experiments in cooking

I’ve been so swamped this week that I’ve had no time for a post, even though I did get to cook several new things last weekend. My next few posts may be fairly short.

Saturday I tried a rolls recipe from my friend Iris. They’re called Petits Pains Au Lait, which translates to “rolls made with milk.” She sent me the recipe by email, and then I had to send about a half dozen follow up questions, because I know so little about making bread. Iris says bread is forgiving … but I’m doubtful.

A moment of fun: using the flour sifter my mother-in-law gave me because she doesn’t use it, and finding it was great fun to use. I used to sift flour for my mother, years ago. I never knew why.

A moment of worry: I found that in working with the dough, I didn’t use all the flour the recipe called for.  My friend Iris didn’t seem to think that was a terrible thing. Apparently you don’t always need all the four.

About the only real difficulty I encountered was that I got to the stage where I was supposed to knead the dough for 8–10 minutes and realized I had no idea how to knead. Absolutely no idea. I was nervous to put down the dough for long, lest it start rising or hardening or, God forbid, exploding. But I quickly washed my hands and opened my Joy of Cooking hoping there was a section on kneading bread dough—and it was my lucky day: full instructions on how to knead bread dough.  

Still, though, I couldn’t figure out exactly what the instructions meant. After 10 minutes of some odd pushing, pulling, and poking the dough, it still wasn’t elastic as my Joy of Cooking said it should be.

I worked on it a few minutes more, praying to find some kind of magical movement, some kind of expert rhythm, and finally found my hands doing something that seemed to be making the dough more elastic. Then, since I was afraid to work the dough too long, after a few more minutes passed I called it quits and set the dough aside to rise.

And I can’t tell you how excited I was, one hour later, to see that the dough actually had doubled in size! I’m not sure I believed it would really rise for me. I tell you, I was elated.

I baked the rolls at 400 degrees for just under 15 minutes. Iris said they would probably be done shortly after they started to smell fragrant, and she was right. I used a pizza stone as Iris recommended, and as it was the first time I’ve ever used a pizza stone to bake, I was pleased that I didn’t burn the rolls or ruin the stone. Yay for me!

The rolls were a big hit with our steak dinner that night. Chris ate three, and our dinner guests, friends from church, each ate at least two. Also, they were fun to look at, as they puffed up into fantastic shapes.

I’m looking forward to trying them again soon. I bet I can do better next time. Now that I might know how to knead.

French Petits Pains Au Lait From Iris Goodding

4 cups white bread flour (all-purpose flour is fine)

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup powdered milk and 1 cup warm water or 1 cup lukewarm milk (about the temperature of baby bath water)

¼ cup butter, softened

½ ounce fresh yeast (4 ½ teaspoons)

1 tablespoon extra milk for glazing 

  1. Lightly grease 1–2 baking sheets. Sift (sifting is optional) 2 cups of the flour and salt together into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar. If you are using powdered milk, stir it in too. Run the softened butter into the flour (I use my fingers to “mush” the butter into the flour).
  2. Mix the yeast with the milk or, if you are using powdered milk, with the warm water.  Let yeast and water sit about 5 minutes.  The mixture will begin to look “frothy.”  Pour into the flour mixture and mix to a soft dough.

1        Mix in as much of the flour as it takes to make the dough manageable to pick up and begin   kneading. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 8–10 minutes until smooth and elastic (adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a light-weight towel and let rise in a warm place for 1–­2 hours (until doubled in bulk). If you are going to bake on a pizza stone, preheat the oven before step 3.

  1. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and gently punch down. Divide into 12, shape into balls.

If you are using a baking sheet (or baking dish):

4        Place rolls on the greased baking sheet (or baking dish) spaced about an inch apart. (Let them touch if you want pull-apart rolls, but barely touching as, put closer, they will rise into each other and get too thick where they touch and possibly not bake evenly.) Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise, in a warm place, for about 20 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5        Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the rolls with milk and bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note on using a baking dish: If you use a glass baking dish instead of a baking sheet, keep a close eye on the rolls as they bake so that you take them out at the right time. Using different materials for baking can slightly alter your bake time and the texture of the finished bread.

If you are using a pizza stone:

  1. I like to bake these on a pizza stone.  If you want to do them on cookie sheets, see the original recipe.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with the pizza stone in the oven.  Once stone is heated up, carefully place the rolls on the stone (I do this while it is in the oven) and bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note on using a pizza stone: If you are using a stone, check the bottoms of the rolls to make sure they are not getting over-cooked.

Note: Pay close attention to rolls while they’re baking as the baking time can vary from day to day.  One good indicator that they are getting close to being done is that they begin to be fragrant.

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