For the last two years, I have greeted most mornings with fresh bread and pastries from an array of bakeries. Bastien and I had nicknames and favorite selections for each: “le pont” (the bridge, due to location next to a bridge), “chez les voisins” (the neighbors, our closest choice), “au boulevard de Fourmies,” (for the name of the street on which it was located), “au palais” (the palace, due to location across from a palace, “au disco” (for the funny style of the shop), au bio (an organic bakery), “chez Amédée” (for the name of the nearby school where I was working)… Every day, Bastien would ask, “Where should I get the bread today?” And I would say, “Hmm, how about the bridge?” There is just one problem now.. bakeries don’t have bread ready at 4am, not even at 5am…
It just so happens that I’m a person who needs breakfast before venturing out into the world each day. A table garnished with a pot of tea or coffee, an array of my homemade raspberry and plum confitures, or just some salted butter from a nearby farm, and a little basket of fresh bread or pastries and a little plate of fresh fruit or a glass of cold juice. Lacking an all-night boulangerie, one solution stood before me: to make breakfast myself. Fresh pastries ready by about 4:15am each day giving me the time to wake up, relax, and take in the first pleasure of the day.
I turned to a recipe for pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) that Dr. Gregory Gullette, one of my anthropology professors gave me back in my days at Georgia State University. The result: crunchy, chewy, flaky, and buttery- everything that makes a good croissant melt in your mouth. Sure, there are a number of great bakeries in France, but I have been missing out by never cooking breakfast! There is a satisfaction in making one’s own croissants, breakfast cakes, scones, muffins… Fresh out of the oven and the house scented with chocolate and warm breads… On top of it, I know the origins of each ingredient… I have eggs, flour, milk, butter, cream, yogurt, and fruit from nearby farms. I buy organic fair trade chocolate. My sugar is from pure cane grown in Brazil. So when I bite into that morning croissant and sip my café au lait, all the things that went into such a delightful moment are part of the experience.
To have these croissants fresh in the morning, I make them in the afternoon of the day before. Sometimes I only cook them about 3/4 of the way, so when I get up at 4am, I quickly start the oven and re-heat them for a few minutes while I’m getting ready. Otherwise, they are great even when they are not hot. I store them in the closed oven, once the oven has cooled down.
Here is the recipe, which is adapted from the book “Chocolate Passion”:
Don’t be intimidated by the length of this recipe, it’s worth every step!
Yield: about 16 Rolls
Preparation: 1 hour, plus rising, chilling, and baking times
1/2 cup warm water (110ºF to 115ºF), divided
2 tbs plus 1 tsp granulated sugar, divided
2 tsp dry yeast
3 1/2 cups plus 2 tbs all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (110ºF to 115ºF)
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
three 3-ounce bars Lindt Swiss dark chocolate, cut into 16 pieces, each about 1-by-3 inches. Using a hot knife to slice chocolate will give you neater bars.
I used an organic fair trade chocolate from Ecuador called Kaoka, which is as yummy as Lindt!
1 large egg
1 tsp water
Chocolate Drizzle Garnish
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted
Make the croissant dough
1. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of warm water with 1 tsp sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and set mixture aside for about 10 minutes, or until foamy. If the mixture is not foamy, the yeast may be inactive and should not be used.
2. In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, stir together 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining 2 tbs sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Add the yeast mixture, the remaining 1/4 cup of water, and the warm milk to the well. Using a rubber spatula, stir the liquid mixture together gradually drawing in the flour mixture and stirring until it forms a smooth dough. Transfer to a buttered bowl. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place for one hour.
3. Place the cold butter on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbs of flour over the butter and, using a rolling pin, pound the butter several times to flatten it. Fold the butter in half and continue to pound it with the rolling pin, until it is somewhat malleable. Shape the butter into a 5-inch square.
4. Roll the croissant dough on a lightly floured surface into a 9-inch square. Place the square of butter in the center of the dough on the diagonal. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter, so that they meet in the center of the square. Pinch the flaps of dough together, sealing the butter like a package. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for exactly 30 minutes.
5. Place the dough on a floured surface, seam-side up. Roll into a 14-by-8 inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush, gently brush off any flour from the surface of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, as if it was a business letter. Rotate the dough so that a closed side is to your left. Roll again into a 14-by-8 inch rectangle. Fold again like a business letter. The dough has now been turned twice. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
6. Repeat the rolling, folding, and turning process two more times, so that the dough has been “turned” 4 times. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
7. Remove the dough from the fridge, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Give the dough 2 more turns. Divide the dough into two. Roll each piece into a 12-by-8 inch rectangle. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise to form four 12-by-4 inch strips. Cut each strip into 4 equal pieces, to form sixteen 4-by-3 inch pieces.
Fill the rolls with chocolate
8. Place a chocolate stick on each piece of dough, with the long side of the chocolate parallel to the longer side of the dough. Roll the chocolate up in the dough jelly-roll style, sealing the edges with a small dab of water.
9. Butter 2 baking sheets. Place 8 rolls on each baking sheet, seem side down, leaving at least 2 inches between rolls. Cover with the tea towel, and allow them to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
Glaze the rolls
10. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425ºF. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the water until blended. Using a pastry brush, glaze each pain au chocolat evenly with the egg glaze. Bake one sheet of rolls at a time, for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the pains au chocolat to a wire rack immediately and cool to desired temperature.
Garnish the rolls
11. Spoon the melted chocolate into a small parchment cone. Cut a very small hole at the tip of the cone and lightly drizzle chocolate over the rolls. Serve immediately.
1. At step 7, once you have four 12-by-4 inch strips, cut them into triangles rather than rectangles. Roll each triangle into itself, starting from the wide end and ending with the tip in the center. Then follow directions as indicated, but without the chocolate.
Cinnamon Rolls, etc…
2. At step 7, once you have two 12-by-8 inch rectangles, sprinkle with cinnamon, cream, sugar, raisins, nuts, almond paste, pastry cream pudding, jam, or anything that knocks your socks off, but leave about an inch at the bottom edge empty. Brush the bottom edge with egg glaze and roll the dough from the top edge down towards you, sealing at the bottom edge. You now have a stick of dough like a baguette. Using a sharp knife, slice into 1-inch rounds and follow the recipe from step 8, omitting the chocolate.
Plum rolls, photographed just after step 9, before rising for an hour on my warm 4th floor. An example of the second variation. I spread plum preserves and a bit of crème fraîche mixed with a tsp of sugar over the dough.