This is a very special afternoon tea which brings warm memories of comfort, classical music and wood fire. These are my Petits French milk breads.
As you can notice, it is an Australianised version with the best honey in the World: Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey and Pepe Saya’s butter. The music hasn’t changed, I’m still deeply in love with the counter-tenor Alfred Deller’s voice. Prepare to be blown away HERE.
My recipe is not the traditional one though. I got inspired by the taste of Brioche Vendéenne and added rum and orange blossom.
Pain au lait or milk bread you will find in French boulangeries (bakeries) are a bit lighter than mine. They are very cheap and usually devoured by kids after school at 4:30pm with a bar of milk chocolate.
It is a wonderful and simple treat.
You can eat it just like this or slice it in two laterally and eat it with slightly salted butter and quince jelly.
I used my own levain or bread start (also called sour-dough starter) instead of baker’s yeast. I am at the dawn of this experiment and I am still testing it. My levain looks very bubbly and healthy now, after a pretty disastrous start. I will write a very thorough post about it explaining my failures and what I have found to avoid them.
In the meantime and if you are not (yet) into sour-dough starters, use fresh baker’s yeast or dry yeast.
An important part of the recipe is to “cream” the butter. It means turn it to a thick custard texture. It is a bit tricky. The traditional method is to cook it at low temperature in a bain-marie (a bowl placed on a pan of simmering water). I prefer the microwave method. It cut butter in cubes, put it in an IKEA microwavable breakfast bowl and heat for 20 sec. I need the cubes to have slightly melted and only 1 cm of liquid butter at the bottom. If nothing has melted, I add 10 sec.
When I have 1 cm of melted butter. I take the bowl out and using a small whisk or fork, I beat it very hard until I get the custard texture pictured above.
This state is actually right in the middle between hard butter and melted butter. When you melt butter completely, its taste and chemical characteristics change.
Pains au lait or milk breads can be round or oval. I made them round this time.
To make them look bright and shiny, you need to paint them with lightly beaten egg yolks.
After this you will let the balls rise for another 2 hours.
They will expand further. When the 2 hours are over, brush them again with egg yolk. Then you will simply sprinkle nibbed sugar on top and give each ball a snip snip.
You will cook them and let them cool on a wire rack for a bit before biting into them :)
- 500g flour
- 250g milk (cold or at room temperature)
- 100g liquid bread starter or sour-dough or 20g of fresh baker's yeast
- 40g raw sugar
- 1 cap of rum
- 1 cap of orange blossom water
- 5g salt
- 80g cold butter
- 2 egg yolks
- A handful of nibbed sugar
- Put all ingredients except butter in the stand-mixer's bowl. Knead for 4 mins at low speed.
- In the meantime cream butter by cutting it in little cubes, putting it in a microwavable bowl and heating it for 20 sec or until only 1 cm of melted butter appears at the bottom of the bowl. Take out immediately and whisk energetically to obtain a thick custard texture. Leave aside.
- Then knead dough in mixer for 6 more mins at medium to high speed. It needs to form a ball which will occasionally flap the sides of the bowl.
- Raise mixer's head. Add creamed butter. At very low speed for 2 mins, then medium for 3 mins and finally 3 mins at high speed. Dough must form a ball again. It looks like the butter will never mix to the dough but it will don't worry. The low speed is to avoid any splatting.
- Lightly flour a silicon mat or your clean bench/table. Empty the dough on it, form a ball. Cover with a humid cloth. Leave to rise for 1 hour.
- Divide in 8 equal pieces. Leave to rise for 15 mins covered.
- Prepare an oven tray covered with baking paper.
- Proceed as follow for each piece: on the mat, press it down with you palm and bring the dough from the sides to the centre, pressing with your fingers in the middle. It forms a sort of ball. Roll it between your palms and put it on the oven tray, folds facing down. Do the same for each ball making sure they are not placed too close to each other.
- Break 1 egg, keep the white covered in the fridge for another recipe (ideal cooked in a frying pan and cut in cubes in a salad). Brush each ball with yolk.
- Let rise for 2h, uncovered.
- Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
- Glaze the rolls once again with the second egg yolk. Brush the tip of a pair of scissors. Cut the top of the ball twice forming a cross. Not too deep.
- Sprinkle nibbed sugar.
- Bake for 15 mins.
- Let cool on a wire rack.