Or, “Chinese brioche with chocolate chips”…
It’s true that almost no British version of a traditional French pastry comes up to scratch. But at least here you can find a croissant or a pain au chocolat should a craving strike. Trouble is, one of my all-time favourite French bakery treats is virtually unknown in the UK. It’s mysteriously known as a chinois (literally, ‘Chinese’) and if anyone knows why I would appreciate an explanation! But it’s not the name that makes this family-sized brioche, rolled around a filling of crème pâtissière, so interesting to me. It’s the – well, it’s the fact that it’s a giant brioche filled with crème pâtissière. Throw some chocolate chips into the mix, too, and you’ve definitely got my attention. So when a chinois craving strikes, there’s only one thing for it: I have to make one myself.
Making brioche dough can be complicated and time-consuming. I know that when I first started out baking, yeast breads seemed intimidating enough, and brioche one of the most intimidating. But in this case, when the flavour of the brioche has so much extra, gooey, chocolate-y deliciousness added to it, there’s no need to kill yourself with an especially complex recipe. And there’s never any need to be afraid of working with yeast! This impressive looking pastry is actually, then, surprisingly simple to make, especially if you have a stand mixer or a bread machine to relieve you of some of the kneading work. You have to make the dough and let it rise, make the crème pâtissière (a matter of minutes), form the dough, rise it, and bake it. And since this is a pastry that is most definitely made for sharing, you can share the love.
220ml [1 cup] milk
2 eggs, beaten
140g [2/3 cup] butter, melted
500g (3 1/3 cups] white bread flour
1 tsp salt
60g [1/4 cup] sugar
2 tsp – the equivalent of 1 sachet – easy-blend instant dried yeast
Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Whisk together the milk, melted butter and eggs. Add the liquid into the flour mixture gradually to form a soft sticky dough. Knead thoroughly by hand or with a stand mixer fitted with dough hooks until you have a smooth, shiny dough that stretches easily without breaking. This can take around 20 minutes to achieve. Once you reach this step, place the ball of dough into a lightly oiled bowl large enough to leave room for it to expand, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in a warm area to rise for around an hour or until doubled in size.
TOP TIP: If you have a bread machine with an ‘artisan dough only’ (i.e. non-bake) cycle then you can use your machine to mix and knead the dough for you – which is what I did.
300ml [1 1/3 cups] milk
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornflour (UK) or cornstarch (US)
55g [1/4 cup] sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat and whisk until well thickened. Pour into a bowl and place a piece of clingfilm/plastic food wrap right on the surface to prevent a skin forming, then leave to cool and refrigerate until required.
Assembly and baking
Additional ingredients: 200g [6 oz] chocolate chips
Lightly butter a deep cake tin, around 22-25cm in diameter, and preferably with a removable base.
Knock the brioche dough down thoroughly and form it into a ball, then, on a well-floured surface and with well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to form a rectangle around 1.5cm thick, with its longest edge measuring around 35 cm. Trim the edges using a sharp knife if necessary, to get a nice neat shape.
Spread the crème pâtissière over the whole of the rectangle of dough, except for a 2cm strip along the side of one of the longest edges.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the rectangle and then roll up tightly, starting with the long end that doesn’t have a bald strip along it. Slice the roll into pieces, cutting it every 4cm or so.
Arrange the slices of dough carefully in the buttered cake tin, using a spatula if needed to avoid them unrolling or losing any of that delicious filling. Place 6 rolls around the edge of the cake tin and fit one in the middle. Cover the cake tin tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise for around 1 hour or until the rolls have doubled in size and are snugly pressed up against one another.
Heat the oven to 180 C, remove the clingfilm and bake the chinois for around 35 minutes, or until it is a nice light golden brown. Leave to cool slightly, then remove from the tin and serve, pulling the parts off from the whole to give everyone their own serving.