Croissants

Croissants

Do you ever pause for a moment and really think about food? Often, as I’m eating something, like an artichoke or a hazelnut or mushrooms, I pause and consider how our ancestors first thought to eat this particular food or thought to prepare it in a particular way – or really, even thought to prepare food at all. I think about this when I’m baking bread and when I’m making pasta – about how this combination of simple things – flour, yeast, eggs maybe or just flour and eggs (in the case of pasta) – came to be.

I also think about the memories we attach to food. I can’t think of much else in life, except music, perhaps, that so firmly attaches to a memory as food does. Some foods have a stronger memory association than others, and for me, one of the strongest is croissants. My first association with croissants was chocolate croissants and almond croissants that my mom would buy at a little chain in Colorado called Petite Boulangerie on Green Mountain. It seems to me that the bakery was next to a bookstore, so for me, those two things – pastry and books – are inexorably linked. As an adult, I encountered chocolate croissants in a meaningful way again in New Mexico. A daughter of one of my co-workers sold chocolate croissants, which she’d learned to make in France, at the local farmers market in Tularosa. I would buy six or eight at a time and we would freeze them and then heat them up again on lazy Sunday mornings. Croissants are also closely tied to my honeymoon – my only trip to Paris thus far. We stayed at a small B&B and the proprietress would make us croissants and eggs in the morning, along with some miserable coffee she’d microwave. It was ok – we had fresh croissants, a bit of jam, and some cheese.

For a long time, we had a baker here in my part of the PNW who made chocolate croissants and sold them at our farmers market. Two years ago or so, he left to go start a bakery somewhere in Mexico, and I decided it was time to stop relying on others for croissants – it was time to make my own. And maybe because I have these strong associations with my memories, I was afraid to make these – they seemed so complicated, like a mystical ritual that took a full moon to fully realize or something. One holiday season, I found a recipe online that looked easy enough and dove in. The results were good – flaky, but a bit on the small size. What I discovered in this process was that there was nothing mystical about the croissant – it was basically dough with a hefty amount of butter. The magic comes about in the layering of dough and butter, but even this is not as complex as it looks. I’ve since found that a little devil-may-care attitude seems to work well to get the croissants nice and fluffy.

If you’ve never had a fresh croissant right out of the oven, I strongly encourage you to try these. One note of warning: this is a two-day recipe that takes a fair amount of time on the first day (though most of that time is inactive time waiting for the dough to rest).

What follows below is a step-by-step guide with pictures.

Start by breaking two eggs into a two-cup measure. Fill the measure with warm water and then give the eggs a good stir until they are incorporated with the water. In a medium size bowl, pour the egg and water mixture and then add 2 ¼ teaspoons active yeast. Add to this mixture 3 tablespoons sugar. Combine. Gradually add 5 cups of flour, stirring as you go. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for four or five minutes – until the dough is supple and soft, but not overworked. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.croissantstep1

While the dough rests, put 4 sticks of butter (a total of 1 lb.) into a one-gallon size freezer or storage bag. The next step is an extraordinary stress reliever: place the bag with the butter on the counter and start whacking it (hard) with a rolling pin.

croissantbutter1

The goal here is to flatten the butter out into a rectangle that’s about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Once the butter is flattened out and in a rough rectangle, refrigerate until the dough is ready to go.

croissantbutter2

When the dough is ready to come out, turn it onto a well-floured surface and roll it into a rectangle about 16 x 18. Place the butter rectangle into the middle and fold each corner of the dough toward the middle, over the butter.

croissantstep2croissantstep3

From here, flour the surface again and roll out the dough to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. Once this is complete, fold the dough into thirds (like you might fold a letter). Turn the dough one-quarter turn and roll it out again to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. This completes two turns (you’ll turn it four times total). Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.croissantstep4croissantstep5

When the dough comes out, roll it out again to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle and then fold by thirds and refrigerate again for 30 minutes. This is the third turn.

Do this one more time – roll the dough into a 16 x 18 inch rectangle and fold into thirds. This time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, put the dough on a well-floured surface and divide it into two sections.  You’ll be able to see the multiple layers of the dough.laminateddough

Put one section back in the refrigerator and roll the other on a well-floured surface into a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. Divide the dough into 12 more or less evenly divided sections. Place your filling in the middle of each section and fold the dough. Repeat with the second section of dough.

croissantsquaresprefilling

I used two fillings this time around. The first half of the dough was filled with prosciutto and Swiss cheese. The second half of the dough was filled with dark chocolate chips.

croissantfillingcroissantfillingchocolate

At this point, you can do two things: first, you can put the croissants in the oven on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake them for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Keep an eye on them – when they are evenly browned on the top and bottom, they are finished.

croissantintheoven

Second, you can put the croissants on a parchment covered baking sheet and freeze them (once they are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag). The beauty of uncooked and frozen croissants is that you can pull as many as you need out of the freezer the night before you plan to bake them, put them in the refrigerator and then bake them the next day and they will still puff up just as beautifully as if you had made them fresh.finishedcroissant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Croissants (recipe adapted from King Arthur flour)
Makes 24 croissants

2 eggs and enough warm water to fill a two-cup measuring cup over the eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active yeast
1 lb unsalted or salted butter

Prosciutto Croissant Filling
8 or so slices of prosciutto
6 slices of Swiss cheese

Chocolate Croissant Filling
1 package dark chocolate chips

Start by breaking two eggs into a two-cup measure. Fill the measure with warm water and then give the eggs a good stir until they are incorporated with the water. In a medium size bowl, pour the egg and water mixture and then add 2 ¼ teaspoons active yeast. Add to this mixture 3 tablespoons sugar. Combine. Gradually add 5 cups of flour, stirring as you go. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for four or five minutes – until the dough is supple and soft, but not overworked. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough rests, put 4 sticks of butter (a total of 1 lb.) into a one-gallon size freezer or storage bag. Flatten into a rectangle and refrigerate.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll it into a rectangle about 16 x 18. Place the butter rectangle into the middle and fold each corner of the dough toward the middle, over the butter.

From here, flour the surface again and roll out the dough to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. Once this is complete, fold the dough into thirds (like you might fold a letter). Turn the dough one-quarter turn and roll it out again to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. This completes two turns. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

When the dough comes out, roll it out again to a 16 x 18 inch rectangle and then fold by thirds and refrigerate again for 30 minutes. This is the third turn.

Do this one more time – roll the dough into a 16 x 18 inch rectangle and fold into thirds. This time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, put the dough on a well-floured surface and divide it into two sections. Put one section back in the refrigerator and roll the other on a well-floured surface into a 16 x 18 inch rectangle. Divide the dough into 12 more or less evenly divided sections. Place your filling in the middle of each section and fold the dough. Repeat with the second section of dough.

Bake at 375 degrees for twenty minutes. Alternatively, you can freeze the croissants. When you are ready to bake them, take them out of the freezer the night before and then bake the next day at 375 degrees for twenty minutes.

 

 

 

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