I know, a Yule log is supposed to be a cake, not a bread. But when I first made Pullman bread, it reminded me of a log, and now every log I see looks to me like a loaf of bread. I read that originally, ancients would gather at the end of December to welcome the winter solstice by burning a Yule log to purge everything negative from the previous year. The ashes were then preserved, as they were said to offer good luck and protection against lightning. What wonderful imagery for ending a year and starting a new one!
Pullman bread, meanwhile, derives its name from the Pullman Company, which invented railroad cars in the 19th century and, along with them, lidded baking pans that maximized the use of space in train kitchens. So to make Pullman bread, you’ll need a Pullman loaf pan.
We made loaves and loaves of Pullman bread this winter break. We had it toasted and untoasted, for breakfast and snacks, we used it for grilled cheese sandwichs at lunch and croques madame at dinner. We cut it into small cubes, toasted them, and stored them for soups and salads. It’s a great bread to have around, and it keeps for days, simply sitting on your kitchen table covered with a cloth.
The recipe I use requires a 2-pound Pullman loaf pan sprayed with a non-stick spray, 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 package instant yeast, 2 tbs sugar, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup warm water, 1 cup warm whole milk, 1 egg (room temperature), and 3 tbs melted butter.
Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and give them a quick mix, then add the wet ingredients. Mix on low speed for 30 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, cover tightly with a plastic wrap, and let rest for at least one hour (or until the dough’s volume doubles).
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and fold it several times, shaping it into a rectangle approximately the length of the Pullman loaf pan. Place the dough in the pan and slide on the lid, leaving a slit open so you can watch the dough. Cover the gap with a cloth. Within a couple hours, the dough should rise close to the top.
Very carefully close tight the lid of the Pullman loaf pan and place it gently in the center of a 375°F pre-heated oven. Set a heavy object, such as a baking stone, on top of the lid to prevent any dough from leaking out during baking.
Bake for 30 minutes, then open the oven door and remove the baking stone and lid very gently. Leave the pan in the oven for 10 more minutes, until the top is golden brown. Turn the oven off, remove the Pullman loaf pan, and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Leave the bread to rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing it. Then, enjoy!
May the ashes of 2013 bring wisdom, and may 2014 be a year of accomplishment, happiness, and health for us all!