When I was a Junior in college I took a semester and spent 6 months abroad to study creative writing at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England. Well OK... I spent 6 months abroad and went to a couple classes while I was there. I mean who really studies when they "study abroad," right?
But I did take advantage of my time in England. I got to know the locals (I bartended under-the-table at a local night club), I learned the customs (my boss taught me to roll my own cigarettes), and I enjoyed the cuisine (I binged on digestives and got sloshed on "snakebites"). And for a month in the Spring my friend Joe and I spent "Easter Holiday" carousing around Europe taking in the sights, eating delectables, and developing our wine palettes. It was heaven.
We made a breakfast tradition in each town we visited (from London to Madrid to Valencia to Barcelona to Nice to Rome to Cinque Terre to Florence to Vienna to Munich to Geneva to Mallorca) and treated ourselves to some of the best chocolate croissants I've ever had - and we weren't even really in France! Can you believe there was a delightful little bakery near every hostel/1-star hotel we stayed in? Bakeries with chocolate croissants?? It was like fate.
So we ate piles of fresh seafood and pasta and drank a LOT of red wine on the trip - we even went sky diving in the Swiss Alps! - but after all that eating I'm convinced the extra 10 "vacation" pounds that came home with me consisted solely of flakey, buttery, chocolately croissants (with some gelato on top).
I've been wanting to re-create them since (it's been 6 years) but the time and labor involved with homemade croissants has always stopped me. There is some overnight chilling (and then some more) and lots of folding and chilling and re-folding before you even get to bake them. But last week (in a separate conversation) someone told me "there's no time like right now" and then today I happened to find Willow Bird Baking - so we're giving it a shot!
Tonight I fitted the dough hook to the KitchenAid and made some croissant dough. And tomorrow I'll be folding and turning. And then Wednesday night (God willing) we'll have golden puffed pain au chocolat. Just like the bakery in Rome. Kinda.
So stick with me for the next couple days and let's see how it goes... this is just part 1.
Pain au Chocolat
adapted from Willow Bird Baking (which was adapted from Gourmet)
For the dough and butter block:
3/4 cup cold whole milk, heated to 110 F (use a candy thermometer)
2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
One 1/4 oz. package active dry yeast
1 1/2 plus 6 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
Make the dough package; heat milk to 110 degrees F. Stir warm milk, brown sugar, and milk in bowl of standing mixer and let stand until foamy, about about 5 minutes. Add flour and salt and mix with dough hook on low speed until dough is smooth and very soft, about 7 minutes.
Transfer dough to a work surface and knead by hand 2 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, a little at a time, to make a soft slightly sticky dough. Form dough into a rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, overnight.
Make the butter block; arrange sticks of butter horizontally, their sides touching, on a work surface. Pound butter with a rolling pin to soften slightly, butter should be malleable but still cold. Scrape butter into a block and put on plastic wrap, then cover with additional plastic wrap. Pound and roll out on both sides until butter forms a uniform rectangle. Wrap and chill overnight.