Monday, November 29, 2010

No Pain, no Gain: Pain au Chocolat and Pain au Jambon

There is a reason that pain au chocolat tastes so good. One, they’re full of chocolate and butter so what’s not to like? Two, they require a lot of love to make and it comes through in the flavor. The second reason is harder to prove than the first reason but if you’ve ever made homemade pain au chocolat, you can attest.

Pain au chocolat requires making a laminated dough also known as puff pastry, or pâté feuilletée; whatever you care to call it, it’s a labor of love. As in, you’d better love it because you’re about to spend quite a bit of time to make it.

If you’re making pain au chocolat to share with others, you’d better love them, too. Watching them inhale the fruits of your labor in just a few bites, if you don’t love them dearly then you’re just setting yourself up for resentment. If this all sounds convoluted, complex, and a bit overwrought for pastry… well, yes it is and with good reason. Just take a look at the five-part list of instructions in the recipe below. (Point made. Thankyouverymuch.)

So since I love my family and I love pain au chocolat, I decided to make some for a Thanksgiving brunch treat. Just for good measure, I made pain au jambon as well for those family members who might want something more filling to tide them over until dinner.

The pain au chocolat and pain au jambon were amazing, if I do say so myself. I'm going to assume they agreed since they were both gone in a matter of minutes… even though it took 29 hours over three days to make them. But I’m not bitter because I love my family. I just want them to know exactly how much I love them.

What’s a holiday with family without a little resentment?
Pain au Chocolat and Pain au Jambon
adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Tartine’s recipe calls for a preferment, unlike many other puff pastry recipes. The pre-ferment may add additional preparation time but I think the depth of flavor it adds is well worth it. I made the preferment the night before I mixed up the dough and put it in the refrigerator to rise slowly. You’re already investing considerable time if you’re going to make puff pastry so what’s another 12 hours? Also, when baking, don’t worry that the pain au chocolate are burning or will be overdone. You want a deep, rich, toasted brown coloring on the crust - don’t chicken out and take the pans out of the oven too soon or you’ll wind up with soggy, underdone pastry. I had to get used to this deep coloring at LCB- I was always fretting that my pastry was going to burn. I’ve since become accustomed to what my fellow students and I called “French done” after tasting how a very well done crust enhances baked goods.

¾ c non-fat milk (I only had whole milk and it worked just fine)
1 T active dry yeast
c all-purpose flour

1 T + 1 t active dry yeast
1¾ c whole milk
6 c all-purpose flour
c sugar
1 T + 1 t salt
1 T unsalted butter

Roll-in butter
2¾ c unsalted butter (European butter or another high quality, higher fat content butter), cool but pliable

Bittersweet chocolate batons (see my improvisation using a Dagoba 59% dark chocolate bar in the recipe below)
Smoked ham
cheese of your choice- I used cheddar

Egg wash:
4 large egg yolks
¼ c heavy cream
pinch salt

To Make the Preferment:
1. In a small saucepan, take the chill off of the milk - it shouldn’t be hot or cold (between 80° to 90° Fahrenheit).
2. Pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Stir to dissolve the yeast and then add the flour, mixing with a spoon until a smooth batter forms.
3. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
To Make the Dough:
1. Measure out all ingredients and keep near at hand. Transfer the preferment to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and add yeast. Mix on low speed for a minute or two until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter. Stop the mixer as needed and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are evenly mixed in.
2. When the mixture is an even and well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and continue to mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and mix until fully incorporated.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and remaining milk, and mix for approximately 3 minutes until a loose dough forms. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes which will shorten the final mixing phase.
4. After resting, mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough. You will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing the better. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and allow to rise in a cool spot until the volume increases by half, approximately 1½ hours.
5. Lightly flour a work surface and transfer the dough. Press the dough into a rectangle 2 inches thick and wrap the rectangle in plastic, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours.

Prep the butter:
1. About 30 minutes before you are ready to start laminating the dough, take out the butter, unwrap, and place the sticks (if butter is a solid block, cut into 4 quarter sticks) on a piece of wax paper, lined up single file.
2. Place another piece of wax paper on top and use a rolling pin to beat and flatten the sticks into a large rectangle approximately 21 by 8 inches and ½ inch thick. Leave the butter rectangle in the wax paper and return to the refrigerator to chill but still remain pliable.
Laminating the dough:
1. Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches.
2. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, place the flattened rectangle of butter over two-thirds of the length of the dough rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. Use your fingers to push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal the plaque.
3. Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner as described above. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before making the third turn.
4. Before the third turn, use a bench scraper to clean your work surface and then re-dust with flour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner described above to complete the third turn. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before going to bed. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form, proof, and bake. The dough can be frozen for up to 1 week; transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

Assembly and baking:
For pain au chocolat, the dough is traditionally rolled up over chocolate batons. I couldn’t find batons but Dagoba, the maker of some of my favorite chocolate bars, score their bars so that they cut easily into baton-like shapes which worked like a charm. Pain au jambon are made in the traditional croissant shape.

1. When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface with flour again. To make the croissant shaped dough for pain au jambon, roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure approximately 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.
2. Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper or a silicon mat. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Place approximately 1 ounce of thinly sliced ham over 2/3 of the dough with the tip remaining uncovered. Sprinkle cheese or lay thin slices over the ham. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully roll the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges.
3. For the pain au chocolat, cut 6 by 4 inch rectangles of dough and place approximately 1 to 2 ounces of chocolate in the center of the rectangle. Start on the long side of the rectangle and roll up.
4. As you form the rolls and croissants, place them on prepared half-sheet pans with plenty of space between. You can mix shapes on one pan or, if preferred, prepare separate pans for the pain au chocolat and jambon. Depending on your baking schedule, you can place the pan(s) in the refrigerator, lightly covered with plastic wrap, to retard the dough before allowing to proof and bake in the morning.
5. When ready to bake, set the pan(s) on the middle rack of an oven (turned off) with another pan of steaming water placed on the bottom rack for approximately 2-3 hours to allow the dough to proof. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.
6. During this final rise, the croissants and rolls should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. Test for doneness by pressing a roll or croissant lightly with a fingertip- if the indentation fills in slowly, they are almost ready to bake. When ready, remove the pans from the oven and set the oven to 425° Fahrenheit to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake, mix up the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly before baking.
8. Place the sheet pans of croissants and rolls into the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 400°F. Leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes and then, working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan(s) 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the rolls and croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants and rolls should be fully baked within 15 to 20 minutes total. They should be a deep golden to almost dark brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and feel light when picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.
11. Remove the croissants and rolls from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm.

Store leftover croissants and rolls in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Recrisp leftovers by popping in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes before serving.


  1. Absolutely incredible. Before I dropped out of pastry school I used to watch our Chef make croissants and pain au chocolat and pray that some day mine would be even 1/2 as perfect as his..yours are gorgeous..congratulations on your efforts..beautiful photos ..You have also inspired me to make croissants this month.

  2. @Seattle Pastry Girl- Thanks- you're too kind. And you should defintely make croissants. They're so worth the effort. Looking for to upcoming Baked Sunday Morning challenges!

  3. Wow - I learned a thing or two just reading about your adventure! I made croissants for French class once but that is as close as I've come to any dough like this. (Is that even close?) I hope your entire family told you over and over that You Are Awesome for making these!

  4. Clearly, I need to become one of your family members. They don't know how good they have it! These are absolutely stunning!

  5. My goodness, what a triumph! These are so beautiful, I could totally see them in any patisserie in Paris. Anyone who can make their own croissants deserves a little halo 0:D
    *kisses* HH

  6. Thanks for the kind words, ladies. I think my family did appreciate the effort even if they didn't stand up and clap (which, of course, was what I expected ;-)

  7. They look amazing! They're perfectly golden, and those layers are lovely. You have one lucky family indeed!

  8. Thanks Lisa- I still have half a plaque of dough in the freezer. Next batch I'm not sharing!

  9. These are so, so beautiful! I've been trying to work up the nerve to make pain au chocolat again & this is all the inspiration that I needed!