We’ve been told time and again that hard work is worth the effort, but here’s the real deal: Some things aren’t always worth the effort. Wrangling two kids into coats and hats to traipse through a foot of snow to go buy diapers when Amazon two-day shipping is just so free? Not worth it. Getting dressed up and fancified before catching dinner and a movie when your couch and jammies and Downton Abbey are calling you? Nope.
Some things, though, are totally worth the effort. Hitting the trail for a quick run before the kids are awake is always a good plan for me. Doing the work hustle during the week so you can relax on the weekend is definitely time well spent. And running your nearly 10-year-old mixer for almost 40 minutes straight to make homemade brioche that can then be turned into French-inspired pastry is so, so worth the effort. It is effort-filled, believe me, but when you’re eating a fresh pain aux raisins with a hot cup of coffee, and the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping (because pastry makes such magic), it’s hard to remember the hard work that got you there. You’re just there, and you’re grateful.
This pain aux raisins recipe is from Joanne Chang at Flour Bakery and Café in Boston, which I always add to the list of must-see-and-eat-at spots when someone’s visiting the area. We love going to the bakery for breakfast on the weekend, but really, I’ve enjoyed having the cookbook just as much. So much of Flour’s best stuff is in there. I have a long list left to go, but if you can handle their basic brioche recipe first, then there’s a slew of amazing pastries you can make with it. So go buy the cookbook, guys! It’s a good one!
And now, for the main attraction. Be warned, this is not New Year’s resolution-friendly fare. Unless, of course, your New Year’s resolution is to eat pastry every week — in which case, yay, you.
- For the brioche:
- • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (315 grams)
- • 2 ¼ cups bread flour (340 grams)
- • 3 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (82 grams)
- • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- • ½ cup cold water (120 grams)
- • 5 eggs
- • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces
- For the pastry cream:
- • 1 ¼ cups milk (300 grams)
- • ½ cup sugar (100 grams)
- • ¼ cup cake flour (30 grams)
- • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- • 4 egg yolks
- • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the pain aux raisins:
- • ½ recipe brioche (This means you’re already set to make two batches of pain aux raisins! So go ahead and make one batch to bake right away and one to freeze.)
- • 1 recipe pastry cream
- • 1 cup golden raisins (160 grams)
- For the glaze:
- • 1 cup powdered sugar (140 grams)
- • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
- • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- To get things rolling, start by mixing together the brioche dough. That means you’ll need to put the flours, yeast, sugar, salt, water and eggs all together in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let the mixer run on low until everything is mixed together, about 4 minutes. Keep an eye on it because that flour likes to fly over the edges. And you might need to scrape the sides here and there to make sure all the bits get incorporated. Once the dough seems like it’s come together, mix it for another 4 minutes. The dough will seem super dry, but it should still be well combined.
- Now it’s time to add all that butter. Keep the mixer running on low, and add the butter, one piece at a time, until it disappears. After that, keep the mixer running on low for another 10 to 15 minutes while it does its mixing magic. You can scrape the bottom and the sides of the bowl if you need to. Just make sure that butter is well incorporated before you go to the next step.
- When you feel confident that your butter is well mixed in, turn the mixer speed up to medium, and let it run for 15 more minutes. This is when the real magic happens! The dough will change from rough and scraggly into something soft, beautiful and shiny. It will start slapping pretty loudly against the sides of the bowl as it spins around in the mixer. Huzzah! That means you’ve done it right! Give it a little tug to make sure it stretches nicely and springs back. (If it’s still too scraggly, let it mix a few more minutes. If it’s too loose, add a few tablespoons of flour.)
- Gather all the dough together, and place it in a large bowl, cover it with some Saran Wrap (with the wrap touching the dough), and let it proof in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. (You can freeze it at this point, too, in an airtight container for a week.)
- In the meantime, make the pastry cream (you can make the pastry cream and refrigerate it for up to 3 days in advance, so go ahead and get it going once the dough is done mixing).
- To make the pastry cream: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cake flour and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs yolks. Then whisk the flour mixture into the egg yolks until it’s well mixed and makes a sort of thick paste.
- Scald the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat (you’re looking for bubbles around the edges but not a full boil). Remove it from the heat, and slowly whisk in the egg mixture. Slowly is the operative term here — too fast and you might have scrambled yolks! Once the milk and egg/flour mixture is totally combined, put the saucepan back over medium heat, and whisk it quickly and constantly for about 3 minutes. The bubbles will disappear, and the mixture will get thick as it comes to a boil. Once it gets to a boil, give it 10 or 15 good, quick whisks, and then pull it off the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Now you can — and should — pour the mixture through a mesh sieve into a bowl to make sure it’s totally smooth, but to be honest, I didn’t, and it still worked out. So that’s one less dish if you’re feeling risky. Either way, pour the pastry cream into a bowl, cover it with Saran Wrap (pressing it down on the surface of the cream), and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, or up to 3 days if you’re working ahead.
- And now, it’s assembly time! Take half of your brioche dough, and roll it out on a floured surface until it’s about 16 inches long by 12 inches wide and ¼ inch thick. With one of the long sides facing toward you, spread the pastry cream evenly over the top. Then sprinkle the raisins evenly over that. Starting at the long end farthest from you, slowly (but tightly) roll the dough toward you so you’re left with a 16-inch-long log. Use a sharp knife to neatly trim the uneven dough from the edges. Then slice 10 equal pieces (about 1 ½ inches each).
- At this point, you can wrap the sliced log of pastries tightly in Saran Wrap and freeze them for up to a week. In fact, while you’re already doing all this hard work, why not use half the brioche for a batch now, then get the other half of the brioche and assemble pain aux raisins to put in the freezer for a rainy day? You’ll thank yourself later! (To do this, just take the frozen pastries out of the freezer when you’re ready to bake them so they can thaw. It’ll take about 2 to 3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.) If you’re not freezing them at this point, though, place them cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and cover them loosely with Saran Wrap. Put them in a warm spot to proof for a few hours. This might mean 2 hours if your place is warm, but in our chilly apartment, it took a little more than 3 hours. You’ll know they’re ready when the dough is soft and pillowy. Just make sure you’re patient and wait until they get to that point.
- Now it’s time to bake! Did you ever think we’d get here? Bake the pastries for 30 to 40 minutes in a 350-degree-F oven, until they’re golden brown around the edges and just barely browning in the center. Pull them from the oven, stick the baking sheet on a wire rack, and let them cool for another 20 minutes. While they’re still warm, though, brush on the glaze.
- To make the glaze: Whisk together the sugar, 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla until it’s nice and smooth. If it’s not smooth enough, add a bit more water (a few teaspoons at a time until you reach the desired consistency). This, too, can be done ahead if you want. Just mix it up, and store it at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.
- Now spread lots of glaze on top of the warm pastries. Then gobble them up immediately (like I really have to tell you that). Really, they’re best when they’re warm, but they’re good anytime. If you want to reheat them the next day (you can store them on the kitchen counter for a day if you have any left), just pop them into a 300-degree-F oven for 5 minutes. Them commence gobbling again.