Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exploring Puff Pastry: Croissants

I must admit that I was a little nervous to try out croissants because of all the rumors I had heard about the hard and tedious process. To my pleasant surprise it was not all that difficult; moreover, I found it quite enjoyable to work with the soft pastry dough. Nevertheless, it is true that the process is long but only because the pastry dough needs to be cooled after each folding. If planned well, one could easily get other things done during the chilling periods, so as not to waste precious time. Furthermore, the croissants came out delicious - comparable to the ones I'd pick up as after-school-snacks from patisseries in Alsace. I used the recipe from my mother's cookbook Breads by the California Culinary Academy.

Yeast Dough

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. warm (105 - 107 degrees Fahrenheit) milk
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 3/4 c. flour

Butter Mixture

1 14 c. cold butter
3 tbsp. flour

Egg Glaze

1 egg mixed with 1 tsp. water

1. To prepare yeast dough: Sprinkle yeast over the warm milk in a large bowl, add sugar, stir, and let stand for a few minutes to dissolve. Add salt and flour, then mix vigorously but briefly, just until you have a rough, sticky dough that holds together. Set aside for about 5 minutes while you prepare the butter mixture.

2. To prepare butter mixture: Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized bits, dropping them onto your work surface, then sprinkling with flour. Tear off two good-sized sheets of waxed paper and set aside. Begin mashing butter with flour together by smearing across work surface with the heel of your hand; gather mixture into a pile with a spatula or pastry scraper, then repeat smearing a couple of times - until butter is smooth and workable, but still cold. Flour your hands, then form butter into a small, rough rectangle and place it between sheets of waxed paper. Roll and pat butter into a larger rectangle 6 by 8 inches, keeping sides as even as possible. Set aside while you roll out yeast dough.

3. Wipe work surface clean, sprinkle it generously with flour, and turn dough out onto it. Flour the dough, which is quite soft, and push, pat and roll it into a rectangle about 10 by 14 inches. Unwrap butter and place it on bottom half of dough, leaving about a 1-inch border on 3 sides. Lift up the top of the dough, working it loose with a spatula or scraper if it sticks to work surface, and flip it over the butter. Pinch the edges to seal. Give the dough a quarter turn, so sealed flap is to your right.

4. Using smooth, even strokes, roll to a rectangle 9 by 17 inches. Check to see if it is sticking and sprinkle with four if necessary - don't be afraid to pick it up and look. Fold bottom third of dough up over the middle, then flip top third down to cover it. Turn again so flap is to your right and roll out again to 9 by 17 inches. Fold in thirds as before, flour lightly, wrap in plastic wrap and plastic bag, and chill for about 30 minutes. At this point, the first two turns are finished.

5. Roll chilled dough again to 9 by 17 inches, fold in thirds, wrap in plastic wrap and a plastic bag, and refrigerate for 45 minutes. (If at any time dough becomes soft and resists rolling out, or if butter breaks through in large, smeary patches, stop working, dust dough with flour, then slide onto a baking sheet and chill for about 20 minutes.)

6. Roll out and fold dough again thus completing four turns. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour (or for a few hours or overnight if it's more convenient) before forming croissants.

7. Roll dough out to 10 by 20 inches keeping sides as even as possible. With a sharp knife, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into four 5-inch squares. Cut each square in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.

8. Working with one triangle at a time, pick up the two closest points, at the base, and gently stretch them out to about 7 inches. Hold these two points down with one hand and use the other hand to wiggle and stretch the other, farthest point out to about 7 inches or more. Staring at the base, roll up stretched dough just like a crescent roll. Pull points down, toward one another to form crescent shape.

9. Place the croissants on baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each one. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or more, until puffy and doubled in size. (If you've used two baking sheets and your oven can hold only one sheet on the same rack, chill one sheet for the first hour or so , to slow rising so baking times are staggered.)

10. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and place a rack in middle level. Brush each risen croissant with egg glaze and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until will browned and puffy. if they are not browning evenly, quickly turn the pan around from front to back once or twice during baking. If some are done before others, just remove them with a spatula. Transfer croissants to a rack to cool for a few before serving. Wrap[ and freeze what you won't use in a day. (To reheat, unwrap and set on a baking sheet, still frozen and place in a 400 degree F oven for about 7 minutes).
Makes 16 four-inch croissants.

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