croissants, was re: the summer of gelato, #3

it was a weekend ideal for a long, lonely cooking project: two days at a nearly-empty beach house with a spacious kitchen and a mile-long countertop, with only a few guests, lousy weather, and no specific plans. i had made it my mission to finally tackle the infamous tartine takes-three-days-to-make-them croissant recipe. i packed my yeast and my scharffen-berger 70%, my printed-out copy of the recipe, with kitchen notes, and my rolling pin. i was determined.

reality hits hard, though. this third weekend of the planned summer of gelato, much like its misnomer of a title might suggest, did not go according to the plan at all. wait, that is unfair. it did, in many respects, go according to the plan. i went out late on thursday night, conveniently missing dinner, avoiding the hellish dash from midtown manhattan to queens that had come to define my fridays. i came armed with my ingredients, although, did i mention that my mother told me not to pack my yeast? and then that she forgot to pick some up for me at the supermarket? so i didn't get to start on friday.

saturday dawned cool and cloudy and my first order of business was to head for the supermarket and my forgotten yeast. this accomplished, i left the starter of the croissants to proof for two hours under some warm lights in the kitchen. i came back to find a lovely, spongy dough-like creation which i dutifully scooped into my mother's no-brand mixer, and began incorporating butter and milk. by now i had an audience consisting of my mother, her parents, my dad's father, and my grandfather's lady-friend. the lady-friend in particular was entranced when i announced that the resulting dough now needed to proof again, for another 5 or 6 hours.

i could mention at this point the serious dysfunctionality of my family, but to explain it would get much too complicated and take away from my magnificent croissant project. i will just say that having four senior citizens loitering around the kitchen was not an experience i would describe as conducive to creativity and peace.

six hours passed, and i came running back to my dough, eager to start the plaque-making stages. this was the stage of which i was most afraid, this dreaded turning process. my dough fought me every inch of the way, although beating it occasionally with my rolling pin seemed to help. marginally. at length, i got the dough to the prescribed 28 inches in width, and began dotting it with butter. salted butter, a relic from last weekend's french-chef-inspired cooking. i worried about this, but not enough to defy the edit of my mother, who declared that having three pounds of butter in the house was more than enough for her, thank you, and that i had damn well better use what was there before getting more.

the method of making the butter plaque was fascinating and great fun. i pulled out the butter and my rolling pin, creamed it for a few quick minutes, and then pounded the crap out of it with my rolling pin. i took a perverse sort of glee in this, because no one was expecting it. but the butter needed to soften, so what could i do? i began spooning out bits of this softened butter and dotting it over two-thirds of the rolled-out dough. then i did the classic layered-pastry fold, like a business letter, and fought with the dough for another 15 minutes in an attempt to roll it out. again. ultimately i had to enlist the help of my taller, stronger male friend. please, sisterhood, forgive me. :-)

the dough went into the fridge to chill, prompting a "yet again?" round of comments from my audience as we sat down to dinner and i prepped my dessert (the buttermilk chocolate cake from the delectable chocolatechocolate by lisa yockelson, topped with strawberry compote and honey-cream from emily luchetti's passion for desserts). after about an hour, i pulled the plaque out for its final turn. this time i fought with it so hard that i nearly hurt myself, until i had an epiphany and realized that i already had it stretched to the proper dimensions so far as height went. so, sneakily, i turned it around another quarter-turn and rolled it from there. this proved much easier since i already had some leeway.

after leaving the dough in the fridge for the rest of the night, i awoke early, refreshed and ready to complete my task. i rolled out the dough. AGAIN. beating it a few times just for emphasis. my original plan had been to make an assortment--some plain ones, a few ham and cheese, and a few chocolate. but my sister argued, with surprisingly impeccable logic, that making an assortment would mean that there were fewer chocolate ones. so i made only chocolate ones. i cut the dough into more-or-less evenly-sized rectangles, put a few slices of scharffen-berger 70% in there, and rolled them back up to rise for about 2 hours while i played some tennis.

i came back to a marvel of baking science--beautifully-risen pastries, ready to pop in the oven. i felt emboldened by my success and the (relative) ease of the recipe. this is easy, i was thinking to myself. it's just something you have to plan for!

well, all of that was before these babies went into the oven. my major problem, as it turns out, was this: i didn't have proper baking pans. that is to say, jelly roll pans, with edges. all i had were cookie sheets. no problem, right? i wrapped them in a layer of aluminum foil and slid the pans into the ovens. that's right, ovens, because this beauty of a beach house has TWO.

then the oven caught on fire.

nothing major, just the butter dripping out of the laminated dough was so hot that it ignited, briefly, when it hit the bottom of the oven. my mother, seeing this and (understandably) panicking, opened the oven in question, fueling the fire and giving us a major scare. we pulled the croissants out and had an emergency strategy session. we lined the bottoms of the ovens with more foil to catch the butter and hopefully stop the intense smoking that was happening. this worked, to a point, except the foil started catching on fire. all in all, we had 3 serious scares.

but more importantly, the croissants were unharmed. i pulled them out in all of their glory:

now, back to that issue about the salted butter. it's true that i couldn't taste much of a difference within the layers, except that they were rich and savory (and, incidentally, would have been perfect for the ham and cheese croissants i had wanted to make). the problem was that the author of the recipe included a sprinkle of salt in the pre-baking egg wash. this threw the entire pastry out of balance (although, truly, i think i was the only one to notice). i was briefly upset about this until i considered the larger picture: i had made croissants. i had made croissants. me. by myself. in a regular kitchen. if i had done it once, i could do it again.

and this time, i would skip the salt in the egg wash.

for more information on this recipe, i would urge you to visit veronica's test kitchen. her replication of this recipe (for an original daring bakers challenge), complete with her cooking notes, where what saved me from myself as i made my way through each step.


Brilynn said...

Those look fantastic! Is there anything better than a warm croissant?

puu said...

bri, i gotta tell you, there is NOTHING better than a warm croissant!