Sunday, November 28, 2010

give thanks: pain au chocolat, take 2

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! I hope it was fabulous and filled with food coma(s) and family.

I've been home for the past week in Western PA and a "dead" video card on my parents desktop computer prevented me from posting all of the deliciousness that went down my gullet during the holiday. And... now I'm on a 5-day juice cleanse to detox from all of that deliciousness, so I'm anti-solid food until Saturday. But don't worry! I took pictures! And I saved recipes! And I'll be posting them all week (and salivating into my kale juice while I do so).

First up is something I'm truly thankful for. After a first brutal attempt, last week I gave thanks for... full-size kitchens and good yeast! Because apparently that (and lots of patience) is all you need to make patisserie-quality chocolate croissants. On Wednesday afternoon, with Turkey Day prep covered in foil and casserole dishes stacked in the fridge, I decided to give croissants another try. They'd been vexing me since the last unsuccessful attempt and I figured I had the best conditions to try again: a full-sized kitchen with plenty of counter space for rolling (and rolling, and rolling).

So I pulled up a new recipe and got to it. I think the recipe made all the difference but I also know why the last one didn't - rule #1 of yeast doughs: never try to half the recipe (which is what I'd done). So I mixed dough and let it rise and punched it down and let it rise again and by Thursday morning we had croissant dough ready for Thanksgiving breakfast.

This was a really solid recipe that was easy to follow, perfect to help someone like me conquer her yeast-fear :)

I made "plain" croissants with the rest of the dough (it makes a lot) and the family was snacking on them with grins and buttery fingers even this morning. The egg-wash is key for the bakery-look-alike croissants but not necessary for taste. I'll definitely be making these again, as soon as I get a full-size kitchen in my own apartment!

Chocolate-filled Croissants

1 cup butter, softened
2 (1/4 oz) envelopes active dry yeast
3 tbsp. sugar, divided
1/2 cup warm water 105 - 115 F
2/3 cup milk
4 cups to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
2-3 rectangles chocolate candy bar (I used semisweet chocolate chips)

Day 1:
Press butter into a 10x8-inch rectangle on wax paper, chill.

Combine yeast, 1 tbsp. sugar, and water in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.

Heat milk to 105 - 115 F. Combine yeast mixture, warm milk, remaining 2 tbsp. sugar, 2 cups flour and next 3 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat mixture at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 F), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down. Cover with plastic wrap and chill dough 1 hour.

Punch down dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 24x10-inch rectangle. Place chilled butter rectangle in center of dough rectangle, and carefully fold dough over butter. Pinch edges to seal.

Roll dough into an 18x10-inch rectangle; fold into thirds, beginning with short side. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Repeat rolling and folding procedure twice, chilling dough 30 minutes each time. Wrap dough in aluminum foil and chill overnight.

Day 2:
Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Roll 1 portion into a 12-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface, and cut into 4 rectangles (keep remaining dough chilled). Place 2-3 rectangles of chocolate candy bar, beginning on the short end of each rectangle and roll up tightly. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 425 F for 8 minutes (mine took 9-10) or until lightly golden. Cool croissants slightly on baking sheets, and transfer to wire racks to cool. Repeat procedure with remaining dough portions.

For egg wash: Combine 1 tsp water with yolk of one egg. Brush mixture onto croissants with pastry brush before baking.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

breathe in: flourless chocolate cake

This past weekend, a couple friends, bf and I rented a house in the New York countryside and spent the weekend sleeping, cooking every meal, and drinking lots of red wine. Lots.

It was the kind of weekend where you embrace relaxation, stay in your sweatpants from Friday until Sunday and truly enjoy the fact that the nearest neighbors are a couple acres away. And it helped that the house we found on Craigslist was absolutely gorgeous - an old(er) farmhouse that had been completely re-done with a nature-meets-modern-design interior, a stainless steel kitchen, and a back porch the size of my studio apartment. Oh who am I kidding, it was bigger. And it had two grills. TWO!

It was the prescription I needed for a weekend when I couldn't run, couldn't hike, and was forced to keep the walking to a minimum (by order of the doc). So I read half a book (The Help is so good!!), gorged on home-cooked food (including s'mores), and did 2 loads of laundry. Because there was a washer/dryer. IN THE HOUSE.

And I obviously took advantage of the kitchen to make us dessert on Saturday to pair with our grilled steak dinner. It was the Real Simple recipe that popped into my inbox last Friday, and with so few ingredients it was an easy choice for our weekend away.

I followed the directions and it turned out... exactly like the photo. Decadent and chocolatey and just like the "molten lava cake" I always want to order on restaurant dessert menu's. This is a true winner and would make a great entertaining recipe due to its ease and deliciousness. Pair it with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream for a yummy dessert!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for the pan
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch springfoam pan (I used Pam for baking) and dust with cocoa powder.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter with 1/4 cup heavy cream over medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar and cocoa powder; whisk in the chocolate mixture.

Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and bake until puffed and set, 35-40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake before unmolding.

Tip: the cake can be baked up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate covered. Before serving, bring the cake to room temperature and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

parts 2 & 3: pain au chocolat

Ok, so I really failed at my first ever 3-day blog post with the chocolate croissants this week. By now I should’ve been 3 posts deep with an estimated 2 to 6 croissants in my belly.

The truth is a totally bummer, too. On Tuesday when I should have been turning and rolling and chilling x3 I found out that I have a pretty painful running-related injury. And on Wednesday when I should have been egg-washing and baking ‘till golden and eating, I found out that it could be pretty serious and I might have to take the next 6-8 weeks off to heal. Which means missing the half-marathon in 2 weeks that I’ve been training 3 months for. Waa.

So - many apologies for those of you who’ve been waiting for my flaky pastry results in anticipation, it’s been kind of a downer week. But! I really like the idea of multi-day posts and will continue them in the future with some exciting time-consuming recipes. Stay tuned.

Unfortunately I think the 3-days between Monday (dough making) and Thursday (baking) had a rough effect on the golden and puffiness of my croissants. Plus I feel like something about my dough wasn't quite right in the first place - might need to add some more milk to part 1. So no photos tonight, but I'm excited to try again soon? 'Cause nothing tastes as sweet as a flaky chocolate croissant!

Pain au Chocolat

Semi-sweet or milk chocolate (chunks or chips)
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus a splash of milk or cream for the egg wash

Part 2:
Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to a rectangle, 1/2 inch thick with a short side facing you. Remove butter form refrigerator, place on bottom half of dough, fold the top half of the dough over the butter, pinch the edges good to seal.

Roll out the dough to a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick, with a short side facing you; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the rectangle in thirds as you would a business letter. This completes the first of three turns. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Repeat rolling and folding process above, two more times for a total of three rolls, with an hour refrigeration time in between. After the third roll, wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Part 3:
Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a rectangle. Using a pizza wheel or pastry cutter, cut the dough lengthwise to form two rectangles. Cut each half into smaller rectangles.

Place 1/2 oz. of chocolate 1/4 inch from edge on short side of rectangle nearest you. Roll the croissant over the chocolate and brush the edge with egg-wash before sealing over. Finish this process with all croissants. Cover loosely in plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in size , about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly brush croissants with the rest of the beaten egg. Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temp.

Monday, November 8, 2010

part 1: pain au chocolat

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.
Creative Commons License
Baking Therapy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.