Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pain au chocolat

I don't believe in taking things slow. After never having baked anything more complicated than chocolate chip cookies my whole life, I cranked out a few loaves of bread to great success.

That was way too easy, I thought. I needed a challenge. And I needed chocolate.

I recalled a conversation I'd had with Beth where we were discussing, of all things, baking. She commented that she hadn't yet worked up the gumption to try her hand at croissant because it was so complicated. Now, she certainly didn't intend the comment to be a challenge, but I took it as one to challenge myself.

Could I make croissant?
Jacque Torres made it sound fairly doable...and even explained how to make the divine pain au chocolat, which would certainly take care of my chocolate cravings.
I decided to dive in.

Pain au chocolat
Makes 16 pastries

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dry active yeast
generous 1/2 cup cold water
3 1/3 cup bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
generous 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 lb + 2 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature to spreadable consistency

~9oz bittersweet or dark chocolate - GOOD QUALITY - use chips or chop up bar chocolate

Egg wash:
2 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
scant 1/4 cup whole milk
scant 1 tablespoon sugar

Several hours before you start, take the large quantity of butter out of the fridge and place in a bowl to soften. It should be of spreading consistency when you start the dough.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter and allow to cool to room temperature. It should still be pourable, but not hot.
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the cold water.
Place the flour, salt, sugar, milk, and melted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. On medium speed, mix until the ingredients are just dispersed.
Add the dissolved yeast and mix at medium-high speed for 2 minutes, or until dough begins to form and pulls away from side of the bowl.
Check the consistency of your dough. If it's very sticky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. If it's very dry and stiff, add milk 1 tablespoon at a time.
The dough is ready when it's soft, springy, clings to the dough hook in a ball, and is only a tiny bit sticky. Add flour or milk until you hit that point. (I had to add almost 2/3 cup more flour to get it right)
Remove the dough hook and scrape dough off it with floured hands.
Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of flour over dough in the mixing bowl and use your hands to gently form it into a ball, turning to coat the whole thing lightly in flour.
Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough proof for 30 minutes.

Remove dough to your work surface. You can either lightly flour your counter or wherever you normally work, but what I did was take a length of parchment paper, 15" wide by about 36" long and lay it out over my surface.
Knead the dough gently a few times. If it's sticking badly to your hands, incorporate a bit more flour into it.
Roll the dough into an 8" x 15" rectangle about 1/4" thick. This is where that parchment paper came in handy, for measuring purposes as well as easy mess cleanup!
Wrap the dough in parchment paper or plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet or some other hard surface, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and return to your work surface. Bring the softened butter! If you're using the parchment paper method, you just need to unwrap and go. Otherwise, lightly flour your work surface again.
Lay the dough so the long side faces you. Spread the butter over the right 2/3 of the dough. I found a silicone spatula to work well for this, but it's going to be messy regardless.
Fold the (butterless) left third of the dough over the center, then fold the right third of the dough to the left. Now it should resemble a folded letter. This is called a "single fold."
Roll this out into another 10" x 30" rectangle about 1/8" thick.
Give the dough a book fold, or double fold, by folding each short end to the middle so they meet but do not overlap. Then fold one half over the other half like you're closing a book. Jacques may balk at me doing this, but the parchment paper makes some of the folding much easier, and your hot hands don't have to touch the dough as often, thus there's less butter melting.
Re-wrap the dough, put it back on your baking sheet, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

At this point, you can leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight and finish the pastries the next morning if you want.

Remove dough to your work surface again - either parchment paper lined or lightly floured.
Roll into another 10" x 30" rectangle and turn it so the long side faces you.
Give the dough a single fold by folding the left third of the dough over the center. Then fold the right third of the dough to the left.
Re-wrap the dough and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes for its final chill.

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Remove the dough to your work surface once again, and this time roll it into a 10" x 36" rectangle about 1/4" or so thick. Try to keep it looking as much like a rectangle as possible, as this will make slicing easier.

Get ready to work quickly!!!
With a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, slice the dough into 16 equal rectangles. I cut 4 even strips long-wise, then cut each of those into 4 equal rectangles.
Lay each rectangle on your work surface, with the long side facing you, and place about 1/2 tablespoon of the chocolate in the upper third of each one. Fold that third of the dough over the chocolate. Place about another 1/2 tablespoon of the chocolate along one seam of the folded dough. Fold the bottom third of the dough over the chocolate.

At this stage, they can be frozen for up to one week if well wrapped in plastic wrap. Thaw on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.

Turn over the pastries so the seams face down. This will keep them from opening as they bake. Place them on your prepared baking sheet. They'll get bigger as they proof and bake, so space them about 2 inches apart.
When you've formed all 16 pastries, loosely cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap or floured tea towels and let the pastries proof at room temperature until they've doubled in size and look all airy and poofy: 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare the egg wash by whisking the ingredients above together well.
When the pastries are doubled in size, gently brush the egg wash over them to cover completely.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees until golden brown and delicious. (mine took about 12 minutes)

They're best fresh from the oven - though let them cool for a few minutes so the chocolate doesn't burn your mouth! - but they're also delicious eaten at room temperature the next morning.

You can wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for about 2 weeks. Thaw at room temperature and warm in the oven if desired.


Beth said...

Just a plug for The Best Chocolate Ever: Lake Champlain Chocolates. And trust me, I know chocolate! Like a high-quality boutique Belgian, but ultra-fresh because it is made in Vermont. Just thinking about that chocolate in this recipe is making me do the Homer Simpson drool...

Anonymous said...

No, no, no. The best chocolate is the Scharffen Berger 70%!