Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How To Make Croissants: An Insider’s Guide

Plain, Almond, Almond Coconut, and Pain Au Chocolat
Considering making croissants? Besides a great recipe, here’s what you’ll need:
  • The heaviest rolling pin you can find.
  • Enough butter to shape a life-sized cow.
  • Stronger-than-average bicep muscles. (Shameless plug for Jazzercise.)
  • The patience of a sand-sculpting Tibetan monk. (Shameless plug for sand-sculpting.) 
Here are some optional, but very useful tools:
  • A cardboard triangle with a 3 to 4-inch base.
  • A game-changing industrial flattening machine called a “dough sheeter.” It will only set you back $1,500 to $6,300, depending on the model. But you’ll get your dough rolled out in five minutes – flat.
  • A professional pastry chef by your side, to guide you every step of the way; and to correct your addition.  

    For my first solo croissant project, I acquired most of the items on this list.  Can you guess which ones were missing? (I’ll give you two hints:  my amazing strength trumped the need for professional hardware, and 12 + 8 now equals at least 24. It’s the new math.)
The 3-inch base produced smaller croissants, which gives you an excuse to eat more than one.

I’ve started with this handy list because it’s difficult to summarize the process of creating croissants and it’s important to get the essentials in order. A good week of my life was devoted to this project -- hurtling me straight over the divide between casual baking aficionada and die-hard pastry geek.

The croissant quest started with an invaluable hands-on class at Scratch Baking, in Milford Connecticut. I’ll be indebted to the team forever at this local gem of a bakery. I only wish I could have brought Lesli and Melissa home with me to pluck up my confidence as my own dough rolled ever thinner, morphing not into a rectangle, as dictated by the recipe, but into a butter-pocked irregular polygon again and again.

Perhaps the ladies also would have been useful in the measuring department. With each “turn” I somehow managed to stop about 6 inches shy of the required “rectangle” length. Like I said: new math. It took some time, but eventually I figured out my error, and to taste the miraculous end result, no one would have been the wiser. Except you, because you're reading the Insider’s Guide.

I was as prepared as I could be when the assignment from the Tuesdays with Dorie group came in. Yet there was more work to do, including several slow-motion viewings of the Baking With Julia instructional video, followed by a lengthy online discussion thread. Guest baker Esther McManus was a real pro, and I am planning to invite her to my son’s next birthday party. We’re that close.

My quest included some hilarious reconnaissance with another favorite local baker, Jaime from Bread and Chocolate, as I made a clandestine attempt to procure chocolate batons from his new baking facility. I’m fairly sure he thinks I’m insane to be making croissants at home. But he knows me pretty well by now, so he no longer puts up roadblocks to my dough-ventures.

At one point, there were some complicated metric-to-standard conversions and dry-to-active yeast conversions. Despite several online resources for this kind of thing (here’s one), I’m still not sure I got it right. But I soldiered on.

Finally, it was time to get rolling. And rolling. And then waiting. And waiting. And rolling some more. And waiting. And rolling some more. And waiting some more. And rolling again. And waiting. Then shaping and egg-washing. Then waiting for the nerve-wracking rise period. Then more egg-washing, and finally they were ready to bake. Then I had just a little more waiting until the croissants were cool enough to eat.

End result: they’re worth every minute.

Forget everything I said about the French and their pretentious baking techniques. After this project, I’m a believer.

14 comments:

  1. You make me laugh. They look beautiful. I didn't worry too much about rolling to the exact measurements either. It seemed like Esther wouldn't want us to worry too much about it, and not force the dough. :)

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    1. You're absolutely right -- Esther is my new hero.

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  2. I love all your tips...and your wonderful sense of humor! Beautifully done!

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    1. Thanks Liz. Keep on baking, and working out, so we can eat the fruits of our labors!

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  3. OMG, hysterical. And you even did the almond ones! Now you can say you did it. I kept re-watching the PBS video but I seriously need a heavier rolling pin. This week I can skip the push ups.

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    1. I had several doughy projects planned for this week, but I too am giving my muscles some much needed time off!

      I highly recommend the almond croissants. And almond/coconut. The folks at Scratch Baking made a version called "Almond Joy" which included almond paste, coconut, and chocolate chips. Crazy!

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  4. I think we all need to join funds and buy a sheeter - I am sure we could work out a visitation schedule - one week a year, perhaps?

    Measuring is highly over-rated. If you don't believe me, just asked the people who owned my house before me. Oh, never mind... Bad idea :-)

    They look perfect.

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  5. I'm in for that -- as long as my week falls in the winter. How did the Parisians ever survive making croissants in July before air conditioning was invented?

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  6. Your post really made me laugh... hilarious. Sounds as though the odyssey was worth it in the end though.

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  7. Lol. Now I'm not sure I want to make these, but yours look amazing!

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  8. Hahaha, great post. I also skipped the measurements towards the end, isn't it all about intuition anyway? I only had a light wooden rolling pin, and was thinking wistfully of sheeters for the whole time!

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    1. Ah yes, I've heard of that intuition thing. I generally prefer to be guided by fear.

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  9. Entertaining post! They look great!

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  10. Great post - laughter is the best medicine! Your croissants look every-bit French-worthy! Blessings, Catherine

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