Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pain au Chocolat: My Favorite Treat for Guests

I love guests. For me, there is nothing more exciting and fun than preparing for a visit from friends or family, tidying up the house, picking flowers for their room, making things special for their stay. My favorite thing to do when preparing for guests is to plan meals and bake extra treats. Most often, time permitting of course, I go all out and make Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissants). Homemade croissants are delightful and addictive. The process is rather easy, yet it is a full day when I must be nearby to pay attention to this
delicate dough. 

For croissants, all conditions must be perfect. The butter must be at precisely the right temperature. The room temperature must be perfect. The dough must have the right amount of moisture. When you meet all of the conditions and you truly have the time to pay proper attention to the process, you will find this recipe the most satisfying of all. The croissant honestly does melt in your mouth. This dough is perfect for filling with chocolate for a delicious pan au chocolat or a savory cheese for pan au fromage. 

Pain au Chocolat
Croissant Dough

¾ cup (182 grams) room temp whole milk
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
½ tablespoon (4.5 grams) active dry yeast
2 cups (91 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (not self rising)
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt
18 tablespoons (255 grams) unsalted butter (the best quality you can find)
9 ounces (170 grams) dark chocolate

1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

The Process
Warm the milk to no more than 110 degrees F. Proof the yeast in two tablespoons of the tepid milk along with ½ teaspoon of the sugar for about 20 minutes.

Blend all but 1 tablespoon of the flour with the yeast mixture, remaining sugar and salt using a food processor with a metal blade (pulse to blend). Transfer this to the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attachment and add the remaining milk. Mix on low speed to moisten the flour then increase to medium speed and beat for 4 minutes until the dough cleans the side of the bowl (it will still be sticky to touch). Turn it out into a lightly oiled bowl and turn over so the oil covers it all.  Keep covered with a warm, moist towel for 30 minutes.

Gently deflate the dough and refrigerate it for 2 hours.

Place the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour on a sheet of plastic wrap and place the butter on top of it. Wrap the plastic wrap loosely around the butter and pound gently with a rolling pin until softened (be careful not to allow the butter to get too soft). You want the butter to be workable and still cool. If you are not going to use it at once, keep it cool but be careful not to allow it to get cold. You basically want it so that it is soft enough to be folded in with the dough but not so cold that it will break through the dough. As soon as the flour has been incorporated into the butter, shape the butter into a 5-inch square no thicker than 3/4 of an inch.

Flour your counter, table or pastry board (if you are so lucky to have one!) and roll out the dough into an 8-inch square. Place the butter square diagonal on the dough square. Lightly mark out the shape of the butter into the dough. Remove the butter and roll each corner of the dough into a flap. Moisten the flaps lightly with water, replace the butter and wrap the butter square by folding the flaps of dough up and over the butter. Stretch the flaps to reach across the butter. 

Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes (no longer).

Again, flour your working surface very well. Place the dough seam side up and lightly flour it. Roll it out into a 7-inch by 16-inch rectangle. Fold it as you would a letter (into thirds). Brush off the excess flour and wrap in plastic wrap. This is your first “turn” – you want to do a total of 4! 

Refrigerate for 20-40 minutes (not longer). 

Repeat the rolling and folding process three more times, being sure to keep positioning the dough so the closed side is on your left before rolling. 

Refrigerate for 20-40 minutes between each fold. 

You may find that you will need to turn the dough over occasionally as you roll it out each time so as to keep the seams and edges even.
Once you make your final fourth turn, cover loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

On a well floured surf
ace, roll the dough to a 6 inch by 24 inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife (I use a pizza wheel as it make for a quick and even cut) cut the dough in half lengthwise to make 2 rectangles 3 inches by 24 inches. Cut each rectangle crosswise into 4-inch pieces. Brush off all excess flour.

Place a piece of chocolate on the edge of the long side of a piece of dough. Shape the pains one at a time by rolling up the dough so that in encloses the chocolate. Keep the rest of the dough covered with plastic wrap while you work with each pain.

When all the pains are formed, brush them with the egg glaze. 

Allow the pains to rise for
about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and set an oven rack on the lowest level. Five minutes before you put the pains in the oven, place a pan of water with a pinch of cream of tartar  on the lowest rack. Place the pains in the oven and turn the temperature down to 400 degrees F. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove the pains and place the pans on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes.

You can refrigerate the unbaked pains overnight and bake in the morning but you will have to allow 3- 3 ½ hours rising time.

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