Pains Au (Ohhhhhh) Chocolat

There was a time, not too long ago, when, like many of today’s youth, I was in college. That time was four years ago. …Sigh. I’m still jealous of people who get to be college students – people who get to live in dorms and apartments surrounded by all of their friends, who get to spend gorgeous fall days reading novels (or, um, maybe just drinking grain alcohol) outside “on the quad,” get to take naps at 1:00 pm on a Tuesday… people who get to spend a semester studying abroad.

When I was in college (those four, long years ago), I took the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Paris.


View from la Tour Montparnasse

Pyramide du Louvre

Place des Vosges

View from the Seine

Notre Dame

Sacre Coeur

La Moulin Rouge


The experience was, on the whole, awesome. I lived with a french family, the Fraisses, in the 15th arrondissement – Hughes, Brigitte, and their 20-year-old daughter, Solveig. They were perfectly lovely and did their best to try to make me, an awkward, semi-french-speaking college kid, feel comfortable in their spare bedroom. I lived with them for five months and ate dinner with them nearly three days a week, but, though we tried to connect, French to American and American to French, we were never really close, the Fraisses and me. I think it’s because of the food.

Three nights a week, I’d sit down to dinner with the Fraisse family and, three nights a week, it would be weird. Forget coq au vin or saumon en croute, heck, forget a simple wheel of brie – the Fraisse family liked to eat fish sticks from the freezer and sad, limp pains au chocolat that came out of a supermarket package. They once served me soup that contained spaghetti noodles, grapefruit slices, and mussels out of the shell. I’m not sure where they got the idea for that recipe, but let me tell you, it was a bad one.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or snobby – I like fish sticks just as much as the next person and I did, afterall, very politely choke down the entire bowl of grapefruit/mussel/noodle soup, but I mean come on – I was in Paris, for goodness sake! I had an entire world of culinary mastery at my fingertips – crusty breads and smelly cheeses and meltingly braised meats – and there I was, at la dinner table des Fraisses, eating a frozen fillet of cod.

You know what? I didn’t care about the cod. I could deal with those unfortunate mussels. What really got me were the pains au chocolat. Those poor, sad little pains au chocolat, dense and soggy in their packaging, looking like little chocolate-studded lumps of defeat.

In all fairness, the Fraisses made up for all of their culinary shortcomings by being an exceedingly nice family and always having a jar of Nutella in the cabinet, but to this day, the thought of those heavy, stale, storebought pains au chocolat makes me wince. So whenever I see a real, fresh, patisserie-style pain au chocolat, flaky, chewy and airy, butter-scented and filled with pockets of deep chocolate, I sigh a great, heaving breath of pains au chocolat relief.
And I gobble it right up.

 

Pains Au Chocolat

Chocolate-Filled Croissants

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams bread flour
  • 65 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 40 grams butter, pounded with a rolling pin (between sheets of plastic wrap) until it is soft and has the consistency of hand cream.
  • 25 grams fresh yeast (can substitute 13 grams active dry yeast)
  • 125 grams water
  • 125 grams milk
  • 300 grams butter
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • chocolate bâtons
Directions:
Making the croissant dough:
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the 40 grams of softened butter, and mix until incorporated.
Dissolve the yeast in the water and milk, and then add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, mixing just to combine. The dough should be very rough and shaggy. Gather it into a ball, and wrap the dough in plastic wrap, shaping it into a square as you do so. Let the dough chill and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
When the dough is fully rested, roll it out into a rectangle approximately 3/8-inch thick.
Prepare to incorporate the 300 grams of butter – place the butter between sheets of plastic wrap and smash it with a rolling pin until it is as soft as the rest of the dough. Shape the butter into a square – this will be place on top of the rolled out rectangle of croissant dough and folded in, so you want to make sure that your square of butter is large enough to cover 2/3 of the croissant dough.
Place your large butter square over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangular croissant dough.
Now, for the folding – think of a business letter. Fold the top flap of croissant dough, which should be free of any butter, down, on top of the middle 1/3 of the buttered dough. Then, fold the bottom 1/3 of buttered dough up, so it rests on top of the other two sections of folded dough. It now looks like a business letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the fold is now on the left, and then gently press the dough together with the rolling pin, so that the package of dough compresses slightly. This is called a “letter turn,” and you’ve just completed one.
Wrap the croissant dough and chill it for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough onto a floured board, and place it so that the seam of your “letter” is on the right. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 3/8-inch thick. Do another letter turn – fold the top third of the dough down, and fold the bottom third up, making a package of dough that looks like a business letter. Re-wrap the dough and chill it for another 30 minutes.
The same rolling/folding/turning process will be repeated 1 more time, for a total of 3 letter turns, resulting in consistent, distinct layers of butter and dough – this kind of dough is called a laminated dough.
Important: be sure to wait at least 20 – 40 minutes between each “turn” of the dough – this helps the gluten to relax and prevents the butter from melting out, and ultimately results in a flakier, more tender croissant.
At this stage, the package of croissant dough may be frozen for future use.
Assembling the pains au chocolat:
Using a sharp knife and pressing straight down, cut the package of croissant dough in half. Roll the two halves of croissant dough into two rectangles, each approximately 24 by 8 inches and approximately 1/4-inch thick. Next, cut each rectangle of dough in half the long way, so you end up with 4 long rectangles of dough, each roughly 24 wide by 4 inches high.
Place two of the rectangles on a sheet pan and chill them in the refrigerator. Working with the two remaining pieces, brush the top edge of each rectangle with egg wash. Place a row of chocolate bâtons along the bottom edge of each piece of dough, opposite the side with the egg wash.
Fold the near edge over the bâtons and place a second row of bâtons on the dough. Fold the dough again to encase the second row of chocolate bâtons, and to meet the egg-washed edge.

You should now have a long roll of dough containing two rows of chocolate bâtons. Slice the log into individual pastries, about every 4-inches. Place the raw pains au chocolat onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure to spread them out evenly, leaving them plenty of room to expand. Repeat the entire process with the two remaining rectangles of dough.

Cover the raw pastries with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (such as PAM), and leave the baking sheet to sit in a warm place for about 30 minutes to allow the croissants to proof. Make sure that they’re not left to sit someplace too hot, or the butter in the dough will melt out. The ideal temperature for proofing pains au chocolat is about 75 degrees F.

After the croissants have proofed for about 30 minutes, or once they are nearly doubled in size, brush them with egg wash, completely covering the exposed surfaces but not allowing the egg wash to drip or pool.
Bake the pains au chocolat at 350 degrees Farenheit for 15 to 20 minutes, or until medium brown and flaky.
Once finished, remove from the oven and place the pastries on a cooling rack – this will prevent them from getting soggy.
This recipe makes about 20 pains au chocolat. You could probably halve the recipe, but as these are so labor-intensive, you may want to make a full recipe and either freeze the unshaped dough for later use, or freeze the assembled, un-proofed and un-eggwashed pastries. Then, when you want fresh pains au chocolat, you can remove a few, unbaked, from the freezer, place them on a sheet pan and bake them from frozen.
Important notes to remember about assembling pains au chocolat:
  • Do not roll the dough too thinly, or the layers in the dough will be destroyed.
  • Keep the dough chilled at all times while working with it.
  • Use only a little bit of flour on the bench when shaping the pastries.
  • When rolling the chocolate into the dough and assembling the pastry, try to make sure that the seam runs down the middle of the pastry – this will prevent the pain au chocolat from unraveling while it bakes.
  • Pains au chocolat do not keep well, and should be served the day they are baked.
  • If, however, you are wondering what to do with day-old pains au chocolat, use them to make bread pudding!
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3 Responses to Pains Au (Ohhhhhh) Chocolat

  1. Anonymous says:

    i want to go to there

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Molly
    I'm Stacey, a friend of Charlie's. I was interested in seeing your blog and I LOVE it!! You are quite talented in your cooking/baking and writing. When I can get motivated enough, I plan to attempt baking pain au chocolat. I never new how much work and time went into making those. Charlie and I were based in Paris together, and have had my fair share of those pastries. I have a new found appreciation for them now. Thanks for sharing all you are doing and I'll stay posted. Thanks! Stacey

  3. molly says:

    Stacey – thanks so much for reading! Pains au chocolat are definitely time consuming, but SO worth it when you pull a freshly baked (by your own hand!) one out of the oven! Good luck making them, and let me know if you have any questions!

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