Croissants

When I created the Categories for this blog a couple of years ago, I probably didn’t know I’d bake savouries too eventually. Or stuff that fits into the “Much Ado About Muffin” mold (pun possibly intended) just as well as it fits into a vegetarian recipe or a non-vegetarian recipe. Which explains why I’ve tagged croissants into baking AND vegetarian.

What do you like your croissants with? Coffee? Jam? Fresh fruit? Just like that with (some more) butter? There! That’s pretty much explanation enough as to why it can be a dessert or your breakfast.

croissants_07

Mum attended a bread-baking session one of her students’ mum’s conducted. Ok. Wait. Confusing. Mum teaches math. The mother of one of her students takes cooking classes. So, my mum ended up being the student of the mum of one of her students. Yay! Small professional set we’re working with, yeah? Following the baking class, mum emailed me a word doc with a bunch of recipes. The snoot that I am, I went over a few of them, and asked my mum some questions, quite dismissing what she’d just learnt. Gosh, I’m going to be such a cruel parent! And ever since (ok, even before that, to be honest), I’ve wanted to make pastry puffs. Or leavened, buttery dough that ends up being something nice and flaky and yummy.

Dassehra this year was on Monday, October 14th. And any pastry puff plans that could be made needed to be made on a long weekend. The three-day weekend epiphany struck me early Sunday. All was not lost. Yet. And I decided to give this a shot.

I used this recipe, for the most part. Of course, I wasn’t half as neat or organized when rolling out the dough. I did use a measuring tape for approximate lengths, though I will admit I didn’t measure to the tee. But the results were fantabulous. I will admit to burning the bottom of the croissants (all three batches), but they tasted awesome, nevertheless. And my apartment was filled with that warm, buttery aroma for most of Monday.

Ingredients:
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
5/8 cup cold water
5/8 cup cold whole milk
3/8 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons salt

For the butter layer:
1 1/4 cups cold unsalted butter (280-300 grams)

For the egg wash:
1 egg

Note:
I usually buy a 500 gram pack of unsalted butter. Then, I mark out 100 gram points on the cover of the slab of butter, and work from there. That is why, when a baking recipe specifies unsalted butter, sometimes, I find it more convenient to work by grams than by cup/tablespoon measures.

croissants_02

Method:
Part 1:
1. Mix all the dough ingredients in a bowl thoroughly, either using an electric mixer for 3-5 minutes or with your hands for a good 10 minutes or so.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured bowl or pan, flour the top of the dough a little and cover the bowl with a plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for 8-10 hours, or overnight.

Part 2:
3. Cut the cold butter into slabs about half an inch thick. Lay these out one next to the other on a cookie sheet or some parchment paper to form a square about 6 inches, each side. Cover with another cookies sheet or parchment paper.
4. Begin pounding the butter, or roll it out with pressure using even strokes, until the smaller block integrate into one other. Work the square of butter until it is about 7 1/2 inches per side and then trim the egdes of the butter to make a perfect square.
5. Add the trimmings of the butter square on top of the square again and roll out more evenly. Once this is done, refrigerate the butter until you work with the dough.
6. The next few steps involve laminating the dough, to give it the flaky, leavened feel that puff pastries have. Lightly flour your work surface and gently roll the dough out onto it, into a square with sides about 10 1/2 inches long.
7. Remove the butter from the refrigerator – it should be pliable but cold. If not, refrigerate a bit longer. Unwrap and place the butter on the dough so that the square of butter is aligned diagonally with the square of dough (looking at the pictures in the url I referred to while making the croissants might help).
8. Fold triangular flaps of dough over the butter and inwards, stretching it slightly so that they points reach the center of the butter. Press the edges together to completely seal the butter inside the dough. (A complete seal ensures butter won’t escape.)
9. At this point, the entire mass of the butter square cushioned inside the square of dough should be a square with sides 8 inches, each.
10. Flour the top and the bottom of the dough lightly and begin to roll it out into a rectangle, about 8 inches by 24 inches.
11. Mentally, mark the dough into thirds and fold one third over into the central third of the sheet of dough. Following that, fold the other third over to the centre. This, essentially, leaves you with a square, 8 inches by 8 inches, and with three layers, so to speak.
12. Chill the dough for about 15 minutes, by laying it on a baking sheet, covering with a plastic wrap and refrigerating.
13. Roll the dough out again, this time, in the direction of the open edges – to a rectangle 8 inches by 24 inches, shaping the edges with your hands, if the need arises.
14. Fold the rectangle into thirds again and chill the dough for another 15 minutes.
15. Repeat this about three more times.
16. Finally, cover the dough with a plastic wrap completely and refrigerate for 8-10 hours or overnight.
(At this point, what you’re putting into the fridge looks more or less like a really thin pillow.)

Part 3:
croissants_04
17. The dough should have risen to about three times it’s original size and should look like a nice, fluffy pillow you could instantly want to go to sleep with. Friendly advice: Don’t.
18. Lightly flour the top and the bottom of the dough. “Wake the dough up” by gently rolling along it’s length.
19. Now, roll the dough out until it is about 44 inches long and still about 8 inches wide. Sprinkle your work surface and teh rolling pin with some flour, if the dough sticks.
20. When the dough is about 30 inches long, it may start pulling back and shrinking. If this happens, gently fold the dough and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes. Following that, unfold it and continue rolling it out, where you left off, until it is about 44 inches long.
21. Mark out the centre of the large rectangle. Mark out centres of the two smaller rectangles and each of those into two rectangles, again. This means, you have mentally marked 7 notches out on the dough (or on the work surface just off the flour) and subsequently, the dough into eight equal smaller rectangles. Cut these rectangles out and then cut along each one’s diagonal, to form 16 triangular pieces.

croissants_05

22. Shaping the croissants can take up to an hour and there is a chance the dough can get sticky and difficult to work with. If it helps, you can refrigerate the 16 triangles and take out 2 or 3 at a time, while you work to shape them into croissants.

Part 4:
23. Beat an egg with a teaspoon of water until it forms a smooth mixture and leave aside. You will need this to proof the croissants and then again when you bake them.
24. Make a notch at the centre of the shortest side of each triangle. Remember, one side of the triangle is about 5 inches wide, one side 8 inches tall and the third side should mathematically be just a little short of 10 inches. Pythagoras’ Theorem, anybody? So, we’re making a notch at the 2.5 inch mark.
25. Hold the wide notched end towards you and the vertex away from you and tug at the triangle a little to elongate it.
26. Now lay the triangle on your work surface and starting at the notched end, one hand on each side of the notch, begin rolling towards the vertex.
27. Remember to gently move your hands outwards, so that the “legs” of the croissant become longer. When you reach the end of the triangle, stretch it out and tuck it under the body of the croissant. Bend the legs of the croissant into a crescent shape. Etymology 101, you guys! Press the tips of the legs together, if you like. They’ll come apart when you proof the croissants and the rest them, anyway.

croissants_06

28. Lay the croissants out with sufficient distance between them, they rise even during proofing. Brush the croissants lightly with the egg wash and let them rest for a couple of hours in a warm, draft-free spot.
(You’ll know the croissants are ready when you can see the layers when you take a look at them from the side. If you shake the pan in which they’re resting, they should wiggle. Also, they will be distinctly larger, though not doubled, in size.)

Part 5:
29. Pre-heat the oven to 205ºC (400F).
30. Brush the croissant with the egg wash a second time.
31. Bake the croissants for 8 minutes. After that, swap the positions and bake for another 6 minutes. Bake until the bottoms are browned and the tops have turned golden. If they appear to darken to quickly, lower the temperature just a little bit.
32. Let the croissants cool for a while, though you might want to enjoy them while they’re still warm.
33. You can always re-heat them in the oven at 180ºC (350F) for about 8 minutes or microwave them for 30 seconds.

More notes:
1. I will be honest. I did not think the recipe would work. One, my general bad luck with baking breads. Two, the yeast being added to the flour as is, without mixing it in warm water and sugar, before hand, and letting it sit for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure if the yeast would rise at all. But then, I also know that flaky crusts (pie crusts, for instance) need you to work with cold water/milk, when kneading the dough. I decided to take a chance with using the yeast directly in the dough mixture.
2. With reference to the parts I’ve broken the recipe into, work each set of instructions individually. I usually advocate multi-tasking and working on several parts of a recipe simultaneously to minimize working time. But making croissants is very different. Part 1 can be done one day, Part 2, about 10 hours later. And Part 3 another 10 hours later. I kneaded the dough early on Sunday morning, after which I let it rest in the refrigerator all day. Sunday night, I took it out again and prepped the butter layer. I let the buttered, leavened dough rest of all Sunday night. Finally, on Monday morning, I rolled out the dough to make the croissants and bake them. This is a tedious process, but if done right, it is most definitely worth the day and a half or two that goes into making good croissants.
3. The original recipe I referred to calls for the folding process to be done thrice. I folded the dough 5 times. I think it helped, in that it creates more layers and hence a more flaky croissant.
4. A regular baking sheet can typically hold only 5 croissants (at best), so don’t attempt to bake too many in one ago. I use a 28 litre oven in which I can fit a single baking sheet comfortably. I made my croissants in batches of 5.
5. The recipe I followed online mentioned 205ºC and about 20 minutes of baking time, per batch. For the first batch, I used the 10 + 10 split. Results: Quite burnt at the base. Batch 2, I used 10 + 8. Batch 3, I used 8 + 7. And I think the second and the third batches turned out way better than the first.

croissants_03

Interesting things were learned during the process of obsessing over the dough, the two times I put it away to rise. You know that feeling when you open your refrigerator, as if something’s going to magically appear on one of it’s shelves and how to you (ok, I) tend to do that ever so often on a day that I’m home? (Pune, Bangalore, Raleigh, where ever!) Heh. Working with yeast is quite the antithesis. Where you have to put the dough away to let it rise. And you know there are things happening inside that closet, and under that dampened cloth that covers that greased bowl filled with the dough you just spent about thirty minutes kneading, but you just CANNOT open it! BECAUSE YOU SHOULDN’T!

And when that happens, you need to take your mind off the dough. I do my laundry. I read. I try making social phone calls (which essentially means, calling home to talk to my grandmum, because that’s one hour right there!)

Reading:
(which finally brings us to the point of what I learned, during the process of making croissants)
1. Croissants get their name from their crescent shape. Duh!
2. Croissants are a kind of Viennoiseries. Viennoiseries (French etymological sense: ‘things of Vienna’) are baked goods made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread, or from puff pastry, but with added ingredients (particularly eggs, butter, milk, cream and sugar) giving them a richer, sweeter character, approaching that of pastry. The dough is often laminated (with an egg-wash, possibly). Viennoiseries are typically eaten at breakfast or as snacks. Which validates why this post can come under “Eats Shoots and Leaves”.
3. I have a strong feeling that a croissant (or was it a bagel?) question was asked at one of the quizzes I attended the previous weekend in Hyderabad (Please ask @surajmenon why I was in Hyderabad attending quizzes). I really wouldn’t have gone into historical references/occurrences otherwise. Croissants, bagels and cappuccino, all seem to have been invented during (or as a result of) the Battle of Vienna.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s