the holy grail(*) of french pastries…

So I made croissants; they were pretty good. They looked nice too. :)

While I expected to fail at this project sometime around step 2, it was actually much more straight forward than I anticipated. I didn’t get crabby until the very last part — the taste. Now I suspect that I’m being extremely nit-picky about this, but these lacked the very slight tanginess that my very favorite croissants in NYC had. It probably sounds exceedingly snobbish to reference NYC baked goods, but at least I’m not referencing Parisian ones, right? Somehow the H-e and the small person made quick work of them, with zero commentary on their tang quotient. S also ran my critique by one of his baking friends who felt that there shouldn’t be any tang.  And who would doubt a man named Amos? The name really smacks of truth and perseverance!  I guess I still sort of doubt him tho, since I continue to harp on the tang thing. But anyway, I suspect it might have to do w/ fermentation. So maybe if I let them proof a little longer? Other than that slight bit of crabiness, the recipe and results were solid.  I suppose I’ll always find something to critique…just part of my charm!

The recipe is from the Tartine cookbook. Note, it’s not from the Tartine Bread book.  There’s one in there too, which we’ve yet to try. I’ve edited the color commentary down a little, as sometimes their prose was be a (lot) bit much.  I’ve also only included the volume measurements, while the original has weights too.  I’ve also included a few parenthetical notes.

Croissants

Preferment
¾ cup non-fat milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour

Dough
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1¾ cup whole milk
6 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt (I used Morton Kosher)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Roll-in butter
2¾ cup unsalted butter

Egg wash (this made way more than I needed)
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch salt

To Make the Preferment

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

preferment...after the ferment

To Make the Dough

First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated.

Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next.

Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough. [The dough looked too dry to me, but turned out fine in the end.] Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1½ hours.

mixed dough, pre-rise

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours. [I used a plastic bag; it got enormously swollen and bizarre. It opened itself.  Consider plastic wrap instead]

To Make the Roll-in Butter

About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough [translation: getting all the butter into the dough], put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not re-solidify. [I kept it in the bowl and just pushed some plastic wrap right on top of it.]

Laminating the Dough

Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches.

rolling the big rectangle for laminating. note my sweet french rolling pin!

With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle.

the H-e laminates like the wind.

Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal the plaque.

a plaque (w/ my name on it)

Second Turn [fancy term for folding the dough again]

Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or “turn”.

Third Turn

Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

Making the Croissants

When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.

so early in the morning...

Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges. [Mine had six…not sure how you get seven, since it makes two ridges at a time…]

best part!

As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced [~4 inches], on the prepared half-sheet pan. When the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F.  For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising. [This is how I did it, though the counter likely works too]

During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly “firm” and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.

the proof is in the...(oven)

About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.

jammies. and the jif was for the kid's breakfast, not for the croissants.

Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.

Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving. [I did this on 325 for 10-12 minutes. To my surprise, they really didn’t lose much w/ the reheating.]

The Tartine folks left out this next part.  Serve to someone you really really like, preferably w/ some homemade jam and a lovely mug that you got them for Christmas to replace the one you accidentally broke the year before.

look ma, he likes it!
(*) Well, maybe not the holy grail, b/c that reminds me of Monty Python…and boy howdy can I not stand Monty Python. It’s a burden to be one of the planet’s three MP haters, but such is my lot. I’m getting tense just thinking about all of those hideous movies I sat through in high school, trying to suss out what they were saying while everyone else was performing the lines louder than the actors. No thanks, John Cleese, no thanks at all.

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