Thursday, 22 January 2009

Oui, Oui, Oui, All The Way Home

Papa was a rolling stone.
Well, he was.
Mostly he was random, thin blue airmail letters from whatever country he was living in at the time. Once, when I was almost eleven, he was an invitation to France. Settled for the time on a working lavender farm, I was parceled over for part of the summer.
I learned a few things that summer:
It is lonely living on a farm where nobody speaks the same language as you.
Avoid the guy who tries to pick you up by your head.
Lavender itches when it is in your eyes, hair, clothes, teeth, etc.
French milk has lumps in it.
Those cute geese who follow you around the farm will eventually be found in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of them.
It is hard to live on dried Corn Flakes until you get back to your own home. (Well, I was young)
And eventually...
When all the grown ups are out in the fields, you can take the strange half moped, half bicycle from behind the house and ride along the country road until you come across a few ancient buildings clustered together. In one of those buildings is a bakery that sells the most heavenly breads and pastries and the merchants don't mind that you are a young wild child who can only point, as long as you have money to pay for it. (Francs gingerly removed from a communal bowl of them in the farm house) This was my introduction to French baking, nothing in North America compares.
This month the Bread Baking Babes took on the classic French Croissant. I was immediately transported back to the small town outside of Nice, to the pastries that saved me from losing my precious baby fat that summer.
I read each Babe's trials and tribulations with this recipe, with this dough, and did a little cross referencing myself. I wanted them to be perfect, I have had thirty years of dry North American croissants since my trip to France, and was committed to making the rich, buttery pastry of a bread from my memory.
Straight from the almost kitchen of Thyme for Cooking, the fabulous host babe of the month, is this recipe for classic French croissants, plus a couple of variations. If you would like to bake along with the Babes, you could earn a Bread Baking Buddy badge for your blog by baking and posting these fabulous croissants by February 2nd. See Thyme for Cooking for details.

Croissants, Pain au Chocolate, Pesto Baguette - Bread Baking Babes

The Dough, for Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, etc....
Copied fairly accurately from an article in France Magazine, 'Pastry from Heaven', by Michelin-star chef, Michel Roux.
Croissant dough is somewhat similar to puff pastry, in that a slab of butter is incorporated into the mixture and the dough is rolled and turned, but it actually belongs to the family of yeasted doughs, like brioche.This classic dough is used to make various sweet and savory pastries.
You can freeze unbaked croissants and Pains au Chocolat, after shaping but before brushing with egg, for up to 2 weeks. Separate with waxed or parchment paper so you can remove as many as you like.
Yield: 1.1kg dough, enough for 14 - 16 croissants
Time: 9 - 13 hours
25g fresh yeast
250ml whole milk
500g plain flour
12g fine salt
50g sugar
275g butter, cold but not too hard
Egg Wash - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1tbs milk
Dissolve the yeast in the milk.
Put flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook and mix on low. Gradually pour in the milk/yeast mixture.
Stop working the dough as soon as it comes away from the sides of the bowl. It should not become too elastic.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place (24C, 75F) until doubled, 45 - 60 minutes.
Punch down dough by flipping it over with your hand, but do not overwork it.
Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but not more than 8.
Punch down dough by flipping again and place on lightly floured surface.
Shape the dough into a ball and cut a 3cm (1 1/4") cross in the center.
Roll out the 4 sides to make flaps.
Bash the butter with a rolling pin to make a rectangle and place in the center of the dough.
Fold the flaps over to completely enclose the butter.
First Turn: Lightly flour the work surface, roll the dough out to a 60 X 30cm (24 X 12") rectangle.
Fold in thirds, wrap in cling film and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Second Turn: Give the chilled dough a quarter turn, roll out into the rectangle, fold, wrap and refrigerate as above, 30 minutes.
Third Turn: Roll the dough in the opposite direction as before, into the rectangle, fold wrap and refrigerate at least 30 but no more than 60 minutes.The dough is now ready for use.
Cut a cardboard template, 9cm (3.5") base, 18cm (7") to the point.
Lightly flour work surface and roll dough out to 65 X 40cm (26 X 16") rectangle.
Lift it slightly off the surface to aerate it to keep it from shrinking.
Trim sides with a sharp knife to make straight edges, then cut in half, lengthwise. Using the template as a guide, cut into triangles.
Lay 1 triangle on the work surface.
Make a 1cm (1/3") cut in the middle of the base and pull the 2 base points slightly to separate; then pull the top point slightly.
Roll the croissant from the base to the point.
Place on a baking sheet and turn the base points to form a crescent (You could lay a piece of ham on the base before rolling for a savory croissant)
Repeat with the rest of the triangles.Lightly but thoroughly brush with egg wash.
Put the croissants, on a baking tray, in a warm, preferably slightly humid, place (24 - 30C, 75 - 86F) to rise for 2 hours, or until almost doubled.
Brush with egg wash again, and bake in a preheated oven (170C, 340F) oven for 12 - 14 minutes.
Pains au Chocolate
40 - 44 sticks of dark chocolate, 4g each
Roll dough into 52 X 46cm (21 X 18") rectangle (It will be a bit thicker than for croissants)
Trim rectangle to make straight sides then cut, lengthwise into 4 long strips, about 11cm (4 2/3") wide.
Cut across every 7cm (2 3/4") to make small rectangles.
On 1 rectangle, place 1 stick of chocolate on the short end, about 4cm (1 1/2") from the edge.
Roll the dough over the chocolate once.
Place another stick at the edge of the roll and roll the dough over again.
Roll over again.
Place on try and brush with egg wash.
Let rise, brush again and bake as for croissants.
When done, cool on a wire rack, without touching, before serving. (The chocolate would be very, very hot)
Croissant Baguette with Pesto
480g croissant dough
100g pesto
10g pine nuts
Egg Wash
Roll dough into 40 X 20cm (16 X 8") rectangle and trim.
Place on greaseproof paper, with long side facing you.
Brush a 4cm (1 3/4") border of egg wash around edges on short sides and 5cm (2") on the long side away from you.
Spread pesto within border of egg wash.
Using the paper to help, lift the dough and roll into a baguette shape.
Roll onto a baking sheet, brush with egg wash and leave to rise in a warm place for 45 - 60 minutes.
Brush with egg wash again, then, with sharp knife, make eight 1cm (3/4") incisions, on the diagonal, along the length of the baguette.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and bake for 20 minutes at 180C (350F).
Reduce the oven temperature to 160C (325F) and bake another 15 minutes.
Allow the baguette to rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes before serving. Remove to cutting board and serve, slicing with serrated knife at the table. It is very fragile and best served warm.
(We be chillin')
My notes and changes:
I looked up croissants in Bakewise and The Art and Soul of Baking as well. These are both good reference books for the baker's kitchen. Between the Babes' comments and alterations and the pointers I received from these books I decided on a couple of changes.
I didn't let the dough rise before the folding and shaping.
I trusted the dough and didn't knead it much - this was scary as it was really shaggy and dry looking most of the way through the process.
I tossed the butter, in cubes, with a little flour before the bashing.
I chilled the risen croissants for 15 minutes before baking - outside, I don't know who these people are who have room in the fridge for trays of breads.
I braided the off cuts and sprinkled hazelnut flakes, cinnamon and turbinado sugar on top of the egg wash.
Mostly I made the classic croissants, but I did make a couple of cigar shaped pain au chocolat with chocolate chips inside, sprinkled with hazelnut flakes, cocoa powder and turbinado sugar.
The verdict:
While not quite as good as the croissants from my memory, these were certainly the best I have ever had in this country. Rich and buttery and impossibly light and flaky. Well worth devoting my entire day to. I am happy.
I started them before six am, before my commuters had left for the day, long before the sun was even thinking about rising. They were ready in time for dinner, a cream of celery soup garnished with blue cheese and toasted pecans. I wanted something that would go with the bread! The soup will be posted on Sunday, if you are interested.
The outcome:
We luxuriated in our soup and croissants with a nice bottle of wine and enjoyed the premiere of the fifth season of LOST. Josh Holloway was nice enough to go the whole first hour without a shirt on, capping my evening splendidly. Well, we can't be good all the time.

These croissants are being Yeastspotted!