This year, I made Pain au Lait (aka “Milk Bread”) for our holiday open house in early December and for my mother’s annual family Christmas Party in Indianapolis. Both times, these rolls out-shined the loveliest layer cakes, the sweetest cookies and the most delectable holiday candies. Like all bread-baking, there are a number of steps involved in making Lovely Pain au Lait, but there is quite a bit of downtime. So grab a great book and enjoy a cozy afternoon of reading and baking bread. It’s a wonderful, delicious way to spend a chilly winter day! xo Maggie Louise
For the Dough
● 4 and 1/2 c. (18 oz.) bread flour (I prefer King Arthur flour)
● 1 c. plus 3 and 1/2 tbs (9.75 oz.) milk (Like anything, whole milk will taste best but any type works.)
● 1 and 3/4 tsp (.35 oz.) table salt
● 2 tbs plus 1/8 tsp (.75 oz.) Dry Active Yeast
● 1 large egg, lightly mixed just to break the yolk
● 1/4 c. (1.8 oz.) granulated sugar
● 5 and 1/2 tbs (2.7 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
For the Roll Preparation
● 1 large egg
● A splash of milk for the egg wash
● Kosher salt for sprinkling
● 1/4 stick of unsalted butter, melted
Take your butter and eggs out of the refrigerator so they may warm to room temperature. Measure and prepare your other ingredients. Warm your milk to 100-110 degrees (you can measure the temperature with a meat thermometer). In a large mixing bowl or your stand mixer bowl, combine the yeast and the milk. Stir with a fork to roughly blend. Let the yeast and milk sit at room temperature for 8 minutes. Add the sugar, egg and flour. Stir a few times, then add the salt and the butter. Salt is the enemy of yeast, so you never want to add your salt directly to the yeast when making bread. Knead for 3 minutes (Speed 1 on a stand mixer), then knead at a slightly faster pace (Speed 2 on a stand mixer) for 8 minutes.
Cut off a walnut sized piece of dough. With your thumbs and pointer fingers, stretch the dough. Can you see light through the dough without the dough breaking? This is called the windowpane and it arrives when your gluten has developed to the right point. If you do not have a windowpane, continue mixing/kneading and checking. Once your windowpane develops, round your dough into a ball, put it in a bowl that has been sprayed with PAM or other vegetable oil, cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let it ferment on your counter top for 30-35 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and press it into a loose rectangle on your counter top. Fold one end of the rectangle to the middle, then the other end into the middle. Now your dough is punched! Portion your dough into 2 oz. pieces. If you do not have a scale for measuring the pieces, simple divide your dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each dough piece into a cylinder and line them up on your counter top. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let the cylinders rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This is your bench rest.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. With your hands, roll out each dough piece to roughly 8 to 10 inches. Twist to your desired shape (see below for instructions) and place each roll on the parchment lined baking sheet. Once all pieces are twisted and placed on the baking sheet, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let them proof on your counter top for 20 to 25 minutes or until they pass the push test (when poked with your finger, the dough doesn’t bounce back). Meanwhile, make your egg wash by mixing 1 large egg with a splash of milk.
Gently brush each roll with the egg wash, making sure it is evenly applied all around the sides. At this point, you could also sprinkle sesame seeds, poppy seeds, parmesan cheese or other toppings on the rolls. Bake at 375 until the rolls are golden brown, which takes from 12 to 20 minutes depending on your oven. Watch them closely through the oven window the first time you bake, then you will know the right baking time for your oven and these rolls going forward. Meanwhile, melt 1/4 stick of butter on the stove top or in the microwave. Once golden brown, remove the rolls from the oven, brush with the melted butter and sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Remove from the baking sheet and let them cool on a rack.
Like any bread, Pain Au Lait is best enjoyed warm out of the oven, but they can be stored in an airtight container once they are completely cool. Slather on some jam or slice up some ham and cheese for a delicious treat!