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Recipe #15 – Croissants

October 17, 2009

You know Tiernen must really not feel well if she’s giving me the chance to do a guest blog post, especially about something as important as croissants.  I like croissants a lot…Tiernen LOVES them.  Truthfully, it is probably only because this is a text medium and not an auditory one because there’s no chance she would let my poor, non-French pronunciation of these iconic little pastries show up on anything she was doing Martha related.

We decided to do the croissants because we had a long weekend and because the baking had been on hiatus while we were in California. In short, we were highly motivated and ambitious.  When we started I figured it could be a great bonding thing…or the end of our marriage. I didn’t see a lot of in between.  Since I’m posting here, you have a pretty good idea which it was.

We started out ok, or so we thought.  Martha’s recipe calls for fresh yeast, but as I searched through the grocery store, all I could find was the regular packets of dry yeast.  I remembered from some of my bread baking experiments that few people use fresh yeast and that the dry stuff works just as well. What I didn’t remember was that to activate dry yeast, you have to use hot liquid to wake it up.  When you see this cold milk being used below this,  just consider it our way of showing you how NOT to make croissants. This, of course, is a long way of saying, “It’s my fault.”

Cold milk + dry yeast = bad times.

Cold milk + dry yeast = bad times.

FYI - Flour is like me and dry yeast is like Tiernen on a Saturday morning. i.e. flour doesn't wake it up.

FYI - Flour is like me and dry yeast is like Tiernen on a Saturday morning. i.e. flour doesn't wake it up.

Martha’s recipe was also very specific about the kind of flour to use: 4 or so cups of bread flour and 1 cup of pastry flour.  Bread flour was easy enough to find and I’ve used it before.  It has a lot of gluten so it is good for pizza crusts. Pastry flour, on the other hand is impossible to find.  We found a website that said to substitute equal parts cake flour and regular. Done and done.

"Smooth" dough

"Smooth" dough

Step 2 and we were already a little skeptical. Our smooth dough was anything but. I was a little worried this ball might be thrown at me.

Inserting the butter package into the dough envelope

Inserting the butter package into the dough envelope

Who doesn’t love getting a package? No one, right? So, how good does a butter package sound? Well, this is where I really started questioning if the marriage would make it.  Not only did we realize we used a little too much flour in the previous step, but we discovered that hammering five (yes, five) sticks of butter together is not that easy. Tiernen was getting frustrated and she had a rolling pin in her hands. I was afraid.

Folding the envelope over the package

Folding the envelope over the package

Roll it all out again - this will be a theme.

Roll it all out again - this will be a theme.

Once you seal up the butter in the dough, you have to roll it out for the first time. This is fairly difficult and I start wondering how little french grandmas are able to do this.

Folding the dough...

Folding the dough...

The two keys to making croissants are keeping it really cold (if you think we’re not getting marble countertops now, you’re kidding yourself) so the butter doesn’t melt and repeating this folding/rolling process approximately 349 times every few hours so that you end up with the characteristic flakes.  Really it was only three fold/rolls, but if felt like more.  Oh yeah, it is now 9:00pm (we started around noon) and we just realized that we screwed up the yeast in step 1. It probably goes without saying that shortly thereafter I found myself back at Harris Teeter…and wondering what witty things I’d put on my match.com profile.  If Tiernen let me live.

A beautiful site...if 9 hours earlier

A beautiful site...if 9 hours earlier

Tiernen watches the yeast wake up...and me fall asleep.

Tiernen watches the yeast wake up...and me fall asleep.

Croissants, Take 2, started about 10:00 pm.  This time, we activated the yeast, used the proper amount of flour and found our dough turned out much smoother.  The butter pounding and making the envelope stage was probably more difficult this time, maybe because we were tired and maybe because T would have rather hit something else with the rolling pin.  You decide.

Day 2 of croissants...more folding, more rolling

Day 2 of croissants...more folding, more rolling

On day 2 of croissants baking the good news is  I had a chance to redeem myself. The bad news is it was because Tiernen got swine flu and was stuck in bed all day.  So, I took to folding and rolling and folding and rolling and folding…

The worst yet - rolling this dough out to 30 x 18.

The worst yet - rolling this dough out to 30 x 18.

…finally I started making some strides towards doing some actual baking…but not before one last god awful roll.

Croissants starting to take shape.

Croissants starting to take shape.

Now it actually started getting fun.  You slice all the dough up into these pretty triangles (the slit in the middle helps with the shape) and roll them up.  There is clearly some trick to rolling them because mine ended up being a little dense and didn’t exactly hold their crescent shape very well.

Check out those flaky layers!

Check out those flaky layers!

Finally ready for baking

Finally ready for baking

Once you got them all rolled up and shaped you had to let them sit in a warm place to rise for an hour before baking. Not to open old wounds, but unactivated yeast isn’t so good for the whole rising process. This picture is actually from the first batch…they didn’t rise at all.

Final product

Final product

Despite screwing up the yeast and the flour and darn near everything else, this final product turned out ok. The flavor was great and it was as flaky as any croissant you’ve ever had.  Unfortunately, these didn’t really hold their shape well and some of the flakes started separating making the dough fan out a bit. I think it is probably my poor croissants assembly skills, but it may have been the butter not being cold enough too.

Decided to make a chocolate and a ham and cheese croissants with leftovers.

Decided to make a chocolate and a ham and cheese croissants with leftovers.

Croissants, Take 2. A little better.

Croissants, Take 2. A little better.

Take 2 rose a little more, but I still had some of the same issues with it not holding its shape leading me to believe it was a result of rolling and shaping the croissants.  On Take 2 I also diluted the egg wash a bit with milk (Martha just calls for a lightly beaten egg) because it browned a little too much and made a hard crust that I didn’t like on Take 1. I also put a cast iron skillet in the oven and put some ice in it to create a little steam.  This was a little trick I picked up from Julia Child who said it is the best way to recreate in a home kitchen the humidity you get in a professional oven. This definitely gave them a little better look and texture.

All in all, these are a total pain, but we might make them again.  They tasted great and If we can figure out how to shape them, they’d be perfect.  If you want to try it at home make sure you have plenty of time and plenty of counter space.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tiernen permalink*
    October 17, 2009 3:23 pm

    Jeff is right– HUGE pain! They did taste good, but there was just something a little off about them. Of course, this was right when I was getting hit with the swine flu, so something was just becoming “off” with me. All in all, while we can make them and I’ve “been there, done that” I think I’ll just buy these from now on.

  2. Matt permalink
    October 22, 2009 11:34 pm

    Those look really good. I hope you are feeling better so we can see more. Get better soon.

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