Today's Cook the Book recipe for petits pains au lait, "Little Milk Breads," is one that author Anissa Helou says is made all over France. Unlike the also-ubiquitous baguette, however, Helou says these treats can be just as good as those from a baker, provided you use very good flour, butter, and milk.
The recipe comes from Helou's
- 1 1/4 teaspoons (just over 1/2 package) active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
- 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine kosher salt or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir until creamy.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yeast and butter to the well and, with fingertips, gently and gradually mix with the flour until well incorporated. Knead briefly to make a rough ball of dough.
Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead for about 3 minutes. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead for about 2 to 3 minutes more, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly floured clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. Fold the dough, cover again, and let rise for 1 hour more. The dough should have doubled in volume.
Return the dough to the work surface and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Gently shape each piece into a ball. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes. Shape the pieces into batards about 8 inches long. Press down on the ends to flatten them slightly and transfer seam side down to a nonstick baking sheet, or to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone pastry mat, leaving at least 2 inches between the pieces to allow them to expand as they rise and bake. Cover with a wet but not dripping kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°F.
Uncover the breads and let their surfaces dry for about 5 minutes. Brush with the egg yolk mixture. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden all over; check after 10 minutes, and if the breads are coloring too fast, reduce the heat to 350°F. Transfer to a wire rack to cool Serve at room temperature, or reheated.
To fold dough, flour your work surface and hands well so that the dough does not stick. The invert the bowl that contains your dough, holding on floured hand open underneath it so that the dough can drop onto it. Place the dough on the work surface and flatten the dough by hand into a circle, expelling some of the gasses. Fold one third of the circle over, flatten again, and brush off any excess flour. Then fold the opposite third over and flatten to make a rectangle. Brush off excess flour, then fold one third of the rectangle and fold the other third over. Brush off flour and return seam side down to the bowl. Be sure to sprinkle your bowl with more flour before replacing the dough in it.
Flatten the ball of dough into an oval, gently pressing out the gases. Then fold one third of the top end of the oval toward the center, and press gently to flatten. Bring in the two square ends that were created by the first fold to form a round pointed end. Rotate the dough 180 degrees and do the same at the other end, again flattening the dough well and gently pressing the gases out. Now position the dough so that the pointed ends are on your left and right. Fold the top third of the dough over, pressing on the edge with the heel of your hand to seal. Then fold over the bottom third, aligning the edges. Press on the edge with the heel of your hand as you go along to seal the seam and form a fat roll. Turn the roll of dough seam side down. Place your palms in the middle of the log of dough and roll back and forth, fanning your hands out and pressing on the ends of the log to taper them, until the bread is the desired length and is fat in the middle with tapered ends. It is important at this stage to have an even thickness. If one side is thicker than the other, roll it back and forth until it evens out.