Croissants and Pain au Chocolat

Happy 100th post to me! I had to make it a special one for this benchmark occasion. There is a bit of a back-story before I get into the recipe, so feel free to skip or read. There will be a recipe as well as “lessons learned” for making croissants and pain au chocolat(e)…ah, French and the fun spelling that upsets Auto-Correct.

Woo! Pile o’ Pastries!

This time last year, I was settling into a routine. I was learning what it was like to live in Washington state and learning a new way of “fall”. Back home, the mornings were crisp and leaves would change pretty quickly. Here, fall is more gradual.

Yes, it does feel like one day you wake up and it’s a bit chillier than usual, but the trees turn colors in waves. I was surprised it was so pretty because I figured with us not having quite as many deciduous trees that fall would feel even shorter. Last year, it also meant the first time I did not have to leave here at the end of summer and return to Maryland to teach. It was weird!! But, it also meant meeting more of K’s friends and hanging out with them. We went to a video game midnight release party at our local Microsoft store. Earlier that day, I had started dough for croissants but did not have time to form them and let them proof. So, when I saw that K wanted to stay up late and play his game that night, I realized that I could finish making the croissants. Who cared that it was super late at night? I would already be up, so why not make something yummy? He didn’t even notice at first but then began to smell them baking. And let me tell you…

you want to smell these buttery babies baking. Mmmm. It makes you crave them as they come out of the oven, but alas, they need to sit and cool before you can satisfy your lust for them.

Look how much fun they’re having!

When I made these last year, I used a different recipe. It had me make a sheet of butter, fold the dough around it, and then go from there. I am not sure what happened, but I did not get quite as many flaky layers as I was expecting. So, I did some research and discovered that using European butter can help because it has a higher fat content…read that as more chances for air pockets and flakiness! Then I had to do research to know what butter to get. I eventually picked up some Kerrygold butter and stored it hoping to use it soon.

Comparing the Kerrygold butter with regular store butter

Well, I finally made these a year later (there is another video game party this year, but I made these a bit early) and even though I had some challenges (a small breakdown while they were baking, with some tears shed) they turned out even better than last year’s! This new recipe is (pretty much) a keeper. I am offering some suggestions and advice so that hopefully it goes smoothly. And, by the way, you get a twofer because apparently all croissant recipes seem to have pain au chocolat as a byproduct. I know…you are so disappointed by this news. Hehe!

My challenges were getting the butter to mesh properly with the dough (I include tips below), making the kitchen too warm before I need to (wait to jack up your thermostat for the proofing stage until you start proofing…otherwise, sticky bad dough will happen), and getting frustrated with the directions. The Jacques Pepin cookbook I have includes a DVD which I finally pulled out while writing this. He did not include directions for croissants on it, but did do a video on puff pastry which is similar. And, it turns out that his puff pastry directions include a bit more help on how to deal with this dough. I wish I had watched it earlier! Oh well. But, to make you feel better, at one point I was so frustrated that I wadded the dough into a big ball and threw it on the counter before rolling it out again. Even after all the futzing around I did, the croissants still turned out. I thought I had ruined them, and while they were baking I had a big cry thinking that I had wasted my day with this darn dough. When I went to make the chocolate ones, the dough was hardened on top because he never said to cover it (I remind you below), so I had to ball it up and re-roll it out while crossing my fingers that it would be okay. It all ended well, but whew!

Oh, and let me know your thoughts, but I actually prefer the plain croissants to the chocolate…is that crazy?

Directions for Croissants (keep reading for Pain au Chocolat)

Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Essential Pepin

  • 3 sticks butter (European if you can get it)
  • 2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1.25 cups warm milk (90-100 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)
  • 3-4 ounces bittersweet chocolate cut into strips about 3 inches long  (or whatever kind you would like for the pain au chocolat)

Cut the butter into thin slivers. You are supposed to take each stick and cut it into 4 lengthwise slices, but I think that making them thinner would help, possibly as many as 6 slices instead.

I followed the directions in the book which meant the butter was too cold, so don’t chill unless necessary!

Now, an important concept is that the butter should be the same temperature as the dough when you combine them. So, if your kitchen is warm, place the slices on a plate and chill them until closer to the folding stage. If your kitchen is on the cooler side, you can probably leave the butter out (pop it in the fridge if it starts to soften too much).

In the bowl of a mixer (but don’t use the mixer just yet), stir together the milk, sugar, and yeast.

Let it sit for about 10 minutes until there are some bubbles. Then, add the flour and salt and use the beater for about 30-40 seconds  to create a smooth dough.

The dough is super sticky at this stage. Using a spatula to remove the dough also helped smooth it out a bit more.

For the next steps, have flour available for your rolling pin, the surface, and your hands. You might also want to have a bench scraper available in case your dough sticks and a pastry brush to remove excess flour. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to get a rectangle approximately 20 inches by 10 inches. It should be about 1/4 inch thick.

Place the butter slices side by side on the dough, starting at the short end and working down 2/3 of the way.

Start the butter part of the way in from the sides for sealing purposes later.

Lift the bottom non-buttered third of dough and fold it across the middle third of dough. Press along the sides to seal.

Then, fold the dough again over the final third, and again seal the edges.

As you go, you can use the rolling pin to gently beat down the dough a bit and help blend the butter a bit more into it. At each step, brush off any excess flour.

Before the first turn

To start the first doubled turn, take one short end and bring it to the middle, and bring the other short end to meet it, sealing the edges and the middle.

The first turn

Do the exact same thing one more time, sealing again.

Second turn!

Cover the dough with saran wrap or a plastic bag, then place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to relax.

Give the dough one more double turn, wrap it again, and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. I did mine for much longer and it was ok (closer to 8 hours).

First turn

Second turn

Roll the dough into a rough square about 20 by 20 inches. Roll the dough in both directions so that you do not go back and forth in one direction repeatedly and overdevelop the gluten. Let the dough sit for 8-10 minutes. You can chill it at this point if you think it is getting too soft and sticky. Cut the dough into three strips, each about 6.5 inches wide.

Here is my “rough” rectangle. Keep in mind I was crazy frazzled at this point. The top piece is for the pain au chocolat, and the bottom two have already been “rectangled” for the croissants.

Then, take one strip and wrap it in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator (this will be for the pain au chocolat later). For the other two strips, cut rectangles that are about 5 inches by the 6.5 inches. Then, cut on the diagonals to form triangles.

Roll the triangles like crescent rolls to form the croissant shape. Cutting a notch in the middle of the top of the triangle will help them roll up more easily. Place them on baking trays. You should get about 20 small croissants. Take half of the croissants, cover them, and chill in the refrigerator. Take the other half, brush the tops lightly with a wet pastry brush and place them in a proofing box. A roasting pan turned upside down with some towels can create the same effect.

My croissants aren’t perfect crescents, but don’t worry about that. They will still be tasty!

Plus, hiking your heat up in your house will also help them rise. They will almost double in size, after about 1.25 to 1.5 hours. When ready, whisk the egg in a small bowl and use it to lightly brush the tops of the croissants.

Then, bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. They will be nicely browned on top, but don’t let them burn.

Follow the same steps with the next batch of croissants. There will be plenty of egg wash for both batches and the pain au chocolat.

Let the croissants cool to room temperature before eating.

Check out the flakiness inside!

Directions for Pain Au Chocolat

Using the strip of dough remaining from the croissants, mark off rectangles about 3 by 5 inches. You also could just roll the strip out nicely and cut as many congruent rectangles close to that size as possible. You should be able to get about 6 of them.

Really sticky dough because of some poor directions…do what I write, not what Mr. Pepin wrote 😛

Take 1-2 strips of the chocolate and place them on top of a rectangle.

Fold the edges over the piece(s) of chocolate, sealing well. Use water to help seal, if you need it. Continue with the remaining rectangles.

Again, brush with a wet pastry brush and allow to rise in a proofing box for about 1.25 to 1.5 hours. Then, brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for a little less than the time it takes for the croissants (closer to 15 minutes).

Let them cool to room temperature before eating. The chocolate will be very hot!

Here is what happens when you don’t seal properly. I call it “Pain au Chocolat Deconstructed”

Directions for Croissants (keep reading for Pain au Chocolat) without pictures

Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Essential Pepin

  • 3 sticks butter (European if you can get it)
  • 2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1.25 cups warm milk (90-100 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)
  • 3-4 ounces bittersweet chocolate cut into strips about 3 inches long  (or whatever kind you would like for the pain au chocolat)

Cut the butter into thin slivers. You are supposed to take each stick and cut it into 4 lengthwise slices, but I think that making them thinner would help, possibly as many as 6 slices instead. Now, an important concept is that the butter should be the same temperature as the dough when you combine them. So, if your kitchen is warm, place the slices on a plate and chill them until closer to the folding stage. If your kitchen is on the cooler side, you can probably leave the butter out (pop it in the fridge if it starts to soften too much).

In the bowl of a mixer (but don’t use the mixer just yet), stir together the milk, sugar, and yeast. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until there are some bubbles. Then, add the flour and salt and use the beater for about 30-40 seconds  to create a smooth dough.

For the next steps, have flour available for your rolling pin, the surface, and your hands. You might also want to have a bench scraper available in case your dough sticks and a pastry brush to remove excess flour. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to get a rectangle approximately 20 inches by 10 inches. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. Place the butter slices side by side on the dough, starting at the short end and working down 2/3 of the way. Lift the bottom non-buttered third of dough and fold it across the middle third of dough. Press along the sides to seal. Then, fold the dough again over the final third, and again seal the edges. As you go, you can use the rolling pin to gently beat down the dough a bit and help blend the butter a bit more into it. At each step, brush off any excess flour.

To start the first doubled turn, take one short end and bring it to the middle, and bring the other short end to meet it, sealing the edges and the middle. Do the exact same thing one more time, sealing again. Cover the dough with saran wrap or a plastic bag, then place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to relax.

Give the dough one more double turn, wrap it again, and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. I did mine for much longer and it was ok (closer to 8 hours).

Roll the dough into a rough square about 20 by 20 inches. Roll the dough in both directions so that you do not go back and forth in one direction repeatedly and overdevelop the gluten. Let the dough sit for 8-10 minutes. You can chill it at this point if you think it is getting too soft and sticky. Cut the dough into three strips, each about 6.5 inches wide. Then, take one strip and wrap it in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator (this will be for the pain au chocolat later). For the other two strips, cut rectangles that are about 5 inches by the 6.5 inches. Then, cut on the diagonals to form triangles. Roll the triangles like crescent rolls to form the croissant shape. Cutting a notch in the middle of the top of the triangle will help them roll up more easily. Place them on baking trays. You should get about 20 small croissants. Take half of the croissants, cover them, and chill in the refrigerator. Take the other half, brush the tops lightly with a wet pastry brush and place them in a proofing box. A roasting pan turned upside down with some towels can create the same effect. Plus, hiking your heat up in your house will also help them rise. They will almost double in size, after about 1.25 to 1.5 hours. When ready, whisk the egg in a small bowl and use it to lightly brush the tops of the croissants. Then, bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. They will be nicely browned on top, but don’t let them burn.

Follow the same steps with the next batch of croissants. There will be plenty of egg wash for both batches and the pain au chocolat.

Let the croissants cool to room temperature before eating.

Directions for Pain Au Chocolat

Using the strip of dough remaining from the croissants, mark off rectangles about 3 by 5 inches. You also could just roll the strip out nicely and cut as many congruent rectangles close to that size as possible. You should be able to get about 6 of them.

Take 1-2 strips of the chocolate and place them on top of a rectangle. Fold the edges over the piece(s) of chocolate, sealing well. Use water to help seal, if you need it. Continue with the remaining rectangles. Again, brush with a wet pastry brush and allow to rise in a proofing box for about 1.25 to 1.5 hours. Then, brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for a little less than the time it takes for the croissants (closer to 15 minutes).

Let them cool to room temperature before eating. The chocolate will be very hot!

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8 thoughts on “Croissants and Pain au Chocolat

  1. Hahaha “Pain Au Chocolat Deconstructed”. So postmodern!

    Thank you for sharing your croissant secrets for us. 🙂 It’s great to have all of your tips and issues you hit while making these. And these were soooo freaking tasty!

    But most important, CONGRATULATIONS ON 100 POSTS!!! This is such a huge achievement Aly! I love how you’ve really taken off with this project of yours and now you practically have a full cookbook! WOW! I am so proud of you. And you know how inspirational you’ve been. This is just really cool to witness, great work!!!

    • There is a great quote from Ira Glass that I’ve been chewing on… and I think you’ve nailed this down. Way to lead by example 🙂 So I’m sorry to read you were in tears over the recipe. Because there’s so much proof of how much you’ve accomplished, this being a huge milestone. And to see your progress in one year by making the same recipe, that’s a really cool tradition to start!

      “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

      But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

      It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

      You already had that talent, and it’s really cool to see all of the new things you tried over the past years, all the new experiences and techniques you have gained. In this case you know you have the potential, certain amount of great skill, and talent in the beginning, and by recipes, so I don’t mean to imply anything like you were starting from the beginning a year ago. What I mean is, what’s amazing is how much new knowledge you have under your repertoire just in this short span of a year. That went by fast didn’t it? So you’ve been expanding your experience by a great volume at an incredible rate. The proof is right here! It’s just so exciting. I’m really impressed by you Aly!!

      • Can I just say that every time you used proof it made me think of proofing bread/dough. 😀 Thanks for being my cheerleader and reminding me of why I named this “fudging ahead” … not to imply that I only used to “cook” frozen meals or something, but that it’s about growth and doing everything better than before. 🙂

    • Thanks! I couldn’t believe I was reaching the special 100 already.

      I just picked up some more of the fancy butter. I might try puff pastry next (same ideas as croissants–lots of butter and folding). Those buttery flakes are so good! 🙂

  2. Wow! Kudos to you for even attempting this serious endeavor! That is some dedication and craft! They look great and I imagine they must’ve smelled and tasted amazing. Way to go!

    I am really reluctant to go the European butter route – because I’m afraid there’s no going back…

    And Happy 100th post! : )

    • Thanks! They are not as hard as you would expect, forgetting my tears. 🙂 For the butter, I haven’t tasted it outside of the croissants, maybe for the same reason of being afraid I can’t go back! Especially because it is quite expensive.

  3. Pingback: FPP7: Gifts from Erin of Brooklyn, NY & Liddabit Sweets at Book Larder

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