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Little Milk Breads (Petits Pains au Lait)

From Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, by Anissa Helou

Pains au lait, like baugettes, are made all over France. But while it's hard to make a good baugette in a home kitchen, homemade pains au lait are just as good as commercial ones — or even better, if made with the best flour, butter, and milk. In France, they are primarily used for sandwiches, but they are served plain with meals.

Makes 6 Individual Breads

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

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons fine kosher salt or sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Disolve the yeast in the milk and stir until creamy

2. 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.

3. 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 a 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.

4. 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 leasr 2 inches between the pieces 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.

5. 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.

From Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, by Anissa Helou. Copyright (c) 2007 by Anissa Helou. Published by William Morrow Cookbooks. Reprinted with permission.

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