Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Great Croissant Experiment

“All sorrows are less with bread. ”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

If you’re me (and you may just be), there are few things that challenge you as much as making bread. I find it very difficult to get my dough to rise all the time, in fact I have managed to disastrously fail making the same bread I have a hundred times over more than once.

I love croissants – waking up on a cold winter morning in Paris with the smell of freshly baked buttery croissants wafting into my room has left its impact on me. I did nothing but eat crepes, baguettes and croissants that trip. I have to admit that there are a few places in Mumbai that make semi decent croissants. Most buffets have hardened, dried, overly tough little crescents laid out, but there are just a few that manage to impress. Le Pain Quotidian is one of them, though you have to get there before 12pm or all the croissants are over.
Yummy yummy yummy
I decided to try my hand at making them. How difficult could it be? Turns out – very. The recipe intimidated me so much that it took me a month to make up my mind and say ok I’m going to do it. Making croissants is a three-day experiment! I needed three days where I was at home and unable to leave. Three days where it wasn't too hot, so the butter wouldn't melt too much. How was I ever going to do this?

Luckily for me (and very unluckily too) I have hurt my neck and am stuck at home with little choice but to watch TV looking down my nose. I sit up for an hour or so, and then lie back down. Boo hoo. I was particularly bored on Monday, and so decided to start making the croissants.

This recipe I have used is pretty detailed and has step by step pictures to guide you. You can find it here. 

Day 1 is all about making the dough

I measured out the initial quantities for the dough, added them to the mixer and sat back and instructed everyone on what they had to do. I watched as the dough was kneaded into shape. That's it for Day 1. Let the dough rest overnight in the fridge; take it out the next day.

Day 2 is much more hectic

I have to pound 10 ounces of butter into an even 6 by 6 inch square. 36 square inches of butter is a LOT of butter. Once that's done, we pop it into the fridge and roll out the dough. Rolling dough is easy when there’s no specific shape to be, but getting it into a square was a bit of a b!$%h. Once square, we put the butter on top of the dough and fold the dough over it like an envelope making sure everything is sealed inside.

10 oz of butter looks like this
And this
You then start rolling the dough out further, elongating it as you go. Here is the problem – its way too hot in my kitchen and in Mumbai at this time of year to attempt to do this. Butter softens too quickly, and softens the dough as well, making it a very sticky icky mess all over the counter. We rolled it out into a long rectangle, folded it over itself in thirds and froze for 20 minutes and took it out to reroll. Turns out that it needed much more time in the freezer to harden again. We left it in the freezer for close to an hour the first time before it was pliable. 
Butter wrapped in dough
Rolling it out to a 24 by 8 inch rectangle was not at all easy. The dough kept breaking and falling apart, guess I’ll have to deal with uneven layers in my croissants! After rolling it out three times (which should have taken an hour but took two and a half instead) we put the dough back in the fridge to sleep over night.
Butter seeping through the dough as we elongate

Day 3 – time to put it all together

The instructions say to roll out the entire dough to a 41 inch long rectangle, but my kitchen counter is just not long enough. We started by elongating and flattening the dough as much as possible, and then cut it into bits so we could thin them out properly. After using a ruler and measuring out the perfect triangles, we started to roll the croissants out. This was the most fun thing we had done, this was actually the only thing I did myself rather than having help.
Two proper shapes, and 2 that eventually became little rolls
Unfortunately cutting the dough into sections and rolling it out meant that we had quite a lot of wastage. Again the heat was not our friend, the butter melted and the dough broke. We ended up with 20 semi sort of croissants in different shapes and sizes. Oh well, the proof is in the proving. Time to cover them up and let them rise again.
This kind of rolling is fun
After letting them prove for 2 hours, we put them into the oven at 200 degrees. (Even though the instructions say cover the croissants in egg wash and then let them prove, I suggest waiting an hour before doing that. The egg wash moistens the dough and doesn't allow it to rise properly.) 

Interesting little shapes
Yummy - all ready to bake
Bake the croissants for ten minutes, till the ones on top are golden brown and then switch them around for another ten minutes. 
What a croissant should look like inside
I burnt the croissants so rather than soft flaky pastry, I got interesting crunchy croissant shaped biscuits. 
Far too brown and crunchy - my first croissants!
The Great Croissant Experiment is on the line between pass and fail. I know what we did wrong, and I think I know how to fix it. Until next time, adeiu. 
Some too burnt, some not. Until next time

Coffee & Croissants early in the morning at Charles de Gaulle airport