You can get a lighter texture by using softened rather than melted butter and by leaving the dough to rise for 15 minutes before incorporating the butter with an energetic knead. But it’s far more effort, so leave that for when you’re feeling vibrant. I bake this at a much lower temperature, and for longer, than other breads, so the crust stays golden.
375ml whole milk
100ml cold water
2 tsp fast-action yeast
75g unsalted butte plus extra for greasing the tin
625g strong white flour
25g caster sugar or honey
Scant 2 tsp salt Oil for kneading
Boil the milk, then tip into a bowl and leave to cool, stirring in the cold water to bring down the temperature a bit quicker. When it is gently warm, beat in the yeast and leave for five minutes to dissolve. Melt the butter. Add the flour, sugar and salt to the yeast mix, then pour in the butter. Using your hands, work everything to a rough but evenly mixed dough. (At this point, you can adjust it, adding slightly more water for a softer dough that will bake extra-light, or slightly more flour for a dough that will hold its shape better.) Cover and leave for 10 minutes, then lightly oil a patch of worktop and knead the dough for 10 seconds. Return to the bowl and leave to rise for an hour, if you can giving it one or two brief kneads during that time. Butter the inside of a large loaf tin and shape the dough into either two balls or a rolled-up sausage and place smooth side up in the tin. Leave to rise by half, flour the top, cut a slash down the middle and bake at 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4 for 50 minutes. Remove from the tin as soon as it’s baked and leave to cool.
Soft batch rolls
A batch roll or loaf is one that’s placed so close to the others as it bakes that they join at the sides and have to be torn apart after baking. Lightly dusted with flour before baking, they are delicious freshly baked and filled with anything from crisp bacon to the bare coolness of sliced cucumber and salted butter. To make them, divide one quantity of milk loaf dough into mini 50g or large 100g pieces, shape these into balls and sit them touching one another on trays lined with nonstick paper. The trick to getting them extra soft is all in the baking – you want to bake them at a high heat for a short time, because the heat will linger and set the crumb once they’re out of the oven. Bake the rolls at about 220C (200C fan-assisted)/425F/gas mark 7 for 20-25 minutes, just until they’re risen and coloured on top.
Chocolate chip buns
In France, they make a bread similar to this that’s called pain de mie, which is baked as small rolls or sticks studded with chocolate chips and given a glossy egg wash. These are good for those slow mornings when the reassurance of a soft bun trumps anything crisp and flaky.
One quantity milk bread dough
250g chocolate chips
to finish Don’t have the milk or water too warm when you mix the dough, then add the chocolate just after you’ve added the flour and begun to mix it all together. Leave to rise by half, then divide into about 15 pieces, about 100g each. Shape into balls or sticks and space out over two baking trays lined with nonstick paper. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size, then brush with egg and bake at 220C (200C fan-assisted)/425F/gas mark 7 for about 20 minutes, until just golden. Leave to cool on the tray.