I’m surprising myself lately – making French pastries and joining a gym (no cause and effect, by the way). This winter I couldn’t live up to my longtime motto of “exercising outside with my dog – rain or shine.” I needed a backup plan for when it was below 12 degrees – (Boston, MA) way too often! So I gave in and joined a gym. As for the pastry, I don’t do a lot of baking (as you’ve probably noticed by how few desserts there are on Panning The Globe). My passion is more for savory dishes, but I needed something buttery and decadent for a Sunday brunch and I love pain au chocolat, so I made it for the first time…. I was thrilled with how good it turned out and how easy it was!
Puff pastry is a light flaky pastry dough used for a variety of savory and sweet creations including the French pastry pain au chocolat. The literal translation is “chocolate bread” but bread is way too tame of a word to describe these! I highly recommend trying one fresh from the oven – warm and buttery with the chocolate softened, soooo good. The kind of good where you take your first bite and then close your eyes and groan as it melts in your mouth.
I hosted a small brunch last weekend for some girlfriends. A big warm basket of pain au chocolat was sitting on the kitchen island to greet everyone as they arrived. When I plan a menu for company, one of my strategies is to choose some ingredients that I think are natural party ‘stars’. Bacon, potatoes, goat cheese, soft-poached eggs, and chocolate are high on the list. I served smoked salmon quesadillas with goat cheese, lemon zest and basil; Shakshuka (an Israeli dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce with peppers and spinach); bacon & onion skillet potatoes; and pain au chocolat.
They’re extremely easy to make when you start with frozen puff pastry.
Defrost the pastry. Cut it into 12 rectangles. Roll up a hunk of chocolate in each piece of dough.
Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar.
Wondering why I didn’t make the puff pastry from scratch? I thought about it. But puff pastry is a particularly challenging dough. It has tons of buttery layers that make it puff up when you cook it. Creating all those thin layers of butter and dough is very time consuming because the dough needs frequent refrigeration between kneading and turning, to keep it at just the right temp so when the butter is layered in, it stays on top and doesn’t absorb into the dough.
The good news is, pre-made frozen puff pastry is a great option. I was very happy with two brands that I found at Whole Foods: Dufour and Goodwives. Dufour won Cooking Light’s Artisanal Taste Test Award. I’ve heard positive reviews of Trader Joe’s frozen puff pastry, as well. All three brands contain the same wholesome ingredients you would use to make puff pastry at home: flour, butter, water and salt.
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed but chilled (see thawing directions)
- A few tablespoons all-purpose flour
- I 4-ounce bar of semisweet chocolate (I recommend Ghirardelli Semisweet Baking Bar) cut into 12 rectangular pieces.
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
- 2-3 tablespoons sugar
- Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour your work surface. Cut your puff pastry, with a sharp knife or pizza cutter, in half lengthwise. Cut each half into sixths, giving you 12 rectangular pieces.
- Brush top of dough lightly with egg wash. Place a piece of chocolate in the center of the dough strip. Fold one end over it. Then fold over the other end. Press the seam with the tines of a fork to seal. Add a little extra egg wash to the seam, if it's not adhering. Repeat with all 12 pieces.
- Place the pastries seam side down on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes in the center of the oven, until puffed and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.