What the heck, it’s a rainy Sunday, cold and windy, perfect day to stay inside and play with haute cuisine. It’s a day made for making Pain au Chocolat.
These are fluffy French pastry, a square, flaky croissant wrapped around a pair of melted chocolate sticks. With (American style) biscuits firmly in my repertoire, it was time to raise my game, and this looks perfect. I fished around for a good recipe, settling on one from French Food @ About.com that looked authentic: more pastry and less cake-y. There are some tricky spots in the recipe (“Fold the dough like an envelope over the butter”), but one cook’s experience and a handy YouTube video gave me the confidence to dig in.
1) Making the dough: This actually is pretty straightforward: self-rising flour, salt, sugar, milk, yeast. I always like working with yeast: it comes to life when I mix it and the smell is intoxicating. The kneading by hand, getting from a coarse mixture to a silky rubbery ball of dough, is very relaxing after a stressful week
2) The first rolling: While the dough rises, there’s a requirement to roll out chilled butter into a sheet between two pieces of parchment paper. This is tricky, if the butter is too warm, it sticks to everything; too cold and it won’t roll out; too thin it breaks. I got it rolled and refrigerated, rolled out the yeast-dough, and laid the butter layer over it. The dough folds over the butter like an envelope, and it’s ready to start working.
3) Folding and layering. The layers are formed by successive folding over and rolling out, again and again, the layers forming as flour, dough, and butter interleave as the process goes along. The trick is to keep it all from mashing together, so only a few folds are permitted before it all has to be refrigerated again. I got a good rhythm of 5 minutes folding and rolling, 30 minutes chilling (both me and the dough). For three hours.
4) Rolling up the chocolate. The chocolate bar had eight sticks, half the number I needed for 8 pains and each too large to roll up. I wanted to cut them lengthwise, and hit on the strategy of warming the knife in the electric kettle before each cut. It still broke the sticks into pieces, but it was close. In the future, I would cut them cross-ways. I rolled out the dough one last time, cut into eight rectangles, and rolled in the chocolate.
5) Rising and baking. The finished pastries were supposed to sit and rise, but after an hour, nothing. I put them into a warm closet upstairs and the yeast got to work: I had nice pillowy pains in 40 minutes. Brush with an egg-milk mix and into the over at 19C for 15 minutes. Things browned too quickly: I’d use a slightly lower heat next time.
But, I was rewarded with really lovely, credible Pain au Chocolat. Mine are nice and light, but not as flaky as the the restaurant version, a bit more like a brioche? But really good: the reheat well and I have tried freezing a few.
Chocolate Fondant is the next challenge…