Exactly one year ago, I was preparing to go to court, seeking justice after months of being relentlessly stalked, harassed, threatened, and defamed publicly on social media. I am happy to report that justice was served. Not just once, but twice.
Yet, the triumph over my oppressor wasn’t sweet. I came out of that experience feeling eviscerated and deflated, the wind knocked out of my sails. Pfffffffft. Had my life been a movie, those next few months would best be entitled, “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Dumpster Fire.” I’d exited the darkest chapter in my life only to enter a new one, this time confronting a far more formidable oppressor: my own insecurities, self doubt, and codependency. Suffice it to say, 2019 was Dante’s Inferno on a loop. And 2020 hasn’t been much better.
In the last few weeks, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide protests against racism and racial injustice, I’ve experienced a major shift in consciousness. And I’ve done it stone cold sober. I finally decided to quit fighting myself, to get out of my own way. After all, resistance is futile, right? So, I started embracing all my crappy psychic pain and examining and owning my shortcomings, and in doing so, I’ve developed clarity, a renewed sense of purpose, humility, and exponential growth. I’ve again found my voice, my raison d’être.
For nearly 50 years now, baking has been one of my life’s greatest joys. Despite that, I have always been too intimidated to attempt making my own puff pastry. After surviving the trials and tribulations of 2019, the turbulence and sourdough mania of 2020 seemed like a perfect time to rectify that.
My first memories of puff pastry were those Pillsbury fruit turnovers, popularized in the 70s. You got a cardboard can of pre-cut crescent dough squares, packaged with a miniscule bag of apple or cherry filling, and a teeny tiny packet of white icing for drizzling on top. There never seemed to be quite enough filling or icing for me *shrug *
The dough itself, however, was delicious. Watching those pastry layers puff up and turn golden brown through the oven glass was magical, perhaps even more fun than eating the finished turnovers.
After seeing a post about pain au chocolat in one of my FB sourdough groups, I decided to try my hand at making this decadent pastry, especially since both of my sons adore it. Needless to say, their encouragement provided me with the motivation necessary in overcoming my lamination high anxiety.
The recipe itself is straightforward, if spartan. It calls for Manitoba flour, which I had never heard of before and haven’t seen here in the US. Manitoba flour is actually an Italian brand of strong flour (15% protein) made from hard wheat. It absorbs up to 90% of its weight in water, making it ideal for long bulk fermentation as well as providing tensile strength to rolled dough. I substituted King Arthur Sir Lancelot high gluten bread flour (14.2%) and rolled with it (see what I did there?) It worked just fine.
For pain au chocolat and croissants on Saturday morning, I started the dough on Wednesday evening. A stiff sweet starter was built over the course of the day on Thursday. The dough was mixed Thursday evening and refrigerated overnight. On Friday morning, I laminated the dough and tucked it into the fridge until I was ready to shape it that evening. It was mostly hands off time, waiting.
Šumer doesn’t go into detail about lamination, other than noting the size of the butter block and directing the reader to use 3 letter folds. She instead suggests you watch some videos demonstrating lamination, which is actually much easier than trying to sift through a written explanation of the process. After watching several videos, I was mentally prepped and ready.
Time is not on your side with lamination, so it’s wise to have fridge space cleared for popping your buttered dough in quickly to chillax, especially if you live in a warmer climate like I do. Late springtime here in Atlanta is warm and humid, meaning even frozen butter melts in a flash. I was already running my AC, so I turned the thermostat down to around 68°F to make the kitchen as cool as possible while preparing the dough.
Still wrapping my head around the fact that i was actually making puff pastry from sourdough, I held my breath, placed the folded dough onto my floured work surface, and started rolling. I went with a book fold, followed by 3 letter folds. To my surprise, the dough rolled out easily without a hitch, aside from one tiny rent. I made it through 2 turns before having to refrigerate it again, making sure to dust off any excess flour before performing the letter folds. All in all, lamination took me about an hour from start to finish. Easy peasy.
Although this recipe is written for croissants, it adapts well to pain au chocolat. I’d already done a bit of research on making pain au chocolat, specifically what type of chocolate to use. Professional bakers use pre-made chocolate batons, which I didn’t have. Instead, I used a Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking bar, cut crosswise into thin (about 1/4-1/3 inch) strips. But, after watching Alex’s video about how using chocolate with a higher cacao content (60% as opposed to 44% in pre-made batons) in pain au chocolat can result in excessive melting, I was a little worried. But, given that I had no alternative, I stuck with the hand cut baking bar.
Although my first croissants were ugly AF, the pain au chocolat was close to perfect. I cut the dough into 3 x 6 inch pieces, tucking 2 chocolate batons crosswise along each strip, which was then rolled like a pinwheel. In no time, I had 2 trays of rolled pastries, ready for their egg wash and overnight proof in the fridge.
Carefully, I slid each tray inside a clean unscented garbage bag, puffed up with a little air to keep the plastic from touching the dough, the open ends secured with a bar clip. Off to bed I went, feeling a real sense of accomplishment. Bonne nuit, chères pâtisseries, jusqu’à demain…
The next morning, I pulled the trays out of the fridge, still shrouded in their plastic trash bags, and let them sit for a couple of hours. I made my coffee, walked the dogs, and daydreamed about the yumminess to come.
I’d already watched Hot Sourdough Guy’s excellent video on making sourdough croissants from start to finish (which also features pain au chocolat), so I knew exactly what properly proofed dough should look like. Lo and behold, my proofing was on point.
I preheated my ancient gas oven to 425°F. I wanted steam during the bake, so while the oven was preheating, I boiled some water and poured it into a big cake pan situated atop a small rack at the bottom of the oven.
I gave the pastries their final egg wash, popped them into the oven, and prayed the chocolate wouldn’t all melt out. Five minutes later, I decreased the temperature to 400°F. I set the timer for 25 minutes and stationed myself on the floor so I could watch what was happening through the oven glass. The pastries poofed and puffed so much that they almost got stuck together. Note to self: next time, don’t crowd the tray. My loft smelled heavenly, like a real bakery. Best of all, there was almost no loss of chocolate.
I’d proactively made myself a baby pain au chocolat to sample. It did not disappoint. Crispy crackly glossy brown exterior: check. Visually stunning buttery layers: check. Tender pastry and melty good chocolate marrying each other on my tongue: lift off.
I ended up making this recipe again a week later. Aside from more pain au chocolat, I also made frangipane (almond cream) croissants and savory turkey and Swiss cheese rolls. This time around, my croissant rolling game was strong. Of note, this dough works equally well for sweet and savory pastries.
If you have never had the pleasure of biting into a homemade sourdough croissant, still warm from the oven, I highly recommend doing so. Unlike a disastrous Tinder affair, you won’t regret it.
I hope you’ll give these commercial yeast free 100% sourdough croissants a try.
Up next: another babka???