Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Crossing the croissant chasm

There are two items that are the culinary symbols of France and I doubt they will be able to detach themselves from this ménage à trois any time sooner, they will surely have to live together happily ever after: the croissant and the baguette. Versailles too had two things to celebrate yesterday (the 400th anniversary of Le Nôtre and a new winter in spring with the assorted snow, traffic jams and paralyzed institutions) so I thought we should mark the moment properly with some freshly baked croissants, since I couldn't get out of the house.

Once you've tasted a croissant you've made with your own hands, your universe will radically change and you will think twice before buying one again, in case you can find it in your part of the world to begin with. It is quite complicated to get it right and have that crispiness that is absolutely mandatory in a good croissant, but I wrote you the recipe in small quantities so it doesn't feel that overwhelming and, more importantly, not to feel sorry if you have to throw everything in the bin (hopefully you won't). See how many precautions I take for those thingies? And they're not even invented by the French (but by a Viennese baker, that's why it's also called a viennoiserie)... Make sure you have enough butter and jam in da house for them, 'cause you will see that you will want to repeat the experience, and that asap!

Ingredients for 4 small croissants:

100g all-purpose flour, sifted + some more for rolling out
a pinch of salt
20g sugar (to taste: you can add more if you want it sweeter)
dried yeast enough for 100g+ of flour (it should be specified on the dried yeast pack, I used 5g of mine)
100g milk (more or less, it depends on the flour and the humidity in the air), at room temperature
50g cold butter
1 egg yolk diluted with a spoon of water/milk


1. Mix 100g of flour and the rest of the dried ingredients, then add the milk little by little, gently mixing with a fork or spoon until the milk incorporates everything. You should get a soft, pliable dough, like for a slightly softer bread dough.
2. Cover with a little flour then leave it somewhere warm until it inflates by approx. one third (this took me more than half an hour).
3. Sprinkle some flour on the table, take the dough and press it between your hands until it comes back to the initial volume then place it on the floured table. Roll out the dough in a + shape with a rolling pin, letting it 2cm thick in the middle of the + and 1/2cm thick in the margins.
4. Separately, flatten the cold butter with your hands into an approximate square shape, using a little flour if it sticks, then place it in the center of the + shaped dough.
5. Brush the excess flour then gather the 4 free margins over the butter and gently press the corners, in order to have the dough surrounding the butter square with a constant thickness. Be careful not to have any air bubbles in your pack of dough thus formed.
6. Clean your work surface then sprinkle it again with some flour and begin to roll out the dough in order to form a rectangle shape. Sprinkle with enough flour every time in order to avoid it to stick to your work surface, which means that the butter escaped its dough coating. If that's the case, remove the dough gently then put more flour on the injured part until it doesn't stick anymore. Be gentle and don't force too much, especially at the beginning. You should get a rectangle of about 45x15cm, more or less.
7. Fold in three the resulting rectangle by bringing the two margins one over the other, on the long side, so you should get a 15x15cm square. Seal the corners by pressing each of them with your fingers.
8. Turn the square 90° so you can have the three folds in front of you, then roll out the dough again, back and forth, in order to have again the 45x15cm rectangle. Fold in three again, turn it 90° then roll it out again to a 45x15cm rectangle, fold it in three.
9. Finally, roll the dough for one last time in a 60x15cm rectangle (you can do them slightly bigger, too your taste: mine were more like mini croissants).
10. Cut equal-sided triangles (more or less), I got 4 of them. Cut an 1cm incision in the middle of the base side then roll each croissant towards the tip, making sure the tip arrives underneath (and stays there!) so it won't unfold when baking it.

11. Curl the dough roll around into a traditional crescent shape.
12. Place the shaped croissants on baking trays lined with baking paper and leave to rise for 30min or more.
13. Preheat the oven to maximum heat, mine is 250°C.
18. Egg-wash the croissants and bake them for 25-30 minutes (or until golden brown) at 180°C.

Bon appétit !

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