The croissant has evolved…into a crescent roll. Let me explain. From the time I was in college, until about 10 years ago, croissants were flaky, layered, buttery crescents of heaven. No matter where I bought them, they were all of the above, even at the supermarket bakeries. I remember stopping at some a few mornings a week before work, and opening the plexiglass case, crumpled tissue in hand like a baseball mitt, ready to grab the freshest croissants before anyone else could. Even the BK ‘croissandwich’ was flaky, with buttery layers!
Then something happened, and I don’t know if some of these places got tired of making croissants the right way, and/or they decided to skimp on the butter, (cutting costs was obvious) because outside of the fancy patisseries, the croissants I was buying were slowly morphing into crescent rolls. Limp crusts, no flake, and (gasp!) soft white bread like innards with maybe two layers, if you were lucky. These were not the croissants that used to flake all over my lap with each bite. These were not the croissants I could eat layer by layer, slowly unrolling, unraveling, deconstructing – holding thin, buttery, window panes of baked dough up to the light, trying to make it last as long as possible.
I finally bid a sad adieu to any croissants made outside french patisseries. I wasn’t being a food snob, I just didn’t feel like paying 2 to 3 bucks for a crescent roll when I could easily whip up a batch of those with lots of butter in the dough.
Then this day came..
The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!
I was jubilant and nervous at the same time. I had always wanted to recreate those awesome croissants of yore at home, but kept putting it off. Now I had a reason to. However, what if I turned out doughy, crescent rolls? I do very well with puff pastry, so how hard could it be? Same method as puff pastry, but using a yeasted dough. Piece of cake! Ha ha..NOT, in my case.
Stretching the triangle of dough to about 8-10 inches, then placing a ball of scrap dough in the middle of the wide end before rolling, gives you a fatter, multi-layered, higher croissant.
I decided to use the recipe from the challenge to make plain, rolled croissants, and a recipe by Esther McManus from my copy of Baking with Julia (one of my favorite baking books ever) I’d been planning on trying for some time, for some pain au chocolat (chocolate filled croissants) and other filled croissants. I even have this episode of Baking with Julia saved on my DVR, and I think I’ve watched it about 2 dozen times since this challenge was announced, not counting the two dozen times I’d watched it before.
This is also why I couldn’t stop talking like her as I made the dough – ‘You make zee butter sit here and start beating from zee middle, kindly, but firmly.’ I wasn’t kind, and this is probably why I ended up with gaping holes of butter in my dough during my turns. Sheeet, what to do?
Let’s backtrack a bit. Esther Mcmanus’ dough contains a lot of butter. OK, that’s an understatement; try 1 lb 2 ounces of butter. Maybe I shouldn’t have pounded it so hard to flatten the mountain of ice-cold butter. No neat square in this recipe, just a big lump that you pound into the dough. Then again, since I was already taking my aggression out on this dough, I forced it to roll further than it was ready to go. Esther says in the episode..
“I’m not going to go any further than dees, cuz I feel it doesn’t want me to” after the first vertical roll of the butter into the dough.
I’m the boss, and I want to get the first turn out of the way, so I don’t care what it wants or doesn’t want. I don’t want to wait 2 hours for a first turn. I knew I was screwing up, but my dough was so strong, I thought the gluten could take a little beating. I let it sit for 15 minutes, then started to roll, and it all went beautifully. I folded it (like a letter, of course), wrapped it, stuck it in the fridge, and went about my day, deciding to let the dough rest overnight to recuperate.
ROUND, errr..Turn Two. This is when all
hell, butter broke loose. This was supposed to be a single and double turn at once, and then after another overnight rest, it would be ready for croissants! As I rolled away to get it to the proper length and width for the second turn, I started to run into little bits of butter oozing here and there. I’d patch these minor caveats up with flour and light pinches, and continue rolling.
As I kept lifting the dough after several rolls, throwing flour beneath it to keep it from sticking, I noticed butter on the marble slab. Those tiny, little butter nuisances were now turning into gaping holes of Paula Deen. With every crater of butter in my dough, I heard a ‘Hi Y’all!’. I was up butter’s creek without a paddle; I had completely ruined this dough. Again, Esther’s voice echoed through my head…
“If you tear eet, eeet’s no good”, or something to that effect. Little holes were fine, according to Esther, but torn, gaping holes, were death.
There was no way I was wasting 1 lb 2 ounces of really good European butter. I folded up my half turned mess of dough, wrapped it tight in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge, which was going to become its new home for a few days because that’s how long it took me to come up with a solution.
Julia Child to the rescue! I decided to make Julia’s dough from the challenge recipe, no longer for plain croissants, but to save my bruised, battered and buttered dough. I was basically starting over, my block of butter (beurrage) now a block of butter in dough, which in turn was wrapped in another dough, then all the turns all over again.
To my delight, it worked. I had a beautiful, silky dough with not one peep from Paula Deen. One small problem, though..the original butter battered dough had now sat for a a week in the fridge. The yeast had certainly weakened considerably, and the amount of yeast in Julia’s dough would not be enough to carry the load, not to mention it was probably a sourdough by now.
I formed the croissants, egg-washed them, and sprinkled them with some sea salt (I read it makes a really pretty bubbly effect on the flaky crust). I knew deep down I wasn’t going to get much oven-spring, and I didn’t, but they were cute and tasty, albeit too dense. How can anything with all that butter not taste good, regardless of the texture?
Naturally, I wasn’t satisfied because I wanted those big, flaky croissants I loved so much! I made another batch of Esther’s dough, this time using only 3 sticks of butter. As you can see, success; beautiful, big, flaky seven rolled croissants, (See photo collage of croissant rolling, above. I numbered a rolled croissant to show you what I mean). Tight rolls of each 8-10 inch pulled and stretched triangle gets you 7 ‘sections’ which equals more layers and prettier croissants.
This must all sound confusing, and my collages certainly aren’t clear and easy to understand, so, you can see the full episode of Esther’s croissant making, with the lovely and wonderful Julia, HERE (part one) and HERE (part two). You can also see a full episode of vintage Julia making croissants, HERE.
So, here’s what I made;
- Accidental mini sea salt croissants
- Plain, rolled, croissants, although I didn’t pull the ends long enough to curve them into a classic croissant shape.
- Plain pain au chocolat
- White and dark pain au chocolat
- White chocolate-pistachio and dark chocolate-pistachio croissants (I used the almond filling recipe provided by Esther in Baking with Julia, substituting pistachios for the almonds.)
- Candied bacon – Pepper Jack cheese croissants.
Candied bacon – pepper jack?? Yes, and they were amazing. Remember a while back when I told you about being a member of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker’s program? They sent me and others a $25.00 gift card to purchase a variety of Sargento cheeses, American processed cheese singles and any other fruits, crackers and whatnot to host a ‘tasting’, comparing Sargento cheeses, such as Havarti, Provolone, and the aforementioned Pepper Jack etc..to processed American cheese singles.
Umm..are you kidding? It’s a no-brainer..of course Sargento won out. I keep American cheese singles on hand for one purpose only – childhood comfort grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. I paired several of Sargento’s cheeses (they come in sticks which are perfect for croissants, like the chocolate batons shown above) with candied bacon, deciding pepper jack was a phenomenal match. And there you have it..candied bacon – pepper jack croissants!
In conclusion, I loved this challenge, loved how my croissants turned out (especially the second batch), but I think it’s going to be a while before I make croissants again. I’m still wiping the flour off my face, the frustration off my brain, and the butter from my arteries.