The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Laziness + Forgetfulness + Fortuitous Luck + Educated Guessing = Improved Pain de Mie Recipe

baltochef's picture

Laziness + Forgetfulness + Fortuitous Luck + Educated Guessing = Improved Pain de Mie Recipe

WARNING: This is a long post!!..

As I promised Soundman, aka David, on my thread, Advice Desired From Baker's That Regularly Use Biga Pre-Ferments; here is a thread detailing my self-inflicted trials aand tribulations regarding my return to trying to use a biga pre-ferment in my breads..The last time I used a biga was at least 2-3 years ago..At that time I liked the results I was getting from the biga, but due primarily to laziness I stopped using one, and returned to the easier sponge method of building a bread..

So last Saturday, 03-14-09, I decided to make a double batch of biga (recipe below) loosely following the recipe for a biga in Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice..All went well, and after a 1.5 hour rise at 80F room temperature, the biga was double in volume..The stainless steel bowl containing the biga was tightly wrapped in three layers of plastic wrap and placed in my 43F refrigerator at 12 noon exactly..My intentions in making this double batch of biga were to freeze several weighed out portions so as to have enough frozen biga on hand  to make Pain de Mie sandwich bread, and possibly Pane Siciliano, for the next several weeks..I would need to research Pain de Mie sandwich bread using a biga instead of a sponge, but I figured that I would not have too much trouble finding a recipe on the net..

Well, you know what they say about good intentions, right??..Mix in some general laziness, a little depression, other events happening in one's life, and the next thing you know it is 11 AM on Wednesday morning, 03-18-09..Nearly 4 days (96 hours) have passed since the biga was refrigerated..The  biga looks OK, it has a nice, even, holey pattern on its underside..But, it has a distinct alcoholic smell to it..Not overwhelming, but definitely there..Every book that I own with information in it on bigas, every internet discussion that I can recall where bigas are talked about in any detail; well, they all say that bigas are only good for three days (72 hours) after being retarded in the refrigerator..Most of the books / discussions do not come right out and bluntly say so, but one gets the sense that if one is going to make bigas in order to freeze them (my original intentions!!), then the bigas should be frozen on Day 1 or Day 2 in order to maintain their viability, never on Day 3..

So there I am on Wednesday morning with a 96 hour old biga that according to all of the conventional wisdom is no good..What to do??..I create the thread mentioned in the first paragraph of this thread seeking advice..Soundman's is the only response, but I do not read it until later that day..I decide I have got nothing to lose and I attempt to bring the biga back to room temperature to see if the yeast are still alive..I turn on the gas oven to the WARM setting and prop open the door to bring the kitchen to 80F, I oil the surface of my kitchen cart, I chop the biga into approximately 1" pieces with a bench scraper, I cover them with plastic wrap, and I walk away for 1 hour to see what happens..After 1 hour, not much has happened, other than the biga is slowly warming up..The biga came out of my fridge at 43F, and after 1 hour at 80F its temperature has risen to 52F..Thirty minutes later, the biga has miraculously grown in volume by approximately 50%, and its temperature is now at 65F..

So, I start to get a little excited..Perhaps I have not screwed up after all, as I was assuming I did..You know what they say about assumptions, right??..I am not getting too excited as I have no idea how much power the remaining yeast in the biga has left..It assuredly has some viability, as the biga has grown in volume by 50% over the last 30 minutes as its temperature has risen from 52F to 65F..But, the yeast could be on its last hurrah, and ready to die out ant any minute..Nevertheless, I decide to procede with building a bread with this biga..I go online to try and find a recipe for a Pain de Mie sandwich bread that uses a biga instead of a sponge..Curiously, I find few recipes for Pain de Mie's with a biga..One of the few I locate is from King Arthur Flour, and it is similar to my standard Pain de Mie recipe using a sponge..

Nevertheless, I have never been overly fond of the Pain de Mie breads that I have made from KA recipes..So, I decide to take my standard Pain de Mie recipe that I created about 2 years ago that I am reasonably happy with, and to modify it for use with a biga instead of a sponge..Lately, I have been wanting to improve the long-term keeping properties of this Pain de Mie recipe..I decide that since I have got nothing to lose I am going to try and incorporate some changes in this biga Pain de Mie recipe that will improve its keeping properties, as well as, hopefully, its flavor..

So, I create a new recipe for a Pain de Mie using a biga pre-ferment (recipe below)..I decide to incorporate ALL of the double batch of the biga that I made on Saturday into this experiment..That means that I will have more than twice as much biga in my recipe than the one from KA Flour..This definitely flies in the face of standard baking practices as regards to the percentage of biga to the final dough weight..But, what the hell, it just an experiment, right??..All I am going to lose is some time, and perhaps $1.25 worth of ingredients..


Pain de Mie Recipe w/ Sponge            


19 oz. milk, 100F

3 oz. organic whole rye flour

10 oz. bread flour

1 oz. organic cane sugar

1 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast (0.1925 oz.)

Weight of sponge = 33.1925 oz.

Final Dough:

33.1925 oz. sponge

1 oz. unsalted butter, very warm, almost melting

15.5 oz. bread flour

2 1/2 teaspoon table salt (0.625 oz.)

Weight of final dough = 50.3175 oz.


Pain de Mie Recipe w/ 2X Biga Pre-Ferment

2X Biga Recipe:

14.25 oz. water, 100F

2 oz. organic whole rye flour

2 oz. organic whole spelt flour

20 oz. bread flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast (0.11 oz.)

Original weight of the biga after kneading = 38.36 oz.

Weight of biga after 96 hours of refrigeration at 43F = 37.1 oz.

Moisture loss of 1.26 oz. due to dehydration during a 96 hour retard

Final Dough:

37.1 oz. biga

6 oz. 2% milk, 105F

1 oz. organic cane sugar

1 oz. margarine, very soft, almost melting

9 oz. bread flour (3 oz. + 4 oz. + 2 oz.)

2 1/4 teaspoons table salt (0.5625 oz.)

Weight of final dough = 54.66 oz.

Now, I am sure that all of you attentive baker's noticed that I FORGOT TO LIST any additional yeast in the final build ingredient list..It was my intention (remember what I said earlier about intentions??) to use an additional 1 teaspoon, 0.11 oz., of instant yeast in the final build..My Pain de Mie sponge recipe calles for total of 1 3/4 teaspoons of instant yeast for the complete recipe..My thoughts as I created the Pain de Mie biga recipe were that to be on the safe side I should use an additional 1 teaspoon of instant yeast in the final dough build..The double batch of biga has a total of 1 teaspoon of instant yeast in it..Since I was unsure as to the viability of the remaining yeast in the biga, I thought that increasing the amount of instant yeast from 3/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon was the only prudent thing to do..

Then, I allowed myself to be interupted while performing the mise en place for the final build of the biga Pain de Mie..I never got the cannister out of the freezer to measure out the additional 1 teaspoon of instant yeast..When I returned to the kitchen I proceded with the final dough build completely forgetting the yeast I wanted to add to the build..

The final build was interesting as I tried several new things from how I had used a biga in the past..First, I warmed up the bowl to the DLX under hot running water..Nothing new here, as I have been doing this for the last six months to avoid putting 100F liquid ingredients into a 70F stainless steel mixing bowl..The 6 oz. of 105F milk then went into the mixing bowl..Then, I whisked in the sugar, the nearly melted margarine, and the salt..With the bowl installed on the mixer, and the roller and scraper installed; I added the 65F biga..I ran the mixer on medium speed for approximately 2 minutes to evenly incorporate the milk, salt, margarine, and the sugar into the biga..This also warmed the biga up slightly, I believe..I then reduced the speed to low, and added 3 oz. of bread flour..This was my original guestimate on how much flour I would need to form a slightly sticky dough..I was way off in my estimate of the flour required to bring the dough together..An additional 6 oz. of flour was eventually required to get the dough to release away from the sides of the bowl, with the dough sticking slightly to the bottom of the bowl..I kneaded the final dough for a total of 5.5 minutes at medium speed..The 2 minutes spent incorporating the liquid ingredients into the biga was not counted as a part of the 5.5 minutes of kneading time..The final dough temperature was 78F, cooler than my final doughs usually are..

A technique that I adopted several weeks ago when working with sticky doughs in my DLX mixer is to lightly oil the flutes of the roller with pan spray..Sometimes I do this while the mixer is running, as I did with the biga Pain de Mie; and other times I have just stopped the mixer, removed the roller, cleaned it of the dough sticking to it, sprayed it generously with oil, re-installed the roller, and continued mixing..As my mixer does not have a dough hook, I have found this technique to substantially reduce the frustration levels any time the the dough is sticking to, or wrapping itself around the roller..

Now that I was finished kneading, the dough was removed from the bowl of the DLX, the bowl was scraped clean of bits of dough with a bowl scraper, the bowl oiled with pan spray, and the loose dough returned to the bowl..One of the things that I have had trouble lately with the sponge Pain de Mie recipe was in making the bread too stiff..The recipes for most Pain de Mie breads tend to make a bread that is fairly "normal" as to its hydration level, and eventual stiffness..For whatever reasons, my Pain de Mie breads over the past 3-4 months have not had the keeping qualities that I desire..Mainly, they have been drying out too quickly after the loaf has been sliced..Perhaps, it has been the switch away from the KA bread flour to Gold Medal bread flour..Lately, economics dictates purchasing the less expensive Gold Medal flour..I deliberately added a little extra liquid to the biga Pain de Mie recipe, an extra 1.25 oz. more than the sponge recipe has in it..I also told myself that I was going to try and keep the biga Pain de Mie final dough much looser than I had been making the sponge final doughs..This experimental biga Pain de Mie dough was nearly as slack as a lot of ciabatta recipes are..

So there I am, placing the finished biga Pain de Mie dough in its covered, oiled mixing bowl onto the propped open door of the oven to begin its second to last rise..Then, BOOM!!!, the metaphorical light bulb over my head flashes on!!..I realize that I have totally forgotten to add any instant yeast to the final dough build..To say that I was angry, and disappointed, with myself would be an understatement..I was SURE that all this work was going to be for nought..I seriously considered for a moment in trying to chop up the dough, to sprinkle the yeast onto the dough, and to re-knead it until the yeast was incorporated into the dough..Then, my better judgement took over and I said to myself that my chances of success in accomplishing that without over kneading the dough were somewhere between slim, and none..

A sense of fate, destiny, whatever then took over..I thought there was a very slim chance that the remaining yeast in the biga might be able to feed off of the sugars in the milk, butter, flour, and cane sugar in the final build so that the bread would turn out OK..I was not holding out much hope for this to happen..After all, all of the conventional printed wisdom said that a 4-day old biga was past its prime..So, I set the timer for 30 minutes, and walked away disgusted with myself..At the end of 30 minutes, much to my surprise, the dough had grown in volume by over 50%..I set the timer for 15 minutes, and when I returned the dough had grown in volume by a little more than double its original kneaded amount..

It was then that I thought that perhaps this bread might turn out OK after all..I carefully removed the still somewhat sticky, slack dough from the bowl of the DLX..Attempting to degas the dough as little as possible, I divided the dough into two 1 lb. 11.33 oz. portions..I carefully formed these portions into two loaves, and placed them into my two greased 4"x4"x8.5" Pullman bread pans..The pans were covered with plastic wrap and returned to the door of the oven for the final rise..After rising for 45 minutes the loaves had risen until the tops of the loaves were approximately 1/2" below the rim of the pans..I then installed the oiled lids to the pans, closed the oven door, turned the temperature knob to 350F, and placed the pans on top of two of the burners for an additional 15 minutes of rising..

Since my Pain de Mie loaves have been turning out slightly dry lately, I decided to reduce the baking times for the biga Pain de Mie..I reasoned that the higher hydration of this much slacker dough, and reducing the bake times might result in a longer lasting sandwich bread that would still be moist 3-6 days after baking..Accordingly, I baked the biga Pain de Mie loaves for 27 minutes with the lids installed, instead of the normal, recommended, 30 minutes..At the end of 27 minutes, the lids were removed, and the loaves returned to the oven to finish baking..Normal procedures call for an additional 10 minutes at 350F after the lid is removed in order to obtain a good color on the top of the loaf..I chose to reduce this 10 minutes to 9 minutes..

After they finished baking the loaves had a good, medium brown color to the crusts, and the internal temperature was 204F..After the loaves had cooled to room temperature, 72F, I trimmed off the slight rims from where the dough had flowed upwards, and outwards, for approximately 1/16" past the rim of the pan under the lids..These trimmings tasted so good that I could not resist slicing into one of the loaves, even though I still had 5-6 slices left in my last loaf of Pain de Mie from the last bake..

I am tasting the greatest improvement in the flavor of the crust of this biga Pain de Mie..The crust has a faint, but distinct sour taste to it..Not anywhere near the taste of a true sourdough bread made with a proper sourdough culture..But, it is a definite improvement over a standard Pain de Mie recipe where the majority of the flavor comes from the sugar, milk, and butter components..The biga Pain de Mie's crumb has a darker color to it than my sponge Pain de Mie..I attribute this darker color to the whole spelt flour in the biga..The sponge Pain de Mie recipe has 3 oz. of whole rye flour, but the color of the crumb is much lighter..

My conclusions??..

This recipe, if I can consistently repeat it, is a definite improvement in flavor over my old recipe that tends to follow pretty closely the ingredients listed in many of the published Pain de Mie recipes to be found in books, or on the internet..I was sure that I had screwed things up at various stages during the making of this bread..Things that I have learned are that  1.) Do not despair if things seem to be going wrong--Often things are not as bad as they might first seem to be  2.) Trust your bread baking instincts  3.) At least in my refrigerator, and in my kitchen, I can retard a biga for more than 3 days--4 days turned out to be perfectly acceptable--experimentation is definitely in order to determine the maximum number of days I can retard a biga and still use it to sucessfully build a bread  4.) At least with a 4-day retard, NO additional yeast is required to build a bread using a 4-day old biga..This may be why the crust tastes so good--there is no "new" instant yeast introduced to possibly obscure the flavors developed by the changes that occured over the 4-day retard  5.) One can use a lot more biga in a bread recipe, percentage wise to the final weight, than conventional wisdom says is possible--the percentage of biga in this recipe as compared to all of the other ingredients is 67.87%  6.) I like the flavors in this bread as a result of equal amounts of whole spelt and whole rye flours--further experimentation in this area is warranted--this bread is the first time I have used both flours in the same recipe  7.) Further improvements to the flavor profile can assuredly be made by switching over to higher quality ingredients for some of the ones I was forced to use due to thrift in these economically troubled times  8.) I am REAL glad I did not use any additional yeast in the final build--in all probability the bread would have had a strong yeast flavor, as well as rising too quickly to build adequate flavor

So all you other baker's take heed!!..Sometimes blind luck and serendipity are more important than all of one's supposed skills and knowledge..If I had gone by the wisdom in the books, I would have thrown the 4-day old biga straight into the trash without ever using it..My thrift, and stubborness, combined with a massive dose of luck paid off in unexpected dividends..



xaipete's picture

Great post! This has nothing to do with your bread, but I'm feeding my SD starters only once a week now instead of the recommended every 4 or 5 days. And, guess what? They are even more tangy than before. Starters, bigas, etc., are alive and seem to thrive sometimes in spite of all the science behind them.

I'd like to see a photo of the bread.


ehanner's picture

Once upon a time, on the way back to the mine site from the general store, the camp supply wagon rolled down a big hill after a wheel fell off. Over and over it rolled end over end. It came to rest right in the middle of a fire pit from some other prospectors, where it mostly burned up. Later when the smoke cleared the prospectors found a perfect loaf of rustic bread baked under the rubble.

The miners were so happy to have found good bread they rejoiced and drank adult beverages into the night. The next day they wondered how they could make more of the bread. Befuddled, they decided to buy a stand mixer.

And that's the story of some lucky bakers. Now go to bed!


Aprea's picture

Bruce - The Pain De Mie you are describing looks very intriging.  I have been on a mission to find a delicious sandwich loaf for lunches, toast - but didn't want a plain jane white loaf.

My first question is this - if I wanted to avoid using a yeast in the final dough like you did inadvertently, then how long is the minimum time to leave the double biga in the refrigerator.  I am not going to play around with the temperature controls.  I know this is all speculation at this point for you - but I am willing to give it a go.


Secondly, I do not have a pullman pan, but I do have a chicagp metallic type 9.5 x 6.  I want to put a cookie sheet on top to square it off like the covered pullman pans.  How many ounces of finished dough should be shaped into my pan?


Thirdly - Which size pullman do you have?  I have my eye on the 13 x 4 x 4.  How much pain de mie dough would you fit into the one that I want to make a tidy loaf?


Thank you for any info you have.




baltochef's picture


Based on this experience, as well as some info coming to light on the Advice Desired From Baker's That Regularly Use Biga Pre-Ferments thread that I started, I would say a 4-6 day retard in a 43F refrigerator should yield a biga with plenty of viability left in the yeast that would allow the baker to dispense with any additional yeast in the final dough build..Only experimentation will tell if my speculation is correct..The percentage of retarded biga to all of the remaining ingredients probably plays an important role in the final baked bread..Remember, the percentage of biga in this experiment was 67.87% compared to the milk, sugar, margarine, salt, and bread flour that I used to make the final dough..BTW, I used SAF Gold instant yeast to make the 4-day old 2X biga..

In my experience with baking in Pullman pans, both the two 8.5" pans, as well as the single 13" pan that I own; has shown me that in order  to obtain the tighter crumb that I desire I must put more dough in the pans than is generally recommended..My 4"x4"x8.5" Pullman pans have a volume, with the lid on, of 136 cubic inches..The 4"x4"x13" Pullman pan has a volume of 208 cubic inches..I like to shoot for between 1 lb. 8 oz. to 1 lb. 12 oz. of dough in the 8.5" pans..I like to shoot for between 2 lb. 1 oz. to 2 lb. 6 oz. of dough in the 13" pan..You will have to do some math to determine the volume of your pans, and then experiment to find the proper amount of dough for that pan size in relation to the density / tightness of the crumb that you desire..

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I own both 8.5" and 13" Pullman pans..I prefer the 8.5" pans as this amount of baked bread fits into my 2-person family better than the larger loaves from the 13" pan does..I am seriously considering the purchase of two of the 4"x4"x7.875" Pullman pans from Paderno sometime in the future when my finances allow..

See my posts / threads on Pullman pans over the past month here at TFL for additional thoughts and information on Pullman pans from myself, and other members..

Hope this helps..



Soundman's picture


I found you again over here. Great post! I agree with your enumerated learning points 100%. You should never give up on bread until it's baked and fit for a doorstop.

So highly fermented bigas work fine, and even increase the rising power of the biga itself. This is the kind of stuff you only find out when you wander away from the recipe trail.

Thanks, again for posting.