Mastering the art / science of the Croissant

A proper flaky and buttery croissant is hard to come by here in the US. A friend this weekend said that she thought she didn’t like croissants and I was totally taken back, as how can someone not like multiple layers of crispy, buttery, air-thin sheets that just melt in your mouth? We’re so used to the soggy, flat, rubbery versions from the grocery store, packed in cardboard and saran wrap, that we now think that croissants are only for chicken salad sandwiches or breakfast at Burger King. Even the ones at the neighborhood bakery most times are sub-par. It isn’t until you bite or tear into a proper French croissant right out of the oven that you’ll realize this pastry is of heavenly descent.

Inspired by the French Pastry School and reminiscing about the 1/2 year that I spent in Europe had me craving the tasty treat. I scoured the internet, watched YouTube videos, and thumbed through my books for recipes, tips, and techniques. My good friend, Claire, and I had our first attempt ever at these little suckers this past March, when we broke away from our normal lives for a weekend of creativity, cooking, and crafting in the woods/cornfields of central Indiana. For our first try, I would say we did pretty well and at least they were edible. There were some rookie mistakes though, and perhaps some lack of patience. We probably didn’t let the dough rise enough the first time and perhaps too much refrigeration after a few turns. I also thought it would be a good idea to proof the formed rolls in a slightly warm oven to get them to rise more, and we found out quickly that I let all the butter melt out of them, causing the bottoms to burn. After that day, I was determined to try again and again until I got it right.

I tackled croissant making again last weekend. This time, I decided to follow Julia Child’s recipe and instructions found in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. II” (got my box set when Borders was closing down near my house). You can also find a good recipe in the book “Baking with Julia”. I’m sure there are copies at your local library if you do not have these books, and I bet if you Google it, you’ll find it too. I put all my faith in Julia. Not only are her recipes authentic, but the amount of instructions and reasoning behind each step is superb!  You can reminisce on some old episodes of “Julia Child:  Lessons with Master Chefs” on PBS.

The result? Better croissants, but not perfect. They weren’t as big and puffy as I would have liked them. It was definitely flaky. crispy, and buttery without being too heavy, but I expected more rise and more poof. Again, I think lack of patience and bad timing got the best of me. I short-changed my second rise because I went to bed extremely late that night and the “overnight rise in the fridge” was really only 5 hours or so and not at least 8 hours. I also think that dry yeast is my crutch. The YouTube video that I found showed that after the second rise, the dough is supposed to be like a bomb inside saran wrap waiting to explode and mine poofed up only a tiny bit. I’m not sure where I would be able to purchase active yeast for home baking though (do you?).

They still turned out pretty well though I think. I made sure that I didn’t melt the butter while final proofing this time and I even decided not to bake all of them at once (froze the ones that I didn’t bake. You can freeze them after final proofing and pop them straight into the oven when you want) so that they could be fresh out of the oven when we eat them (as they don’t store very well once baked, unless you freeze them). Sorry there aren’t any step by step pictures this time, there will be next time, when I attempt this again! Granted the 3 days worth of folding and waiting for it to rise is cumbersome, but the authentic carbi-goodness with some yummy raspberry jam and just a touch of butter makes it all worth while. What do you think, craving a croissant yet?

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