These little pastries are an Eastern European version of pain au chocolat. I like them just as much as their more famous French cousin, but they are easier to make due to a lower butter content. When I was growing up chocolate snails were a breakfast treat, but they take a few hours to make and taste best fresh out of the oven, and I’m not one to get up at 5 am to bake for breakfast. So these days I mostly have them for afternoon tea — to be honest as a grownup I am happy to have something less sugary for breakfast.
The original recipe is from here, my sister found and tested it before she sent it to me — chocolate snails were her childhood favourite, but she can’t find them where she lives now. I only tweaked the recipe very slightly, and translated it. The photos are by me.
I usually invite some friends over when I make these, and they are a big hit with adults and kids alike. I rarely have any left over, but they can be frozen on the day you bake them. When you defrost a batch, freshen them up in the oven at 160C for abut 5 minutes after they thaw. Eat immediately.
A note on difficulty: if you haven’t baked croissant-type pastries before, this recipe will sound awfully finicky. Don’t be discouraged though, it’s worth giving this a try: not only are they delicious, but laminating dough is a skill that will open a lot of doors into the world of pastries. From start to finish this takes about 3 to 4 hours. The first time you might be working most of the time, but once you get used to the steps it will become much easier and you’ll have plenty of downtime.
- 200 g butter (soft)
- 100 g flour
- 300 ml milk
- 2 tsp dry yeast (or 30 g fresh yeast)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 400 g flour (pastry flour is best)
- 50 g butter (softish)
- pinch of salt
- 50 g powdered sugar (sift it to save yourself a lot of grief)
- 2 egg yolks (don’t worry, the whites will be used for egg wash)
- 100 g cocoa powder (sifted)
- 100 g granulated sugar
Glazing and drizzle
- 2 egg whites, beaten with a fork
- 50 g melted butter (separate bowl)
- 100 ml hot milk mixed with 1 tsp vanilla extract (separate bowl)
First make the butter dough: mix the butter and the flour with a spatula or fork. Scoop it onto a sheet of parchment paper and mold it into a rectangular block. Cover with another sheet of paper and roll out between the two sheets to a big thin rectangle, as shown. Put it in the fridge (still between the sheets of paper).
Heat 100 ml milk to warm, not hot (35 – 40 C), mix in yeast and one tsp sugar. Let it sit until bubbly. In the meantime, mix butter into flour in a mixer or with your hands. Add salt and sift in powdered sugar (push the sugar through a sieve using a spoon). The sifting is important, otherwise your dough will have little rocks of sugar in it, which are virtually impossible to get rid of. Mix briefly. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix.
Whisk the other 200 ml milk with the egg yolks. Add the yeast mix to the well, then the egg mix. Combine in the mixer with the dough attachment, or with your hands, and knead until the dough is homogeneous and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl or your hands any more. Add a small amount of flour if it’s too sticky. When done, cover the bowl with a wet tea towel and let the dough rest for about 50 minutes.
Roll out the dough in a rectangular shape, as wide as your butter dough but about 50% longer. Put the butter dough on top at one end: this involves peeling off the top paper, flipping it onto the dough then peeling off the other paper. Fold the uncovered part of the dough over the butter, and then fold the other third on top, as shown in the pictures. Then fold it in three in the other direction, as in the last picture below. Roll it out again in a similarly long rectangle, and fold it in three twice just like before. Repeat the rolling and folding one more time (three roll-and-fold steps altogether). If your dough becomes too stretchy or sticky from the butter, then put it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to rest, then continue. With croissants this extra cooling is essential, but for this recipe it’s usually not necessary.
If you were working on a silicone non-stick mat up to this point, you should remove it now: you’re about to cut out your snails with a very sharp knife. Roll out the folded dough one last time in a long rectangle about 1/2 cm (1/4 in) thick. Mix together the sifted cocoa powder and granulated sugar, and spread it over the rectangle, leaving a strip along one of the long edges clear, as shown. Roll up the dough towards the clear strip, sealing at that edge with a bit of egg white.
Cut circles about a centimetre (1/2 in) thick off the long roll: use a sharp chef’s knife if possible, and cut with very gentle pressure and short back and forth movements. Glazing the blade with melted butter can help. Lay the snails gently on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving generous gaps around them: they will rise and grow in the oven. Try to lose as little cocoa as possible.
Glaze the tops of the snails with egg white and the sides with melted butter. The tops won’t glaze nicely because of all the powdery cocoa (see picture above), that’s ok; just get some egg white on each of them. Bake one sheet at a time at 180C to golden. With fan it takes about 10 minutes, if you don’t have a fan-forced oven, try 190-200C. When they come out of the oven, while they are still hot, spoon about a Tbs of hot vanilla milk over each snail, this makes the cocoa nice and gooey. They are best enjoyed while still warm, or within a few hours.
If you have leftovers that you’re not eating on the same day, freeze them. When you defrost a batch, put them in the oven for about 5 minutes at 160C to get that fresh-baked feel.