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What Pain Au Chocolat Wants To Beca865-we_should_cocoa_v3When I first saw that this month’s challenge for We Should Cocoa (hosted by JibberJabberUK and led by Choclette of the Chocolate Log Blog), was chocolate and vegetables, my initial reaction was: “Goodness, what on earth am I going to make for this?” After a brief moment of reflection, I realized that there were plenty of good options out there—chocolate and zucchini, chocolate and pumpkin, chocolate and beets—but unfortunately, they all seemed to point towards cake.

Vegetables and Chocolate? Yes, Indeed.And since I had made cake for last’s month’s “Showstopper” challenge (which you can read about here), I wanted to do something different this time around.

Set-up for Sweet Potato-Chocolate BunsThen I remembered a variation for sweet potato brioche that I had stumbled across in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible a few weeks ago. She had said that the sweet potato gave the dough a beautiful golden glow. The concept intrigued me, and I had decided that I would try making a sweet roll along those lines in the future.

A Smooth, Sleek DoughDoubled In SizeWell, the future seemed to have arrived. Chocolate and sweet potato sounded like a wonderful match. I envisioned studding tender, golden dough with a healthy dose of chocolate chunks, and then pulling a pan of warm, spiraled buns oozing with chocolate out of the oven. However, as I didn’t want to use brioche (because of my mother’s egg allergy), I determined to work out a sweet potato version of my favorite pan bread recipe instead.

A Plenteous Layer of ChocolateFold In ThirdsRoll Out--Don't Worry When The Chocolate Breaks ThroughI was slightly apprehensive about its chances for success, but the dough turned out beautifully smooth and silky, with a pleasing faint orange tint. Emboldened, I loaded it down with chocolate chunks, cut it into thick slices, and arranged the buns in a round cake pan.

Slicing The RollsArrange in the PanProofed and Ready for the OvenAfter they came out of the oven, I brushed the buns with a little melted butter to make them shine, and then impatiently waited for them to cool off enough for me to try them.

Hot from the OvenOozing? They certainly were that. And the dough had baked up delicate and fluffy, the kind that tears into long, feathery strips whenever you try to pull a piece off. It also had the lovely golden hue that Beranbaum had promised. However, you don’t really taste the sweet potato. Just like you don’t really taste the carrots in carrot cake. It adds moisture and color and a certain mysterious something, which you probably would never identify as sweet potato, yet is definitely there. An autumnal fragrance, an elusive nuttiness. It’s hard to describe . . .

Sweet Potato-Chocolate BunsHowever, when my mother tried one, she straightforwardly proclaimed: “These are what pain au chocolat have always wanted to be!”

Well, there you have it! You can’t get a much better endorsement than that.

Oozing with ChocolateSweet Potato-Chocolate Buns

Ingredients:

⅓ cup (80 ml.) warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch granulated sugar
1 ⅔ cups (8 ¾ oz.) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon (90 ml.) whole milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed (it’s also fine to use light brown sugar if that’s all you have)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sweet potato puree (see note at end of recipe)
1 heaping cup chocolate chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
 

Technique:

  1. Mix the yeast into the warm water, and sprinkle a pinch of granulated sugar over the surface. Let stand until bubbles are beginning to rise to the surface, about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the yeast mixture, the flour, and the milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes together to form a ball, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with a kitchen towel. Leave the dough to rest for 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Return the bowl to the mixer. Add the salt and sugar and beat on low speed until they are incorporated into the dough, about 3 minutes.
  5. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for another 8 to 10 minutes to develop a strong, elastic dough.
  6. To test the strength of the dough, use the “windowpane” test. Flour your fingertips and pinch off a small piece of the dough. Then use your fingertips to lightly pull and coax the dough out into a thin round. If the dough has been mixed sufficiently, you will be able to stretch it until the center is thin enough to see light through, without the dough tearing.The "Windowpane" Test
  7. Turn the speed down to low again, and slowly beat in the softened butter and the sweet potato puree, adding them in small increments.
  8. It takes a while for the dough to absorb the butter and sweet potato, at least another 6 to 8 minutes. At first, it will look like you’ve simply succeeded in turning your beautiful, stretchy dough into a slippery mess, but persevere and it will come together.
  9. Oil a clean bowl and transfer the dough into it. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for an hour and a half, until puffy and doubled in size.
  10. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.
  11. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Re-shape into a ball and cover again. Let rest 15 minutes. (This relaxes the gluten in the dough and makes it easier to roll out.)
  12. Roll the dough out into a 9-x-12-inch rectangle.
  13. Sprinkle the chocolate chunks evenly over the surface and press them securely down into the dough.
  14. Fold up the rectangle in thirds, like a letter, enclosing the chocolate inside.
  15. Roll the dough out into a 9-x-12-inch rectangle again. Don’t panic when the chocolate chunks start breaking through the dough. They’re supposed to do that.
  16. Roll the dough up into a tight cylinder and slice into nine 1 ½-inch thick rounds. Make sure to use a sharp serrated knife with a thin blade and a long sawing motion in order to cut neatly through the chocolate chunks. And don’t press down on the blade until the very end (when you’re separating the round from the rest of the cylinder), or else you’ll tear some of the chocolate chunks out of the dough.
  17. Arrange the rounds in the prepared pan, seven around the perimeter and two in the center, spacing them evenly apart.
  18. Cover and let rise until the buns are puffy and nearly doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours. An impression made with a floured fingertip should not bounce back.
  19. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Bake until the buns are golden-brown on top, 25 to 30 minutes.
  20. Remove to a wire rack and brush with the two tablespoons of melted butter.
  21. Serve warm or at room temperature. I prefer them warm, when the chocolate is still molten and oozing.

To make the sweet potato puree: Peel and dice a medium-sized sweet potato. Place the chunks in a microwave-safe bowl, pour in a little water, and cover with plastic wrap. Pierce a few steam vents in the plastic wrap and microwave on full power until the flesh of the sweet potato is soft and easily pierced with a butter knife, 5 to 7 minutes. Run the cooked sweet potato through a food mill or a potato ricer to make a smooth puree. If you have neither a food mill or a potato ricer (like me), you can use a stiff rubber spatula to push the flesh of the sweet potato through a mesh sieve. This last option takes a bit of elbow grease and a lot of patience.

Yield: 9 buns

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