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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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!