As a kid I absolutely hated raisins. They are wrinkly, shriveled, and sad. People touted them as “just grapes, but dried!” but I couldn’t force myself to eat them. Even covered in milk chocolate or yogurt coatings, I knew that shriveled little grape was still in there.
An old favorite movie of mine, Benny and Joon (1993), described raisins perfectly:
“They (grapes) used to be fat and juicy and now they're twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really they're just humiliated grapes. I can't say I am a big supporter of the raisin council.”
And that’s how I felt, well, feel. Still to this day I refuse to eat raisins and most dried fruits for that matter. There is, however, one dessert that uses raisins that I am 100% not opposed to. Did you guess what it is already? Pain aux Raisins. A French classic, Pain aux Raisin is typically a pastry made with laminated dough, filled with pastry cream and raisins, and rolled into a spiral shape. It’s also known as '“escargot” because they look like little snail shells (in the best way possible of course).
Now since I live in Utah, it’s very hard to find truly authentic French pastries. Some bakeries do a good job but there is always something missing from them. French charm, maybe. So after trying countless bakeries and coffee shops, I decided that if I wanted good pastries I would just have to make them myself.
I have attempted, many many times, to make laminated dough. All times I failed. I believe that it is because I have naturally very hot hands and the butter can’t help but disintegrate despite putting it in the fridge every 10 minutes. After those failed attempts at pastry dough I had almost given up on making homemade French Pastries. Then I found a recipe for Japanese Milk Bread.
If you have never had milk bread, you need to try it. And by that I mean that you need to make it yourself. I found a Youtube video (linked here) and I decided to give it a go. The results: perfectly pillowy, soft, and luscious bread that tasted like pure milk. I can only describe it as the best white bread you will ever have.
Milk bread is know for it’s beautifully soft texture and long glutenous strands when you pull it apart. It is also known for keeping it’s perfect texture for extended periods of time (good luck keeping it around very long) because it uses a method called “tangzhong”. The tangzhong method is where you cook a small portion of flour and water on a stove until it becomes thick. You then add this to the bread later on which contributes to the breads overall texture as well as giving it a longer shelf life.
Since I had great success making milk bread, I decided to try a classic French pastry using it. Sure it wasn’t a laminated dough but it still had a texture that would certainly work. Once the Pain aux Raisins came out of the oven I was stunned. They looked and smelled amazing. I couldn’t wait to cut into one of them.
The results; a fluffy and soft bread filled with a cinnamon infused pastry cream and dotted with plump raisins. Now as I mentioned above, I hate raisins, but I have a love for French culture so I really wanted to try Pain aux Raisins. So what I did was make a vanilla simple syrup mixture and soak the raisins in it overnight. Et voilà! Plump and juicy raisins, the only kind I like. And the pastry cream inside is a classic vanilla pastry cream that I added a couple cinnamon sticks to while the cream heated up. The cinnamon flavor is subtle but really compliments the other flavors.
If you’re afraid to attempt making a classic french pastry, I highly suggest starting with this recipe for Pain aux Raisins and using it as a foundation. Hopefully one day I can master laminated dough. Until then, I will be using this milk bread in every possible way.
If you give this recipe a try, please share your thoughts, comments, and/or photos with me. I would love to hear from you! Also, tag me on Instagram @persona.kitchen so I can see your photos. Happy baking everyone!
A Quick Note:
Like I mentioned in my Ham & Cheese Bun post, the actual Milk Bread recipe is not mine. I found a video on Youtube and decided to try it. I only “translated” the instructions from watching the video. I’m not very savvy when it comes to bread and I definitely did not trust myself to develop a milk bread recipe all on my own. The recipe is from a Youtube channel called Umi’s Baking. I will link to the Youtube video and blog below.
Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc3coiL36Cg&t=302s
Umi’s Cooking and Baking Blog: https://blog.naver.com/ydiddnal/221397914872
Pain aux Raisins (Raisin Buns)
For the Tangzhong
40 g All Purpose Flour
200 g Water
For the rest of the Milk Bread
580 g All Purpose Flour
60 g Sugar
12 g Kosher Salt
10 g Active Dry Yeast
10 g Dried Milk Powder
260 g Whole Milk, room temperature
50 g Egg, whisked & room temperature
Tangzhong (recipe above)
50 g Butter, room temperature
For the Pastry Cream
½ Cup White Granulated Sugar
¼ Cup Cornstarch
½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 Cups Whole Milk
4 Egg Yolks
Seeds from ½ of a Vanilla Bean
2 Cinnamon Sticks
¼ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
For the Raisins
1 Cup Raisins
1 Cup Water
1 Cup White Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 egg + 1 tsp water, whisked, for the egg wash
Coarse Sugar, for topping
¼ cup Water + ¼ Sugar, for the sugar syrup coating
Make the Cinnamon Pastry Cream
In a medium sized saucepan, add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and whisk until there are no lumps of cornstarch.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla bean seeds, and ground cinnamon until fully combined. Pour the egg + milk mixture slowly into the sugar + cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly until you have a lump-free mixture. Add in the cinnamon sticks.
Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard is thick like pudding. Take the custard off the heat, remove the cinnamon sticks, and stir in the cubed butter until evenly combined.
Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the custard through the sieve and into the bowl— this will catch any lumps that may have formed during the cooking process.
Cover the custard with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic wrap touches the entire surface of the custard to prevent a ‘film’ from forming on the top of it.
Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least two hours but preferably overnight.
Prepare the Raisins
In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is fully dissolved. Take the saucepan off the heat and transfer the simple syrup to a bowl. Stir in the vanilla and then add in the raisins and make sure that they are fully submerged.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight.
When ready to use, drain the raisins (no need to rinse!). Dry thoroughly with a few paper towels. Set aside.
Make the Tangzhong
Whisk together the flour and milk in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened like pudding— this will take about 1-2 minutes. Continue cooking for a full 60 seconds.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Once ready to make the milk bread, take the tangzhong out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature before adding it to the dough.
Make the Milk Bread
In a bowl, mix together the ham and cheese until evenly combined. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and dried milk powder and mix until evenly combined.
Add in the milk, eggs, and tangzhong and mix on low speed until a shaggy dough forms— 3 minutes. Add in the butter and mix on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes or until you have a smooth dough. Stop the mixer and shape the dough into a smooth ball.
Butter a large bowl lightly and transfer the ball of dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm space for 45 minutes-1 hour or until the dough has tripled in size.
Deflate the dough by punching it down with your hands. Cut the dough into 12 even portions. Shape each piece of dough into a ball and place on a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour. Cover the balls of dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Once rested, roll out one piece of dough into a rectangle that is roughly 9x5 inches. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of the cinnamon pastry cream into a thin even layer on the dough. Scatter raisins across the dough— use as much or as little raisins as you prefer.
Roll the rectangle into a spiral lengthwise and pinch the seems closed. Using a sharp knife, cut the spiral in half down the center leaving about an inch of the dough at the top uncut. You should now have two long pieces of dough that are connected at one end. Take the two lose pieces of dough and fold them over each other like a braid. Carefully twist the “braid” into a snail shape and tuck the ends under the bun. Place the rolled bun back onto the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Once you have shaped all of the balls of dough, let rise for 15 minutes longer.
Brush the buns with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until evenly golden brown.
While the buns are baking, combine the sugar and water (for the sugar syrup) in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Once the buns are done baking, remove them from the oven and immediately brush with the sugar syrup. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before enjoying!