Sunday, September 8, 2013

adventures in viennoiserie

When I was drafting my #30til30 list I asked my dear friend Tatiana for suggestions. She pointed out that my list was lacking culinary pursuits. We chatted about some scary kitchen tasks (deboning a duck a la Julie and Julia? canning jam and hoping I don't give everyone botulism?) and I took to Google for more ideas ("most intimidating recipe"). Although I pondered complicated Asian dishes and expensive ingredients I settled on croissants.

I've dabbled with homemade versions of foodstuffs that are usually purchased or professionally made - pizza dough, crackers, bread, ricotta cheese, toffee at Christmas time. But croissants always represented that dividing line - only professionals or totally crazy DIYers made laminated dough from scratch. The dough is called laminated because the time-consuming process includes incorporating a thick layer of butter into the yeasted dough, then folding it many times, with breaks for the dough to rest and the butter to chill, all to create the many flaky layers the finished pastry is known for.

The recipe calls for two possible overnight rests, and many hours of chilling and folding.  I decided that I could devote a day to the process, and get lots of things done around the house during the resting/chilling intervals.

So yesterday, after a grueling 10-mile run, I looked at the recipe again and broke down the timing to see how much I could get done before bed. The goal was to wake up, shape the croissants, shower and make coffee while they rose one last time, and then enjoy a leisurely breakfast of delectable homemade pastry. I was pretty confident.

Here's some snapshots of the process. I started at 2:30 pm on Saturday, with my mise en place.

lots of dairy, lots of notes!
first rise, more notes!
shaped and ready to chill.

notes hanging conveniently from the hood.

As the dough rose the first time I transcribed the recipe. This is a little trick I learned that helps me commit portions of the recipe to memory. It also helps keep my sticky fingers off my laptop in the kitchen. For this recipe it was great to have a paper copy to make notes on as I progressed - it was easy to keep track of which iteration of folding and chilling I was working on. And there were many of them. I completed the last fold late in the evening, after an unplanned break in the work for beers on the stoop with new neighbors and Indian delivery for dinner.

Despite my confidence (or maybe because of it?) I hit a few bumps in the road. The recipe called for one tablespoon of salt. This struck me as a LOT of salt. But I trusted in Martha and went for it. Then I realized that the fancy Irish butter I had picked up at Costco last weekend was salted.  When I turned the dough out to roll the first time I pinched a bit off the edge and tasted it. Salty. Very salty. But I was already a couple of hours into the process, so I carried on, salty dough and salted butter.

The spreading of the butter was also tricky (and messy, so no pics of that step). How exactly is one supposed to get butter to be spreadable but still cold? I might have goofed a bit on this step too. My final dough had a few more lumps of butter, instead of thin even layers.

And when, at 9:15 this morning it was FINALLY time to bake the damn things I was so excited to be done that I completely forgot the egg yolk and cream wash that gives the pastry that shiny, crackly top.

pain au chocolats and croissants, proofing one more time

into the oven (this is when I remembered the egg wash.  too late!
Duller than they should be, but still damn pretty.
layer success!
In they end they were too salty. Not inedible, but too salty for me to bring them to all the people I know and brag about my amazing baking skills. And in addition to forgetting the egg wash I realized a few other things along the way. The lumps of butter that were left in the dough melted out as soon as the trays went in the oven. When I rotated them halfway through the baking time I actually had to drain excess butter off the pan because I was afraid it would burn in the hot oven and render all my hard work inedible. My laminating technique isn't perfect.

Here's the thing. I sort of failed. And my kitchen was basically a disaster area all day (I refused to clean the counter EACH time I had to roll out the dough, so it just stayed covered in flour for the better part of 12 hours). I made some silly mistakes along the way, and probably should have done a bit more research before diving in. But despite all this . . . I did it! I made croissants! And now for the really amazing part - I'm going to do it again! Because I can't imagine how good they will taste when they aren't too salty, or almost burnt on the bottom from leaky butter. And although it took a lot of time, the work wasn't actually that hard. I've learned a few important lessons, and I can't wait to try again!

1 comment:

  1. If you COVER them in nutella, it may balance out the salt? Plus you love salty/sweet combos. And it'll never be as bad as the banana bread I made with salt instead of sugar.