Saturday, May 27, 2006
Croissants: A First (and Second) Attempt
Everyone has a Little-French-Pastry-Shop story, but mine involves a trombone.
Or a trombonist at least. Yes, when I was young, I played the trombone. My little sister played the clarinet, and somehow we made it to adulthood without our mother killing us. I suspect this was because we both gave up the instruments by high school.
It might also have been because we didn't actually practice said trombone and clarinet at the same time, or, indeed, at home. We practiced at school, three days a week, in the early morning. Our mother would drive us over for practice, and, if we were early – and we always made sure we were early – we would stop for croissants at this Little-French-Pastry-Shop around the corner.
In winter, it would be mildly chilly - this was Southern California, a reasonable place to live - and the bakery was always warm and light. Most of the day's goods were still being prepared, but the basket of croissants was freshly filled. Those croissants were the fluffiest things I had ever eaten, their soft, buttery layers still warm from the oven. The three of us would sit in the early California sunlight and pull the soft dough from the croissants as the sun rose over palm trees.
Then we would go practice the trombone and clarinet for an hour, so the idyllic feel to the day rubbed off fast.
Not unlike my first try at baking croissant.
I prepared the dough carefully the night before, refrigerating it as instructed, and arose early the next morning to shape and bake them. Fifteen hours after beginning the process, I pulled them out of the oven and found that they were like tiny little hockey pucks.
Tasty, yes, but not fluffy the way a croissant should be. Fifteen hours of work and I had messed up the very first step: warm the milk, add the yeast. I hadn't so much warmed the milk as boiled it. The yeast, then, weren't so much given a warm wake-up bath as they were cooked in their skins.
My second batch did much better. Not killing the yeast always helps.
Here is the recipe I used. The process takes about 15 hours total, but only about an hour of active time – the rest of the time, the dough is cooling its jets and rising.
Makes enough for 24 small croissants
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
4 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp flour
3 sticks cold butter
First, make the dough. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it's warm to the touch, then remove from heat and whisk in the yeast. Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, until it froths.
Meanwhile, mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir the milk and yeast in and beat by hand for a few seconds, until the dough is smooth and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 to 12 hours.
4 to 12 hours later . . .
Prepare the butter layer. (For a wonderful online demonstration on how to incorporate a butter layer, check out WookieHut Cuisine.)
Scatter 3 Tbsp of flour over a large, clean work surface, and roll the sticks of butter in it. Pound the butter gently with a rolling pin until it's soft, then flour your hands and knead the butter into one big ball. It should be malleable but not melting. Divide the butter into 8 segments, and flatten each into a small disk.
Scrape clean the work surface and re-flour. Turn the cold dough out onto the surface and push it into a rectangle, about 6 x 12 inches, with the narrow end facing you, like a business letter.
Lay out the 8 slabs of butter to cover the bottom 2/3 of the letter. Fold the top third down, then the bottom third up – exactly like folding a business letter.
Use a rolling pin to press the dough into a rectangle about 12 x 24 inches. Fold the bottom quarter up to the middle, the top quarter down to the middle, and then the whole thing in half. Do the business letter step again, then the quarter-folding step again.
Refrigerate, loosely covered, 2 to 12 hours.
Now to begin shaping. Divide the dough in half. For each half, do the following:
Roll it out to a 12 x 12 square. Cut it into two strips, each 6 x 12. Cut each strip into 6 triangles. Shape each triangle by pulling the bottom out slightly to make it wider, then rolling it up.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Allow to rise about 1.5 hours, until puffy, but not doubled in size. Brush with an egg wash.
Bake 20 – 25 minutes, until light brown.