Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"RELEASE THE GLUTEN!" or " I Don't Speak French, But I Can If you Like"

My mom's having a birthday (HI MOM!) She loves croissants, so I made some even though she won't eat them cause she broke up with carbs (Noooooooooooo!). I ate them though. Plenty, I even split them in half and made them into little tea sandwiches with Parmesan, home grown tomatoes and basil. I'm claiming to have eaten all this in her honor. She won't correct me, cause she's nice.

We used to eat croissants together, back in the day. One summer we went to a little cafe every week and ate croissants, talked about dreams and people watched. That winter we joined a gym, together. But that's a different story.

The first time I ever made croissants was last year (also for my mom's birthday) although they turned out... sort of comically large. Like "hey you forgot your handbag, oh wait no... that's a croissant." kind of large. So this time around of course ( and you knew it would happen) in my efforts to make sure that embarrassing size was not repeated I kind of overshot the mark and came out with little bite sized ones. But hey you don't have to be the reach toothbrush guy to eat them so I'm not complaining.

Croissants are notoriously tricky. Some call them a labor of love, I say it's more like wrestling a bear. It's almost way too annoying to even attempt, but if you try and succeed the rewards are amazing. What? You can't prove I've never wrestled a bear.

The whole process starts out romantically, wrist deep in flour and yeast, air full of possibilities. This time was no different. I didn't start the project until the late afternoon when it was too hot to go anywhere and the opportunity to get my hands busy was more than welcome. When it came time for the dough to rise I just covered a bowl with a tea towel and set it out on the still warm balcony as the sun was setting. Wonderful, fantastical, breathtaking. I started fantasizing about becoming a midnight bread maker who baked up croissants on a whim easy peasy, that was of course until I got past the easy part.

 "Laminating the dough" which is basically making lots of tiny layers of butter and flour so your pastry comes out flaky and delicious, is damn near impossible if you're incredibly lazy  a novice cook. You have to be patient and careful and possess superhuman upper body strength to wage a battle to the death with the gluten monster and roll the dough out completely flat four maddening times  without squishing the butter out! 

There were some angry screams from the kitchen. Maybe a few expletives. Possibly.

Unlike bear wrestling, croissants are pretty much a win win no matter how it goes.  There are three sticks of butter in there. Even if you're terrible at it and they come out all lumpy twistums like mine did, you've still got a giant basket of delicious buttery carbs. Yeah. Think about it.

If you can make it to the end though you won't be sorry. I may have emptied my pockets into the swear jar but today I had ugly delicious croissants for breakfast and it was heaven. I had croissants for lunch too. And if I hadn't been smart and frozen half the bread dough I'd probably have croissants for diner and fourthmeal... and also laid atop my coffin when my heart stopped.

Croissants; sassy, high maintenance, but worth it. See what you're made of, wrestle that bear.

Fresh Croissants
Originally from Baking Frame By Frame and Peter Reinheart's Artisan Bread's Every Day

3 1/2 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3 tbsp super fine sugar
1 tsp salt
2tsp bread maker's yeast
1 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/4 cups + 1 tbsp butter softened, plus extra for greasing
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk for glazing

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center and add 1 tbsp of butter and the milk, Mix to a soft dough, adding more milk if too dry. Dough should coarse, wet and shaggy.

Knead on lightly floured work surface until smooth. Place in a large greased bowl (you can also spray it down with cooking spray), cover and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume.

2. Meanwhile place the butter between two sheets of parchment paper and flatten with a rolling pin to for a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed.

3. Knead the dough for 1 minute. Remove the butter from the refrigerator. Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to 18 x 6  inches, or just a little more than twice the size of the butter square.

4. Lift the parchment with the butter block and set it down on the left side to check for sizing. The butter should only cover half the dough with just a 1/4 in border. If it covers more than that remove the butter block and roll the dough out a little wider or taller as needed.

5. When the dough and the butter are properly matched remove the top layer of parchment from the butter block and flip the butter block over onto the left half of the dough. When you've got everything situated in the spot you like, remove the second sheet of parchment.

6. Lift the right half of the dough and fold it over the butter block to sandwich the butter. Press along all the edges to create a seal. Tap the rolling pin over the top of the dough to work out any bubbles and working from the center, gently roll out the dough smoothing the butter to all corners and all sides. Continue rolling until you have a 1/2 in triangle that's about 16 x 9. Square off the sides and the four corners, then fold the dough into thirds as if folding a letter. Fold the right one third to the left, then fold the left one third to the right in the same way. Use a rolling pin to press out any air pockets so that the folds lay flat, then let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes so the gluten can relax.

7. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out as big as the original rectangle, and fold again. If the butter feels soft, slide the dough onto a baking sheet and put it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to let if firm up. Repeat the rolling process twice more.

8.Cut the dough in half and roll out each half into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Use a template (or just eyeball it) and cut out triangles with a base of 4 inches and long side of 8 inches. (note: If you're like me, a don't want to bake all your croissants right away, right now is the time you can freeze them. Just shape the triangles you want the freeze into croissants (without proofing), and put them in individual ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. When you want to bake them take them out of the fridge to thaw for three hours before you bake them. Don't bake them frozen or they'll bake all funky in the oven.)

9. Brush the triangles with the glaze. Roll into croissant shapes, tucking the point underneath. Brush again with the glaze. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let double in volume. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Let cool at least 1 hour before serving


  1. You have totally inspired me to "wrestle the bear!" I like the tip about freezing some to bake in the future--that is a smart idea.


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