Pain au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissants)
I have a confession to make.
Okay, actually two:
1) I love Starbucks. Even in LA, this makes me sort of a dufus. But the thing is, I don’t like fancy coffee drinks, nor do I want any whipped cream with that, and I honestly don’t even like coffee. I like espresso. Plain, black espresso. It is the highlight of every morning and sometimes I even find myself wanting to go to bed at night just so I can be drinking my espresso sooner. I drink it iced, maybe with a splash of water, and it is a necessary part of my daily routine. I have been drinking my “coffee” this way since I was 16 years old. Sure, there’s better espresso in the world. I have a very expensive espresso machine at home, which I use often and am somewhat obsessed with. But Starbucks espresso on ice is a glorious, thick, almost bitter liquid gold, and I don’t know why people bother mucking up such pungent perfection with syrups and sprinkles and milk.
2) I love Starbucks’ chocolate croissants. THERE, I SAID IT. For anyone who’s ever had them, they are not like “real” croissants by any means. They are somewhat denser, less buttery (I know, I know), and more bread-like. They don’t really have layers of flaky pastry dough, and they certainly don’t leave a grease stain on the bag they’re served in. To many, this sounds awful (less butter?), but they are their own beast and are a perfect snack (or, um, breakfast) and I snatch one every time I’m in there.
Now, I consider myself something of a pain au chocolat connoisseur. They have been my favorite pastry since I was a little girl. I grew up on a quiet street in (if there is such a thing) suburban Los Angeles, and there was a small family-owned Swiss bakery on the corner. The owner of the bakery lived across the street from us and I would often see him walking to-and-from his shop at all hours of day and night. My mother drove us to school early in the mornings before she went to work and our first stop was always the bakery or a bagel shop. I’m talking 6 AM here, folks. Before the sun was up. We kids had to hang around our respective schools for several hours each morning alone waiting, even before the teachers arrived. It was usually cold, dark, and foggy. And you know, kids hate waiting and all that.
It was unpleasant.
What made it more pleasant was we always had a bag of pastries or cookies or a hot melty bagel with cream cheese to consume while we waited.
I was the scrawniest child you’ve ever seen–diagnosed as a borderline failure to thrive. I was a whopping 50 pounds when I was 10 years old. So mom would stick plenty of sweet carbs in my lunch box and I ate and ate like it was going out of style. Those chocolate croissants were my favorite thing in the world, and I’d try to convince the nanny to walk me down to the corner after school so I could have 2 a day. This continued for a decade.
The bakery closed down once the owner’s wife passed away. He was apparently too heartbroken to continue the business, and he sold his name and 50+ year reputation to a young entrepreneur, who then opened a new location a mile or two down the street. Unfortunately, the new guy also seemed to create his own recipes, as everything in that bakery became complete garbage. I would venture in there once in a while, hoping to relive some part of my childhood, and invariably end up with something I couldn’t even finish.
Since then, I have never tasted a chocolate croissant that “did it” for me. They are fantastic, delicious, buttery things. I’ve had them from every bakery I’ve come across over the years, from here to Madrid, but they are not what I have wanted.
Like I said, the old man’s croissants were almost like a roll, stuffed with just enough chocolate for each bite. Mini chocolate nibs dripped out of each side of them, and the dough itself had a lovely chew and wasn’t too sweet.
The point of all this reminiscing (you mean rambling?) is that those mass-produced Starbucks croissants are the closest thing to the old man’s that I’ve had in all these years. That is what makes me love them so much. Nostalgia.
So when I came across this recipe on Serious Eats, I was intrigued. First of all, the rolls looked exactly like what I was after. They are not a traditionally made laminated yeast dough, with blocks of butter and crispy fine layers. And I feel the need to say it again: there is nothing wrong with butter blocks and crispy layers. They are delicious and make me a stupid drooling buffoon. But they are a different sort of wonderful, and that is a post for another day.
The second thing I noticed about the recipe were the nontraditional ingredients and method for this dough. There is sour cream!
I immediately ran into the kitchen (yes, literally) and put the dough together, set it in the fridge, and waited in anticipation for the yeast to work its magic overnight.
Exactly what dreams (and nostalgia) are made of. These tasted so similar to what I remember the old man’s croissants tasting like. I couldn’t believe it. There are a few tweaks I might make next time (particularly in the shaping and type of chocolate used), but these things really took me back a good 20 years to my childhood. I enjoyed the whole process of making them, and have spread some cheer on this gloomy overcast day by sharing them with loved ones. My friends’ eyes all lit up at the thought of homemade pain au chocolat. Even if they aren’t “traditional.” One friend commented he liked these far better, that they reminded him of something from his own childhood which he couldn’t quite place.
Thank you Serious Eats for this wonderful dough. It will be a new staple in my kitchen! Interestingly enough, the author of the recipe (dbcurrie) says she created this recipe in a fit of nostalgia as well. And I’m so glad she did, as this will definitely become a new regular in my kitchen.
Pain Au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissants)
Dough recipe from Serious Eats
- 1 cup cool water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter
- chocolate of your choice–I used Barry Callebaut pain au chocolat sticks ordered from King Arthur Flour
- 1 egg, beaten with a little water for an eggwash
1. In a medium bowl, mix water, yeast, sugar and sour cream. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.
2. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of your food processor. Cut the butter into about a dozen chunky pieces, and drop the into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse the food processor a few times, as you would for a pie dough. You’re looking for pieces about the size of a chickpea. Some larger chunks are fine, and it’s also fine if some are smaller. It’s not an exact process.
3. Transfer the flour mixture to the bowl with the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the mixture gently, just to moisten all the flour, trying not to break or mash the butter chunks any more than necessary.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
5. The next day, generously flour your work surface and turn the dough out. You’ll probably need to use more flour as you roll out the dough, so keep it handy.
6. Pat the dough into a rough rectangle, then roll it out to about 12 x 16 inches. You don’t have to be exact. Rough dimensions are fine. The butter will be chunky and clumpy in the dough. That’s fine.
7. Fold the dough in thirds, as you’d fold a letter.
8. Roll the dough again to the roughly the same size as before, and fold in thirds again. You don’t need to measure, just eyeball that you’re rolling to about that size.
9. Working quickly, so the butter doesn’t soften too much or begin to melt, do the roll-and-fold twice more, then fold the dough in half, wrap it in plastic wrap, and toss it into the refrigerator. It should rest there for at least an hour, but you can leave it until the next day.
10. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, cut it into two pieces, and return half to the refrigerator while you work on the other half.
11. Flatten the piece of dough a bit, then cut it into eight roughly equal pieces. Roll the first piece to about 3 x 6 inches. Take one (or two!) chocolate batons and place at one end of the dough and roll it up. Place rolls, seam-side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Leave plenty of room between the rolls.
12. When all eight rolls are finished, cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. You can continue rolling the next eight or save the dough for the next day.
13. After 30 minutes, the rolls won’t have risen much, but they will feel puffy. Brush the rolls with the eggwash and bake at 400 degrees until they are nicely browned.
14. Let rolls cool slightly before eating.