Slicing loaves are fine, but I really crave petits pains (little breads). Dinner rolls, petit baguettes, individual focaccia buns, breadsticks, or my grandmother’s crusty-to-hard white bread baked in a muffin tin: small shaped breads posssess a higher ratio of crust to crumb than a slice carved off of larger loaf. Plus, smaller shapes freeze well, making hot rolls as easy as turning on the toaster oven.
These little breads are made from Dan Leader’s baguette normal recipe in (p. 66 of Local Breads), which is as simple as bread can be, containing just water, yeast, flour, and salt and requiring no lengthy ferment or retarding. He calls for 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 tsp instant yeast, 3 1/4 cups flour, and 1 1/2 tsps sea salt…..for the batch of petits pains pictured, I used King Arthur unbleached bread flour, and I reduced the salt to 1 tsp. All ingredients go into the mixer’s bowl for a quick stirring and 20 minute rest. Next, knead the dough at a slow speed for 10-12 minutes (#2 on a KitchenAid with a dough hook), then turn it into an oiled bowl or trough to rise. After 45 minutes, gently remove it from the container, press lightly into a rectangle, and fold like a letter (fold into thirds onto itself). Return the dough to the rising container and wait another 45 minutes.
Now for the shaping: the dough can be cut into long, skinny lengths for baguettes, or you can very lightly pat it into a square and cut into 12 equal pieces. The key is to retain as much of the dough’s loft as possible; you’ll see lots of bubbles just under the surface. Arrange the shaped little breads on a piece of parchment. Proof for 30 minutes; meanwhile, preheat a baking stone to 450 F in the oven, along with a cast iron skillet on the oven floor. Slash the little breads, if desired, and place in the hot oven, along with three or four ice cubes added to the cast iron pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Try not to eat them all, hot, with butter (they freeze well, remember?)