We Knead To Bake #17 : Petit Pains au Lait (French Milk Bread/ Rolls)
The dough for Pains au Lait is slightly enriched one but not as rich as brioche dough. The liquid in this bread is milk (no water or anything else), and of course, there’s a generous amount of butter though not too much. Pains au Lait are typically not very sweet so the pearl sugar that usually crusts the surface of these little breads adds a little sweetness and texture, not to mention aesthetic appeal.
They can be served plain along with French soup, or can be baked with a sweet filling like chocolate or even thick custard and served for breakfast or with tea.
When baked properly, Petit Pains au Lait area beautiful golden brown on the outside, and almost flaky on the inside because of the way the dough is rolled and shaped. Apart from the pearl sugar which may or may not be used, what is typical about them is the beautiful pattern on them which is created by cutting through the top with scissors just before baking them.
Attractively shaped breads are a weakness of mine, and when I discovered Petit Pains au Lait a while back, they made it to my list of “must bake breads”. Any pattern of slashing or snipping to decorate this milk bread rolls is fine as the idea is to create a beautiful pattern on them. Petie Pains au Lait without a decorative pattern doesn’t make them any less delightful, and is equally acceptable. You can also shape this dough into any shape of your choice too.
- You can knead by hand or use a machine. I used my hand food processor. Put the warm milk, yeast and sugar in the bowl. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Then add all the flour and the salt and run the processor until it looks crumbly. Add the butter and knead until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough that’s not sticky. Add a little more milk (in teaspoonful at a time), if your dough is dry, until you have the required consistency of dough.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, turning it over to coat with oil. Cover loosely and set aside to rise until double in volume. This should take about 1 1/2 hours.
- Turn the dough out onto your working surface. You shouldn’t need any flour, but if you feel the need, just lightly dust your palms with it. Deflate the dough gently, and divide it into 10 equal pieces. Let them rest for 15 minutes.
- Roll out each piece of dough, one at a time, into a circle about 4” in diameter. Slowly roll up the circle from one end, Swiss roll/ jelly roll style into a cylinder. Pinch the seam closed neatly, and place them on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet with the seam side facing down. Cover loosely and let them rise for an hour or so till almost double in size.
- Brush them lightly with milk and using a pair of sharp scissors, make diagonal cuts (not too deep) on the top of the rolls. Sprinkle pearl sugar/ granulated sugar.
- Bake them at 200C (400F) for about 15 minutes or so until they’re golden brown. Let them cool on a rack. Serve them warm or at room temperature with coffee or chilled flavoured milk, or at breakfast.
This recipe makes 10 Petit Pains au Lait. They’re best eaten the same day, though you could warm them up and serve the next day.
*If you don’t have bread flour, put 2/3 tsp vital wheat gluten in your 3/4 cup measure and top up with all-purpose flour. Mix this well.
If you don’t have vital wheat gluten, then just use 3/4 cup all-purpose flour.
**This topping is optional. The pearl sugar looks pretty and adds a little crunch. If you can’t find pearl sugar, use large crystals of sugar or even regular granulated sugar.