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Pains au Chocolat and Croissants

Friday, December 18, 2015

Recipes adopted from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery.  [Recipes make 20 pains au chocolat, 16 croissants, or 10 pains au chocolat and 8 croissants].

I'll start off this week's post by saying that I'm more relieved than any other post on this blog that this post has actually happened.  If I remember right, one of the very first recipe requests (if not the first) that I got for AFC was pains au chocolat (which translates to chocolate bread).  Similar to what I wrote in the post for French macarons, croissant dough (which is what pains au chocolat is) is definitely near the top of the list for the most ambitious things a home baker can create.  The difference between the two, though, is that croissant dough takes nearly 20 hours to make rather than a mere hour.  So if something goes wrong, you'll have to reschedule your baking date for the next time you have a full day off.

I think the first time I made legit laminated dough (Danish, croissant, and puff) was during my time working at a local bakery a couple years ago.  Although the ingredients and procedures used were all by the book, it was different than making a batch at home due to the fact that we had a mammoth industrial sheeter to aid in the process.  For those not familiar with a sheeter, think of it as a giant automated rolling pin that rolls out your dough to whatever thickness you'd like.  So while it's not cheating to use one, it definitely helps out the process of making laminated doughs.

During my time at the bakery, I attempted to make my own puff dough at home two different times, and the results were far from satisfying to say the least.  For my first attempt, I based my recipe off of an incorrectly scaled down version of a past (but famous) local bakery, which resulsted in a dough that quadrupled in size during its proofing period.  The dough ended up being too soft and the block of butter was too cold, so the butter ended up cutting through the dough during the first lamination.  It was a mess, and went straight to the trash bin.  My second attempt involved making dough for morning buns, and although the end product tasted good, it wasn't a laminated dough.  I knew that I had to tackle croissant dough again...but serious changes needed to be made.

Flash-forward roughly a year-and-a-half to last week.  I had been paging through my newest cookbook, Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery (which I absolutely love and highly recommend), and saw that there was a recipe for pains au chocolat.  This sparked my memory that I still had to cross croissant dough off of my life list, so I read the recipe a good five or six times and was ready to dominate.  If Keller's recipe didn't work for me, there was no hope.

I made sure to buy the best European-style butter, make a special purchase so that I had diastatic malt powder on hand, have the thermapen ready so that I could make sure that my water was exactly 75° F, pull out the tape measure so that I could imitate specific dough sizes to the nearest half-inch, use a convection oven (as was recommended by Keller), and the list goes on.  It may sound over the top, but I was in domination mode.  This batch of croissants was going to turn out, period.

So what was the end result?  Keller states that "there's only one word for it: shatter.  It's what a good croissant does when you bite into it—and an indication that you've succeeded in making one of the most special doughs in the baker's repertoire.  You've created layers of dough so exquisitely thin, brittle, and browned that they shatter into sweet, delicate shards that all but melt in your mouth."

The one thing I'm going to try different next time is either increase the humidity or temperature of the air while proofing the pastries, as I think the end products should have been larger based on pictures in the book.  But since this was my only complaint, I'm considering this batch a total success.


100 grams (~3 1/2 ounces or 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
0.1 grams (~a pinch) instant dry yeast
100 grams (~3 1/2 ounces or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) water, 75° F

330 grams (~11.6 ounces or 23 1/3 tablespoons) European-style unsalted butter

500 grams (~1 pound 1.6 ounces or 3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
75 grams (~2.7 ounces or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 teaspoon) sugar
10 grams (~1 tablespoon) instant dry yeast
3 grams (~1 teaspoon) diastatic malt powder
300 grams (~3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons) water, 75° F
100 grams (~3 1/2 ounces or 7 tablespoons) European-style unsalted butter, room temperature
15 grams  (~1 tablespoon, depending on the brand) Kosher salt

40 (if making no croissants) chocolate baking sticks,  3-inches by 1/2-inches thick


The night before you plan on making your croissants, create the poolish by mixing together the flour, yeast, and water in a medium bowl.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 15 hours.

The next day, shape your butter into a block that measures 6 3/4-inches by 7 1/2-inches using some parchment paper and a rolling pin.  Refrigerate until needed.
For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and malt powder in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with a hook attachment.  Add the poolish, room temperature butter, and all but 3 tablespoons of the water to the bowl and mix on low for 2 minutes.  Add the salt and mix for another 2 minutes.  If the dough seems dry, add the remaining water little by little, until moist.  Mix on low for 20 minutes, until a smooth dough is formed.  [Side note:  It is normal for a stand mixer to get hot after this much mixing.  If you're ever concerned, stop the mixing and let it rest for several minutes].  Remove the dough from the bowl and stretch it into a rough rectangle.  Fold in thirds like a letter, and then stretch and fold once more, in the opposite direction.  Transfer the ball of dough to a greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch by 7 1/2-inch rectangle.  Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and freeze for 20 minutes.  About halfway through, remove the sheet of butter from the refrigerator, with the hopes of it having the same consistency as the dough once the 20 minutes have passed.

Roll the dough out to a 16-inch by 7 1/2-inch rectangle.  Lay the block of the butter in the middle of the dough so that the tops and bottoms of the dough and butter are flush.  Wrap the dough over the butter, and pinch the seam together on the top.  Roll out the dough in the direction of the seam until you have a rectangle that measures 22-inches by 9-inches.  Lightly spray the top of the dough with water, and then fold the bottom third of the dough up, and then the top third down to cover the bottom third.  Turn the block 90 degrees counterclockwise so that the dough "resembles a book, with the opening on the right".  Transfer the dough back to the sheet pan and freeze for 20 minutes.

Repeat this rolling, folding, and freezing process two more times.

After the third freezing is complete, roll out the dough to a 24-inch by 9-inch rectangle.  Cut the dough in half so that you have two 24-inch by 9-inch rectangles.  Freeze for 20 minutes.  At this point, you're ready to make your 20 pains au chocolat, 16 croissants, or a combination of the two.

Pains au chocolat:

Remove one piece of dough and roll out to 19-inches by 9-inches.  Trim up the rectangle with a pizza cutter so that you end up with a rectangle that's 17 1/2-inches by 8-inches.  Cut lengthwise in half, and then crosswise into five, so that you end up with ten 4-inch by 3 1/2-inch rectangles.  Set a piece of chocolate 1/2-inch up from the bottom of each rectangle, fold up to cover the dough, place a second piece of chocolate at the bottom, brush the top with egg wash, and roll the dough up, finishing seam-side down.
Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, egg wash, cover, and let proof for 2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 350° F (or 325° F if using a convection oven).  Brush once more with eggwash, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes (or 25 to 30 minutes if using a convection oven).  Transfer the pastries to a cooling rack.


Remove one piece of dough and roll out to 19-inches by 9-inches.  Trim up the rectangle with a pizza cutter so that you end up with a rectangle that's 18-inches long and has straight edges on the remaining sides.  Starting on the left, measure 3 3/4-inches along the bottom edge.  Cut from this point to the top left corner of the dough.  From the top left corner, measure out 3 3/4-inches, and cut straight down.  Continue this process until you have 8 triangles.  Stretch each triangle out so that it's 12 inches long.  Fold the bottom two corners in, mist the dough with water, and then roll up, finishing seam-side down.

Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, egg wash, cover, and let proof for 2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 350° F (or 325° F if using a convection oven).  Brush once more with eggwash, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes (or 25 to 30 minutes if using a convection oven).  Transfer the pastries to a cooling rack.

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  1. I envy your patience and perseverance. I also once had a croissant dough meet the garbage on second fold. I didn't have the confidence to try again. Beautiful photos as always!

    1. Thank you Vicky! I'm glad I finally gave it a second (err, uh, third) chance :)

  2. Wowww—impressive! You should come to France and compare! ;)

    1. Hah, I wish! You'll just have to stuff one in your purse on the flight home :)

  3. T.J:
    We spent a number of years in Madison while in grad school at UW, and were fortunate to be able to dine at L'Etoile before Odessa Piper retired. We returned to Madison earlier this year...it had been almost 25 years since our last visit, and had the chance to explore the food of the city, which has changed dramatically since our last visit...though we were happy to return to a couple of old favs, Michael's Frozen Custard (seemed better when we were starving grad students and would stand in line in the dead cold of January), and Pasquals, in their "new" location on E Wash, and explored a few new places including Graze. I digress...if you have the chance and the opportunity to visit San Francisco, we discovered Arsicault Bakery, on Arguello, near our apartment in the Presidio. The.Best.Croissants.Ever. Even Bon Appetite thought so...so much so, you can only purchase 4 croissants /person now. Ham and cheese is divine! Line starts about 45 minutes before they open, and they usually run out by 10 am. Flavor is outstanding, and as Thomas Keller insists....https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ8MXCyB6Nq/?taken-by=basics101cos the flake factor is outstanding. http://www.bonappetit.com/story/best-bakeries-2016 We can only be inspired by the achievements of Armando Lacayo! http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Arsicault-Bon-Appetit-Bakery-Best-Year-2016-9136288.php

    1. Jody - thanks so much for sharing your connection with Madison and the recommendation about Arsicault Bakery. If I ever make it out to San Francisco, that'll be my first stop for sure. I briefly worked at a bakery in Madison known for their croissants, and I have even more respect for the craft of croissant dough than when I published this post. Making the perfect croissant at home is one thing, but reproducing 100s or 1000s each day, each to such high standards, deserves an insane amount of credit.

  4. Congrats on taking on the croissant recipe from Bouchon/Sebastien Rouxel/Thomas Keller's efforts. Interestingly enough, one of my husband's co-workers at a start-up in SF, was a chef for Keller and felt the croissants we recently treated him to from Arsicault, on Arguello in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of SF, close our place in the Presidio ...surpassed the Bouchon croissants. We can only be inspired by the efforts of Armando Lacayo, Keller and Rouxel! The wait at Arsicault is worth it. Best croissants we have ever indulged in, and we have traveled quite a bit. https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ8MXCyB6Nq/?taken-by=basics101cos one of our recent trips to Ariscault . And, the SF news on the tiny shop...http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Arsicault-Bon-Appetit-Bakery-Best-Year-2016-9136288.php. So, if you are ever in SF....make the pilgrimage! ;-)

    We had the chance to come back to MadCity after about 25 years post grad school, got to visit some of fav haunts...Michaels Frozen Custard (somehow it was better when we used to line up on a bitterly cold January nite and wait for their amazing turtle sundaes), Pasqual's Southwestern Deli (now Cantina) on E Wash, and reconnected with old cooking buddies at Manna Cafe, and explored the new food establishments like Graze. Hope to try and recreate the extraordinary flakiness of Arsicault when it cools off here in CO!