Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chocolate Cinnamon Pastry Twirls . . . (When the End Justifies the Mess!)

Perhaps you're familiar with Julia Child's statement about messiness? Essentially, she said that you'll never learn to be a good cook if you're constantly worried about making a mess. I believe that's sound advice, at least as it pertains to one's very own kitchen.

It's advice that helps to free me from distraction while in the midst of assembling a new recipe. That's when I tend to be at my messiest--while making something completely new, alone in the kitchen. As a case in point, I present these marvelous chocolate-cinnamon pastries.  My kitchen wasn't fit for man nor beast while I was preparing them, but that didn't bother me. Hell bent for pastry, I just forged ahead.

I really wasn't sure what to call these. The original recipe, which comes to us from Marcy Goldman's book A Passion for Baking, labels them "chewy chocolate sticks" but I felt that was inadequate to describe their lusciousness. After all, that could refer to something as mundane as a Tootsie Roll and this, my friends, is distinctly not a Tootsie Roll.

Made from an unusually soft, and gently sweet, yeast dough, this was a formula that I tweaked a bit to suit my taste. The original recipe called for raisins along with an equal proportion of chocolate chips; I omitted the raisins completely, and increased the chocolate chips by about 50 percent. I also added in almost 75 percent more cinnamon than called for, and at least 25 percent more cocoa powder. I used SAF Gold Instant yeast, which is specially formulated for richer doughs. Additionally, I decided to whisk the grated zest of one large orange into the sugary filling.

And, only out of necessity, I used more flour than the ingredients list indicated--about 25 percent more, in fact. My dough, when first mixed, was not a dough at all--it was batter. I knew it was not going to evolve into dough, and it could not possibly have risen into anything that could have been rolled out or cut into any sort of shape. So, I kept adding in more flour, very gradually, until I felt the dough had enough body to fulfill its yeasty destiny. The baked interior texture of the pastries was pretty fantastic, all in all--soft and supple, without being even slightly dense, gummy, or dry--so I'm glad I followed my instincts.

I ended up with well over half a cup of the filling mixture leftover, which I poured into a plastic baggie and saved. There just seemed to be a ton of the stuff. But I'm not complaining. I'll find a use for it. You know I will.

Chocolate Cinnamon Pastry Twirls

Yield: 12 good-sized twirls

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the dough:
1 and 1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp. instant yeast (The original recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. of rapid rise yeast; if you use that, dissolve the yeast in the water first. Instant yeast does not require that step.)
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup dry milk powder
2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for your work surface when it comes time for rolling
2 and 3/4 cups bread flour

For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. cocoa powder (I used Penzey's brand Dutch process cocoa--very good.)
1 and 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (Use your best cinnamon--not the cheap stuff!)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into small chunks
1 and 1/2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Nestle.)
Grated zest of one large orange


1 large egg white, whisked
Leftover filling from above, to sprinkle atop the egg white that you'll have brushed onto the unbaked pastries

Line two (or three, if you have that many) baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using just a hand whisk, mix together the water, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, vanilla, milk powder, and most of the flours. Blend well. Put the dough hook on your mixer, put the bowl on as well, and knead the dough on the lowest speed for about 8 to 10 minutes. Continue adding in flour until a very soft dough forms. Remember, you're not looking for the consistency of a batter, but you're also not looking for something like a solid bread dough. 

Take the bowl off the mixer and cover it with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with vegetable spray, then cover that with a light dish towel. Put the bowl in a draft-free spot. Let the dough rise until it's almost doubled; this could easily take up to an hour. 

While the dough is rising, mix together the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and orange zest. 

Prepare a work surface with sufficient flour for a very soft dough. Flour your hands as well. Dump the risen dough out onto your work surface. Deflate it gently with your palms.

Roll the dough out into a big rectangle, about 10 x 20 inches.

Sprinkle the dry filling mix all over the rectangle, almost right up to the edges.

Then drop the little chunks of butter evenly over that and sprinkle the mini-chips atop that.

Now, as carefully as you can, starting with the long side of the dough, roll the whole thing up, jelly roll style. (If your dough is as soft as mine was, it will be a very loose and flat roll, but that's okay!)

With a bench scraper or sharp unserrated knife, cut the roll into 12 pieces.

Gently lifting each piece, bring it over onto the baking sheet; stretch it a bit and then twist it. (Filling may drop out and seem to make a mess, but don't panic. Just keep working. I fit about five twists onto each sheet, but they rose and then baked together a little too closely; when I make these the next time, I'm only going to put four on each sheet.) Brush each piece with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle it with excess sugar mix.

Cover the filled sheets with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with vegetable spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Let the twists proof (do their final rise) for 30 to 40 minutes, just until they've almost doubled in size. Bake them for about 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let the pastries cool on their baking sheets, set over cooling racks.

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