Pains au Lait (French Milk Bread)

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Pains au Lait are soft and fluffy French milk buns, which are a popular afternoon tea treat for children in France. Make these delicious buns at home with this step-by-step recipe.


For the Pains au Lait

For the Egg Wash

To Decorate


To Make the Dough

  1. Measure the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into the bowl of an electric stand mixer.
  2. Lightly mix the ingredients together using the dough hook.
  3. Slowly pour in the warm milk, and continue mixing until everything comes together into a rough dough.
  4. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Once the butter has been fully incorporated into the dough, add the next tablespoon of butter.
  5. Once all of the butter has been added, continue kneading the dough on medium speed for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. The dough is ready when it is soft and smooth, and also slightly elastic in texture when you try to stretch it. If you poke the dough softly, it should bounce back right away.

First Proofing Period

  1. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl.
  2. Place the dough inside the bowl.
  3. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel, cling film, or a reusable bowl cover.
  4. Leave the dough somewhere warm for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size (see Kitchen Notes below).

To Portion the Dough

  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, gently remove the dough from the bowl. The dough will deflate as you handle it.
  2. Gently pat the dough into a round shape.
  3. Portion your dough into 16 equal pieces. If you have some kitchen scales, weigh the dough and then divide this number by 16. This will be the weight of each bun dough.
  4. Lightly grease two rectangular pans measuring 17 x 27 x 4 cm (7 x 11 x 1.5 inch) or similar.

To Shape the Dough

  1. Gently roll each piece of dough into a ball by pulling the edges towards the centre.
  2. Then flatten each ball of dough into a small log. The log should be about half the width of your baking pan.
  3. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  4. Arrange the pieces of dough in the baking pan, allowing for a bit of space between them to rise and puff up. As only half of the second pan will be used, I use a cake pan divider to keep the buns snug.

Second Proofing Period

  1. Cover the pans with a clean tea towel, and place the pans somewhere warm for about 30 minutes, or until the buns have risen and puffed up slightly.
  2. During this time, preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F (without fan) with a metal baking tray on the middle shelf.
  3. Make the egg wash by lightly whisking together the egg and milk.

To Bake the Pains au Lait

  1. Brush the buns with some egg wash.
  2. Sprinkle the buns generously with pearl sugar.
  3. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the buns are lightly golden. Check the buns at about 10 minutes, and if they are browning too quickly, cover them with a loose sheet of foil for the rest of the baking time. The buns are cooked if an internal thermometer reads 85°C (185°F).
  4. Gently remove the buns (intact) to a wire rack, and leave them to cool completely.

Kitchen Notes

* This recipe works well with plain flour (all-purpose flour) or strong white bread flour.
* For Swiss readers: I use Zopfmehl (or farine pour tresse) when making bread and enriched dough.

* Please note that there is a difference between instant yeast (also called instant dried yeast or fast-action dried yeast) and dried yeast (also called active dry yeast). If you are not sure what type of yeast you have, please check the packaging for instructions on how to use the yeast.
* With instant yeast, you can add it directly to the flour mixture without having to activate it first.
* With dried yeast, you will need to activate it first (usually in some warm liquid).
* If you are using fresh yeast, you will need about one block (40 g fresh yeast = 14 g instant dried yeast). Crumble the fresh yeast into the warm milk, and stir to dissolve the yeast.

Dough needs a warm environment for the yeast to activate and cause the dough to rise. If you don’t have a warm place in your home, try one of the following ideas:
* In the oven with the oven light switched on (works only for some ovens).
* In the oven with a tray of boiling water on the bottom shelf.
* In the oven or a steamer oven at a low temperature of about 25-40°C (77-104°F).

All recipes on this website have been tested on an induction stove and/or with a conventional oven (i.e. an oven without fan). All recipes on this website use temperatures for a conventional oven, unless otherwise mentioned. Convection ovens (i.e. fan-forced ovens) are typically 20°C/70°F hotter than conventional ovens, but please check your manufacturer’s handbook.

To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.