Recently, I was telling a friend about a time when I had food poisoning. It happened several years ago. A pizza burger from a greasy diner was the culprit. I was out of town, staying in a hostel and sharing not only a bedroom, but also a bathroom with multiple strangers.
When I was talking about it, I went into some grave detail about the incident--maybe more than I should have. It was a pretty horrific experience for me. Funny enough--and it really isn't all that funny to me--not a couple of days after I was telling him that story it happened again.
But it wasn't a pizza burger from a greasy spoon this time, it was sushi from a supposed reputable establishment. I don't really even like sushi. I went because my partner loves it and I was trying to be flexible/nice. Blah.
But now, I have an even bigger aversion to it than ever and what's more--and worse--I have an aversion to pretty much anything I ate or baked the day of said incident. And sadly I did a hell of a whole lot of baking that day.
I made a king cake for a mardi gras get-together I was planning on having (that never happened because of my food poisoning). I was in the middle of making homemade twix bars (that are sitting in my freezer half done) that I can't even fathom finishing. And, I made croissants.
All of these things--as strange as it may be--I associate with the day I ate some bad sushi and have little to no desire to see or taste or touch any of them. A wave of nausea ensnares my body when the thought of any of them enters my mind. But, on the plus side, I think this is temporary because as the days go by that aversion seems to weaken.
Which is good because the true subject of this post is clearly one of those normally undetestable but currently semi-detestable baked goods I made on that fateful day.... which was the croissant. And as difficult as it is, with my waning aversion, I want to share my trials and tribulations with making this pastry--this pastry that can be a real bitch to make successfully.
So croissants begin with another laminated dough--like puff pastry--except different than puff pastry in that it's yeasted and I guess you don't have to make as many turns with it--like three versus five or six. But it's still a lengthy process. In addition, the recipe I was using from Bouchon Bakery (their recipes are never easy...) required using something called distatic malt powder.
I had no idea what it was so I had to look it up and found out that it usually is used by breadmakers. In a nutshell, it has enzymes that interact with the yeast to help yield a better rise. That seemed like a good enough reason for me so I ordered a bag of it online (because I couldn't find it anywhere else). Once it finally got here, I could make my poolish--another thing I had to look up that I found out is basically a starter--which had to sit for 12-14 hours.
Then, finally I could make the actual dough. After you've made the dough--using your distatic malt powder and your poolish--and before you encase your butter block in it, you have to let it sit for a couple of hours. But I wasn't sure why. I mean normally for a yeasted item you let it sit in order for it to rise. But the book didn't state the reason and it didn't really rise? So I wasn't really sure what that was all about? Maybe it just needed to rest--sometimes dough just needs to rest which is fine but I thought that it would at least rise a bit...I mean my yeast was brand new...
Anyway, after it had sat for a couple of hours it was time to roll it out and encase the butter block. And from there, things sped up a bit because you immediately start your first turn and then--with this particular recipe--you wait at least 20 minutes between turns because you stick the dough in the freezer. However, this step wasn't without its difficulties. The same problem I had when I was making my puff pastry arose here--the dough tore and my butter started to smear on the surface. With laminated dough, you're supposed to have alternating layers of butter and dough but now my layers were becoming one in the same and I knew from experience that this was definitely going to fuck with my end product.
I was thinking about it and I was starting to believe that maybe it was happening because I was rolling it out to hard? I have a nice heavy marble rolling pin and I take advantage of its weight when it comes to rolling dough out--especially if I am rolling out a chilled dough that needs to stay chilled and I need to do it fast. But maybe I was being a little too rough with this dough and the tearing was my own fault. I have a lighter wooden rolling pin too--maybe I'll try using that next time. Anyway, after that I continued to have torn layers with butter smeared all over the place so I just tried to ignore it and muscle through it.
After the final turn I cut everything up, rolled out the croissants and set them aside to proof. Finally after a couple hours of proofing--which they did do but maybe not as much as I had hoped--I put them in oven and baked them. The end results were mixed--both physically and emotionally. First off, every croissant looked completely different from the next one--which at first I was ok with but soon after I walked into a cafe for some coffee and noticed their glass cloche of perfectly identically shaped croissants and I felt defeated (angry) a bit. Next, my croissants weren't really as "light" as I had hoped. I mean they weren't rocks but they weren't feathers either.
I suspect it had something to do with either lack of proofing or the layers combining as one...or both. When I opened one up this was fairly evident. The layers were there but probably not as many layers as could have been if not for the tearing that took place when I was rolling out the dough. Instead, I feel like a lot of the layers clumped together and thus prevented thinner, more delicate layers to form. But on the upswing, they tasted buttery and were moist. And I actually did like the way they looked. They had distinct characteristics and you could see how the layers--that did form--played out. They looked like contours on a map or tiered rice paddy fields. Nevertheless, it was my first attempt so I'll give myself a break here. And I'm definitely going give it another go--soon--but probably not until the nausea I feel when looking at one fully subsides.
Recipe courtesy of Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
For the dough:
Start with the poolish:
100g (1/2c + 3T + 1 tsp) all-purpose flour
a pinch of instant yeast
100g (1/4c + 2T + 2 1/2 tsp) water at 75 degrees F
Using a small bowl, mix the yeast and flour together. Pour the water in and mix together until all of the dry ingredients are completely moistened. Loosely place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and set aside for 12-14 hours to sit at room temperature. By the end of the 12-14 hours, the mixture should have some bubbles on top as well as some smooth cracks.
At some point before you finish the dough, make the butter block.
330g (11.6oz) unsalted butter
Take your butter--whether it be sticks or one solid piece--and place it all on either a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper that's sitting on your work surface. Then, place another piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on top of the butter. Using a rolling pin, smash and roll the butter out until it's one continuous piece that is about a 7 1/2 inch by 6 1/2 rectangle. Wrap the block up in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Now, finish the dough after your poolish has sat for 12-14 hours and your butter block is made
500g (3 1/2c + 1T + 1/4 tsp) all-purpose flour
75g (1/4c + 2T + 1/4 tsp) granulated sugar
10g (1T) instant yeast
3g (1 tsp) distatic malt powder
200g ( 3/4c + 1T + 1 3/4 tsp) water at 75 degrees F
100g (3.5oz) unsalted butter at room temp.
15g (1T + 2 tsp) kosher salt
Using the bowl of a stand mixer, add in the flour, sugar, yeast and malt powder. With the dough hook attachment, mix the ingredients on low for about 30 seconds just so they are combined. Then, reserve about 50g (3 1/2T) of the water. With the remaining water, pour about half of it around the edges of the poolish which apparently is supposed to help release it from the bowl. After that, add the poolish into the mixer bowl containing the dry ingredients as well as the rest of the water and the butter. Mix that on low speed just until all of the dry ingredients are fully moistened. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and sprinkle the top of the mixture with the salt. Turn the mixer back on low and let it go for about 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes is up, scrape the sides of the dough, form it into a ball and let it sit for 1 hour at room temperature.
Next, roll the dough out into at long 7 1/2 inch wide by 16 inch long rectangle. Place your butter block in the middle of the rectangle so that the 7 1/2 inch wide side spans the 7 1/2 inch span of the rectangle. Fold each end over the block so that they meet in the middle and then pinch the two sides together to seal it. You'll have open butter at the sides. Now comes the first of three turns.
Rotate the dough so that the short side (side with the open butter) faces you. Using a rolling pin and on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to expand the length--turning it over and rotating it and adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Roll your dough out into a 22 inch long by 9 inch wide rectangle. Then, fold it in thirds--like a letter--wrap it in plastic wrap and into the freezer it goes for 20 minutes. The first turn is complete.
For the second turn, remove the dough from the freezer. Lightly flour your work surface and rotate the block of dough so that the short side faces you. Roll the dough into another 22 inch long by 9 inch wide rectangle--flouring, rotating and flipping over to make sure the dough doesn't stick to the work surface. Fold the dough into thirds again, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it back into the freezer for another 20 minutes. The second turn is complete.
For the third turn, repeat the exact same steps as you did for the second one.
Now, after the dough has sat in the freezer for 20 minutes after the last turn, place it on a lightly floured work surface. Rotate it so the short side is facing you and roll it out into a 24 inch by 9 inch rectangle--again flouring as necessary and rotating and flipping over to prevent any sticking. Also, it's important--evidently at this point--to ensure the dough stays cold. So, if at any point the dough becomes too warm, place it on a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet and into the freezer until it's cold again. Once it's been rolled out into the rectangle, cut it in half using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Wrap both pieces in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for 20 minutes. Now, the dough can be used to make croissants.
For the croissants
The dough you just made
1T cold water
Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and water together in a small bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Next, remove one of the pieces of dough from the freezer. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a 19 inch by 9 inch rectangle--flouring, rotating and flipping the dough just as before. Trim the long side until it's 18 inches and then rotate it so the long side is facing you. Starting at the top corner of one side of the rectangle, cut triangles out that have a 3 1/2 inch wide base--you'll get between 6-8 of them depending upon how accurate your measurements are. Take one triangle and stretch it until it's about 12 inches long. Place it on the work surface so the base is closest to you. Fold the tip of each corner of the base over and start rolling the triangle up to the tip. Place the rolled croissant, tip side down, on the baking sheet and lightly flatten the croissant so it doesn't roll back over. Do this for the remaining triangles. Repeat the entire process for the second piece of dough as well. Brush each croissant with the egg wash. Cover them with a tea towel or a box and let them sit at room temperature for 2 hours to proof. You'll know they are done proofing when you lightly press a finger into one of the croissants and the impression remains. Once they have proofed, arrange your oven racks so that they are placed at the top and bottom thirds of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Re-brush the croissants with the egg wash and once your oven is ready bake them for 35-40 minutes rotating them halfway into the bake time. Remove the croissants from the oven and let them cool completely.