In which I successfully engage in the GORGEOUS ALCHEMY known as croissant-making.
A couple of weeks ago, I was complaining on Twitter about writer's block. I'm super familiar with writer's block. I teach many ways to overcome writer's block, which, it turns out, weirdly does not necessarily help one overcome writer's block. And then it was time to celebrate our son's, Teddy's, eighth birthday party.
Teddy has terrible birthday luck, just TERRIBLE. Ted’s birthdays are sons of bitches. The only problem-free birthday or birthday party he’s enjoyed was his second birthday, a year and party that he won’t remember and, in fact, probably forgot as soon as it was over. Two-year-olds are like dogs; they are forced by their tiny and fairly useless brains to live in the moment. Fortunately, they’re too short to reach drugs and rarely ever frequent the dog tracks.
So, after I publicly complained about writer's block, one of my Facebook friends, Amanda, reminded me that I have a baking blog and that I, thus, have permission to let the images tell the story for me. THE IMAGES CAN TELL THE STORY. Obviously, I'm terrible at doing letting the images tell the story because I keep writing and telling the story. It's not a great story, but I keep writing it, nonetheless. And here I'm still writing.
Anyway (I'm still writing), the night before Ted's birthday party, I decided it was time to try laminated dough for the first time in the form of croissants (because I didn't have enough to do). For one thing, I've rarely had a good croissant. Honestly, even at bakeries, croissants are often dry and unimpressive. They're like rolled up, stale doughnuts. I don't know if they use frozen dough or frozen pastries, but they're just not good. I wanted to see if fresh and homemade croissants would be any better. What is laminated dough, you ask? I understand your confusion. When I think of the word "laminated," I tend to think of my third-grade teacher and laminated worksheets and bulletin board decorations. (I did not like my third-grade teacher. I very much enjoyed irritating her. For shame, young Missy!)
Laminated dough is actually weirdly similar to laminated paper in that it's layers of butter sandwiched between layers of dough. The sandwiching of the butter and the layering of all of the . . . layers (I'm an excellent writer) is the result of rolling out and folding and chilling the dough approximately ten thousand times, or maybe just five or six times--dealer's choice. It's not hard to do; it's just a little laborious. Also, the recipe can seem a little confusing because describing the process of the rolling out and folding and chilling takes a lot of words when the actual process isn't difficult or hard to understand. However, because I've watched many, many episodes of the Great British Bake Off many times, I knew what the process looked like, which helped me greatly.
Speaking of the recipe, I used Mr. Hollywood's recipe from How to Bake (of course).
(I'm going to note ahead of time that my croissant dough and resulting croissants were WAY POOFIER than these. I don't know why.) http://paulhollywood.com/recipes/croissants/
Makes 12 Prep 16-17 hours, including overnight chilling Bake 15 – 20 minutes
Croissants are ubiquitous these days and they can be very disappointing. But, made well, there is nothing better than a warm croissant. Just add coffee and a newspaper for the perfect breakfast. Making the dough is a long process, but the technique itself is relatively easy. The crucial thing is neatness when adding the rolled out butter. If the butter does not fit neatly right to the edge of the dough, you will end up with parts of the croissant with no butter. It’s also important to keep everything cool as you work, including your hands.
1. Put the flour into a bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the water and mix on a slow speed for 2 minutes, then on a medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be fairly stiff.
2. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Dust with flour, put into a clean plastic bag and chill in the fridge for an hour.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough to a rectangle, about 60 x 20cm; it should be about 1cm thick. Flatten the butter to a rectangle, about 40 x 19cm, by bashing it with a rolling pin. Put the butter on the dough so that it covers the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Make sure that it is positioned neatly and comes almost to the edges.
4. Fold the exposed dough at the top down over one-third of the butter. Now gently cut off the exposed bit of butter, without going through the dough, and put it on the top of the dough you have just folded down. Fold the bottom half of the dough up. You will now have a sandwich of two layers of butter and three of dough. Pinch the edges lightly to seal in the butter. Put the dough back in the plastic bag and chill in the fridge for an hour to harden the butter.
5. Take the dough out of the bag and put it on the lightly floured work surface with a short end towards you. Roll into a rectangle, about 60 x 20cm, as before. This time fold up one-third of the dough and then fold the top third down on top to make a neat square to make a neat square. This is called a single turn. Put the dough back into the plastic bag and chill for another hour. Repeat this stage twice more, putting the dough back into the fridge for an hour between turns.
6. Your dough now needs to be left in the fridge for 8 hours, or overnight, to rest and rise slightly.
7. When you are ready to shape the croissants, line 2 or 3 baking trays with baking parchment or silicone paper.
8. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a rectangle, a little more than 42cm long and 30cm wide; it should be about 7mm thick. Trim the edges to neaten them.
9. Cut the rectangle lengthways into 2 strips, then cut triangles along the length of each strip; these should be 12cm wide at the base and about 15cm high (from the middle of the base to the tip). Once you have cut the first triangle, you can use it as a template for the rest. You should get 6 triangles from each strip.
10. Before rolling, hold down the wide base of the triangle and gently tug the opposite thin end to cause a slight tension in the dough. Now starting at the thick end of the triangle, roll up into a croissant. You will have 12 medium-sized croissants. For a traditional crescent shape, turn the ends in towards each other slightly.
11. Put the croissants on the prepared baking trays, leaving space in between them to expand; allow 4 – 6 per tray. Put each tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave the croissants to rise at cool room temperature (18 – 24°C) until at least doubled in size. This should take about 2 hours.
12. Heat your oven to 200°C.
13. Lightly whisk the egg with a pinch of salt to make an egg wash. Brush the top and sides of the croissants with the eggwash. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Eat warm.
Now this stupid blog editor won't let me change the font back to the font you see at the beginning of this blog entry, and I'm going to obsess over it for the next 10 hours. WHY IS LIFE SO HARD??
I've written a lot of words for a blog entry that wasn't supposed to contain any words. I'm now going to present the photos of the croissant-making process in chronological order, throwing in the occasional engaging remark because I care about keeping you interested, dear reader. And I'm apparently now going to talk to you like I'm a narrator in a 19th-century British novel and you're my narratee. And I'm also apparently going to unintentionally expose just how incredibly dorky I am by typing that preceding sentence at all. And so, dear reader, Missy Carr made croissants on March 19 in the Year of our Lord 2016.
It makes a beautiful dough that's fun to play with!
The dough is supposed to be placed in a plastic bag every time for chilling, but I have no plastic bags that big. I use plastic wrap, instead, and it seems to work fine.
The first rolling-out, post-first chill:
And now for the fun part--the bashing of the butter. It's supposed to be flattened and shaped into a rectangle slightly smaller than the rectangle of dough. I didn't feel like I was getting enough bashing purchase from the kitchen counter, so I took it out (layered between two sheets of parchment paper) to the patio and bashed it there. The whole time I was doing it, my son was on the other side of the door, metaphorically raising the roof with his hands and yelling, "Whoop, whoop!" repeatedly. Making croissants is fun for the whole family! I would not have guessed that previously.
You might have noticed in the above pictures that I was terrible at bashing the butter into a rectangle. Please don't tell anyone. I'd like to keep that quiet.
So, as you see in the last picture above, I had my first "book." And then it had to be chilled for an hour again. And then it had to be rolled out into another rectangle and folded again (a "turn") and chilled for another hour.
And this process has to be repeated for a total of two more times (each time chilling in plastic in between turns) before resting in the refrigerator overnight or for at least eight hours.
And HERE was my mistake. I didn't read enough of the recipe before I started, so I didn't realize until the next morning that, after the dough is rolled out the final time and cut and shaped, which I knew would take me a not insignificant amount of time because of my inexperience, the shaped croissants have to rest for two hours (!) before baking. And I had a birthday party to cook and prepare for. And regular work to do. And animal and laundry chores to complete. However, because I sometimes have the heart of a champion (not when exercising, obviously), I was determined to complete the process with my best effort. I rolled and cut and shaped. And added chocolate to a few of the croissants to make pain au chocolat (croissants with a bar of chocolate rolled up in them). I had what seemed like excessive scraps leftover, so I simply made oddly shaped/fat croissants with them, too. I found the fat ones particularly adorable, especially after baking.
I don't know if those butter lumps (in picture above) are supposed to be there. I suspect not.
And then, after the two hours had passed, it was time for magic--the baking and the layers and the butter and the deliciousness.
I had a butter leak on one of the pans, although I don't know which roll(s). The butter is not supposed to leak out, so I'll have to do a bit of research before I attempt croissants again.
But the croissants were GLORIOUS, anyway!
But had I managed the layers, or did they turn bready? LET'S SEE, SHALL WE?
Look at those layers! The picture above was taken at the birthday party; I had taken a couple of croissants with us to my mom's house so that she could try them. My husband wouldn't allow me to take all of the croissants to share with the party people. He was croissant-selfish. And they had a good bake!
(You can see the Minions cake I accidentally mauled four times in the background. It was a good cake mainly because I didn't bake it.)
What I love about baking bread and pastry is that, no matter how imperfect they may turn out to be, they can still be delicious, and imperfections don't matter if a person isn't trying to sell them. I can say this without feeling at all arrogant because it's someone else's recipe entirely, but these were by FAR the best croissants I've ever eaten. You should try them. Seriously. Do it now. Except plan ahead about 17 hours because there is a lot of chilling and resting time. Thus, what are the lessons from this experience? Croissants are the perfect baked goods for lazy people to make (see: chilling and resting time), and one should never decide to make croissants for the first time while also preparing for a small child's birthday party.
Also, I'm apparently TERRIBLE at letting the images speak for themselves.