Monday, September 7, 2020

Pain au Chocolat #FoodieReads #LitHappens


This month, Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen is hosting the Food'N'Flix bloggers as we watch Chocolat. You can read my thoughts on the movie and get my Morada-Salted Chocolate Mousse recipe here.

Heather is also hosting our online book group Lit Happens to read the novel from which the movie was based: Chocolat by Joanne Harris.* And while Lit Happens isn't a cook-from-the-book kinda group, I almost always find cooking inspiration in anything I read or watch.

On the Page

I have a copy of this book somewhere, and I have read it before, but I couldn't locate it on my bookshelf; I may have lent it to a friend at some point. So, I ordered it on my Kindle and read it again. Since it has been many years since I read it, it was like reading it anew and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The novel is set in a little French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk blow in on the North wind and open up a artisanal chocolaterie called La Céleste Praline during Lent. The cast of characters include good people, bad people, gypsies, witches, townsfolk, and river rats. There's a little bit of magic and whole lot of chocolate...no surprise there.

The story is told through two narrators - Vianne and the local priest, Monsiuer Reynauld, who tells his story as if in a confessional, addressing his chapters to 'Mon Père." This is a struggle of good versus evil and a xenophobic village whose minds - and hearts - are opened through the magic of chocolate. Did I mention: There is so much chocolate!?!?

Reynauld describes looking at Vianne's window display: "On a white marble shelf are aligned innumerable boxes, packages, cornets of silver and gold paper, rosettes, bells, flowers, hearts, and long curls of multicolored ribbon. In glass bells and dishes lie the chocolates, the pralines, Venus’s nipples, truffles, mendiants, candied fruits, hazelnut clusters, chocolate seashells, candied rose petals, sugared violets. . . . Protected from the sun by the half-blind that shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés. And in the middle she has built a magnificent centerpiece. A gingerbread house, walls of chocolate-coated pain d’épices with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of florentines studded with crystalized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up the walls, marzipan birds singing in chocolate trees . . . And the witch herself, dark chocolate from the top of her pointed hat to the hem of her long cloak, half-astride a broomstick that is in reality a giant guimauve, the long twisted marshmallows that dangle from the stalls of sweet-vendors on carnival days."


Like in the movie, Vianne makes a chocolate drink - just like the Aztecs. "'I make it myself,' I explained. 'From the chocolate liquor before the fat is added to make it solidify. This is exactly how the Aztecs drank chocolate, centuries ago.'" And she serves it constantly. "We perch on our stools like New York barflies, a cup of chocolate each. Anouk has hers with crème chantilly and chocolate curls; I drink mine hot and black, stronger than espresso. We close our eyes in the fragrant steam and see them coming."       

But there's not just chocolate, when Vianne prepares Armande's birthday party, she describes, "Then the vol-au-vents, light as a puff of summer air, then elderflower sorbet followed by plateau de fruits de mer with grilled langoustines, gray shrimps, prawns, oysters, berniques, spider crabs and the bigger tourteaux—which can nip off a man’s fingers as easily as I could nip a stem of rosemary—winkles, palourdes, and atop it all a giant black lobster, regal on its bed of seaweed. The huge platter gleams with reds and pinks and sea greens and pearly whites and purples, a mermaid’s cache of delicacies that gives off a nostalgic salt smell, like childhood days at the seaside. We distribute crackers for the crab claws, tiny forks for the shellfish, dishes of lemon wedges and mayonnaise. Impossible to remain aloof with such a dish; it demands attention, informality."
               
I appreciate Vianne  and her culinary witchcraft! Like her, "This is an art I can enjoy. There is a kind of sorcery in all cooking; in the choosing of ingredients, the process of mixing, grating, melting, infusing, and flavoring, the recipes taken from ancient books, the traditional utensils—the pestle and mortar with which my mother made her incense turned to a more homely purpose, her spices and aromatics giving up their subtleties to a baser, more sensual magic."

Also... "'I believe that being happy is the only important thing,' I told him at last. Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive." As soon as I finished Chocolat, I drove right in to Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, the second Vianne Rocher book, but that is for another post.
   
On the Plate

There were so many things in the novel and tempted me, including "mendiants—thus named because they were sold by beggars and gypsies years ago—in the kitchen. These are my own favorites—biscuit-sized discs of dark, milk, or white chocolate upon which have been scattered lemon-rind, almonds, and plump Malaga raisins."


But what I don't make often, and I knew would be appreciated are pain au chocolat for breakfast, Anouk-style. "The shop was almost empty—I expect the first of my regulars at about nine, and it was eight-thirty. Only Anouk was sitting at the counter, a half-finished bowl of milk and a pain au chocolat in front of her. She shot a bright glance at the boy, waved the pastry in a vague gesture of greeting, and returned to her breakfast."


Ingredients makes 10 to 12, depending on the size of your triangles
  • 1 C water, warmed slightly (so that it's comfortable to touch, but not steaming)
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3/4 cup flour, divided plus more for sprinkling and rolling
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold salted butter
  • chopped dark chocolate for filling plus more for sprinkling on top
  • Also needed: parchment paper, rolling pin

Procedure

Combine the water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes for the yeast to bloom. Whisk in egg. Add 2-1/2 cup flour, keeping 1/4 cup for later, and the salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.

Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour.


Once the dough has doubled, place it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour or as long as overnight. Pound each stick of butter into rectangle. Some people use a ruler and make it very precise. I am less-precise. Wrap the pounded butter in parchment and chill with the dough.
When you're ready, sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with flour and place dough on top. Roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 12"x 20". Remember, I'm less than precise, but it was around that size.
Remove one rectangle of butter from the fridge and lay it in the middle of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough in to form an envelope. It should look like this...


Using the rolling pin, roll it out to 12" x 20" again. Place the second rectangle of butter on the dough and make another envelope. Then roll it out to the 12" x 20" rectangle, but this time, fold one third of the dough over the other third, like folding a letter. 


Now you have to turn the dough. Turning the dough, by rolling and folding, creates very thin layers of butter and dough. This recipe needs to be turned 4 times. If the butter pushes through a layer of dough, rub it with a little flour. If the butter seems to be melting, chill the dough between each turn. Keep the parchment, the rolling pin, and the surface of the pastry well-floured.

To turn: Rotate the package of dough and butter so that the narrower, open end is facing you, like the pages of a book. Roll the dough out to a rectangle and fold the top third down and the bottom third up, again like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the open end is again facing you. Repeat. Roll the dough out to a rectangle and fold the top third down and the bottom third up. That's 2 turns. 

Repeat two more times. Place the dough in the fridge and let rest for 30 minutes. 


Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to approximately 1/4 to 1/2" thick. Then cut a zigzag pattern to create ten to twelve thin triangles.

Add a few shards of chopped chocolate to the widest part of the triangle, then, starting at the base, roll all the way up and place on a baking sheet.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle the tops with chocolate pieces and let rise for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.


Place the Pain au Chocolat in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The pastries are finished when the tops are deep golden.


Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes on the sheet but be sure remove them after that. Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling completely. Or serve them hot. No one will complain, I promise!


Best served the day they are baked.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.


Click to see what everyone else read in September 2020: here.

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Wendy. The pandemic has been good for one thing: my baking game is getting better!

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