this one.

  24. yes i so love making danishes/laminated doughs! they are quite fun to make and relatively easy to manage most of the time.

    do you use EB or shortening or a mixture of both when making laminated doughs?
    (if EB, how long do you let it sit out to soften?)

  25. The bread kind of looks like a big twinkie without the filling. I may have to try it out to see if it tastes like a big twinkie without the filling.

    Thanks for posting the recipe.

  26. I had a really hard time finding you in the picture, lol! Your bread looks so perfect, such nice crumb and shape!

  27. I was a Japanese Studies major and miss the yummies, too! It’s hard to believe that rice is the most prominent carb over there with as yummy as all of the baked goods I comsumed (and there were a TON) were. I miss the J-lane too! :)

  28. you have an award on my blog, btw. :)

  29. I made this last night using a few of my trusty cast iron pans in place of the bricks, and it is absolutely delicious. It’s dense and light at the same time, soft and sweet without being overpowering. Perfect for strawberry jam, and my family is already looking forward to a weekend brunch of vegan snickerdoodle french toast, assuming the bread lasts that long. Thanks for the recipe!!

  30. Genius! Love the bread Hannah and the method is pure genius. :)

  31. Beautiful bread. I had trouble finding you in the group too! LOL!

  32. Very interesting bread! Can you spare some time so I can do more baking? I must admit, though, that once I started baking in earnest, I’d probably gravitate toward my biggest weakness–baked sweets. But that solid bread looks really yummy and filling. And I like the creativity with the bricks.

  33. I used to sell those things at a (not great) bakery, and yours looks SO much better. completely worth wrestling with bricks! you’ve done it again. ;)

    oh, and I tried your clafoutis recipe! admittedly I’ve never had real clafoutis, but I’m pretty sure it’s the *exact* right texture (kinda pudding-y/cakey/gelatiney in a good way?). anyway, delicious! and it actually let me use my chia seeds, zounds. :D

  34. What a fun story. I’m so jealous you got to live in Japan for a while. I have friends who have gone there to teach English and loved it. Now I want to go but I’m having a tough time talking my husband into coming with me and I don’t think I could go over there for a year without him.

    I’ve never heard of pan de mie but it looks lovely in your photos. Makes me want to try it.

  35. More tasty than tasty cake

  36. Your bread looks lovely! I am very familiar with rectangular breads because it’s common in Singapore and of course the Japanese-style bakeries that is easily found there as well. You did really well with your $15 in Japan! :-)

  37. It’s such a fun challenge to veganize those things we remember from our pregan days… loved the story that went along with it. And the bread looks very impressive, love the square edges….

  38. Totally just commenting on the top pic~ i had to show this to my oldest daughter (she’s 11) because all the girls her age pose for pics with a different looking ‘peace’ sign and she didn’t believe me when i said that in japan they pose with the ‘normal’ peace sign~ she loves all things japan so hopefully she’ll pose differently now!!
    Here is a youtube ‘video’ to show what i mean:

    Love your blog!
    Nathalie

  39. I really like how squarish this turns out! It looks great too!

  40. I lived in japan from 4 – 5, and this is the kind of bread we had every morning. I would ask, “are we having same-as-yesterday toast today daddy?” And we were. I absolutely loved it.

    It’s so cool that you were there for a home stay. I’d love to do that, now being in high school. Was there a program you used?
    Anyway, awesome bread! I look forward to making it.

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