Thing #36 – Croissants January 8, 2009Posted by Toy Lady in 101 Things, Cooking, Food, food porn, What we're reading.
I like to think of myself as efficient. Mostly, anyway. Take these croissants, for instance. Croissants. Mmmm. . . flaky bits of buttery goodness. I have wanted to try my hand at making them for years – so much so that that was one of the tasks that made it to my 101 List.
Imagine my excitement, then, when we decided to participate in Thursday Night Smackdown‘s “First Thursday” challenge – this month’s challenge being, well, to challenge yourself. Great – I can play along AND accomplish one of my Things. Maximum return for minimal effort (sort of). I’m all about that. Did I ever mention the time I turned in the same paper in college for three different classes? And two with the same professor? Talk about efficient!
So rule number one, if you haven’t clicked over to TNS’s “First Thursday” page, is to dig out one of our many cookbooks and follow a recipe. A challenging recipe.
Peeps started thumbing through his copy of The Nero Wolfe Cook Book. If you’re not familiar with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, well, the first thing I’m going to suggest is that you shut down your computer, go to the library, and check out as many as you can find. Seriously. Failing that, rent (or buy – would I steer you wrong?) the A&E series on DVD. Rex Stout, through Nero Wolfe, was THE original foodie. . .
Yes, well. Since TNS has that “challenging” stipulation, I guess we won’t be doing ham sandwiches. Ah, but thumb forward a few pages, and what have we here? In The Golden Spiders, Sergeant Purley Stebbins, the sandwich swiper in the above clip, has been encouraged to enjoy several crescents with plenty of fresh coffee, and, as Archie Goodwin puts it,
“no man who has ever tasted Fritz‘s Sunday-morning crescents could possibly turn them down.”
We have a winner! Here it is:
Nero Wolfe’s (Fritz’s) Sunday Morning Crescents
The first thing we do, which is something I haven’t done in years, is scald some milk. I probably should have used whole milk, or at the very least, cut my 1% with some half and half. Too late now.
To the scalded – NOT boiled – milk, we added some melted butter, sugar and salt. Now dump the whole mess into a mixing bowl.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly certain that, had it been available in the 1930s (when the Nero Wolfe books were originally published), Fritz would have had a big ol’ Kitchen Aid in his kitchen. Maybe even two. I’m just sayin’, that’s all.
While the scalded milk is cooling, we also proofed some yeast – the original recipe called for “½ cake compressed yeast” – I used ½ Tablespoon of regular yeast. I kinda doubt Fritz had instant yeast, either.
Now the recipe also called for 2½ cups of “sifted all-purpose flour.”
OK, here’s the thing. A couple of things, actually. First off, there is NO WAY I’m going to just assume that I would measure flour the same way as Fritz, or even Wolfe, did (or would have if, you know, they weren’t fictional) 75 years ago, let alone Rex Stout. So I hauled out the scale. I’m kinda nerdy like that.
A cup of flour should weigh about 5.5 oz. A cup of sifted flour, about 1 ounce less, or 4.5 ounces. So 2.5 cups times 4.5 ounces would be 11.25 ounces. About.
And secondly, I am NOT sifting flour. Nope. It’s a gigantic pain in the ass neck, and it’s all going to be mixed back in with liquids and become dough. Whisking will aerate the dough just fine, thankyouverymuch.
I’ve gotta draw the line somewhere, you know.
So anyway, we used the mixer to, as directed, “stir into a soft dough, adding more flour if necessary.” Boy, it’s just a good thing I was so scrupulous about weighing, huh?
Once the dough pretty much came together (I was expecting a soft dough, and boy, I was not surprised!), we turned it out onto a very lightly-floured counter and and kneaded gently until the dough was “smooth and elastic.” Surprisingly, it did not take more than about 5 minutes, and it was one of the softest, nicest-to-work-with doughs I’ve seen in a long time. Huh.
The next step is pretty standard bread-making 101 – form dough into a ball, place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Then punch dough down and chill for 1 hour. OK. So we just, well, did that. After the hour’s chill (the FIRST hour’s chill, I might add), we need to do two things. Peeps takes 2 sticks of cold butter – half a pound – and flattens them into a rectangular shape. As it happens, we, uh, forgot to check and make sure we had 2 sticks of butter in the fridge, so it ended up being one stick of cold butter, and a second stick of frozen butter.
It seemed to work out for him – he cut each stick of butter into 5 slices, laid them out between a couple of sheets of waxed paper and just pounded the crap out of them with the nifty implement of paillardage.
Meanwhile, back to the dough. I rolled the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness.
Dude. Seriously. Who takes a yeast dough and rolls it to 1/4 inch thick?
Crazy French people, that’s who. Ooh la la.
We centered the mashed, still cold butter on the flat, thin dough, then folded the whole mess into thirds – kind of like an envelope. Rolled that thin again, and folded into thirds again, until we have a nice neat packet to wrap in plastic and shove back in the fridge for, guess what, another half hour.
Then you pull the dough out and roll it out again. Fold in thirds, pinch the edges, roll again, and fold in thirds. Then put it in the fridge for yet another half hour. You repeat this a total of three times. You could probably do it more, but if you do, you’ll never finish the croissants because you’ll have jumped off a bridge before they’re ready to bake.
See, here’s the thing. Even in the middle of winter, when you spend enough time working butter, it tends to get soft. And melt. And stick. And it gets all over the place. All over your counter. All over your hands. Pretty much everywhere, except in the Frickin’ Dough Where It Belongs.
So after the second time rolling and folding, when we ended up with lovely buttery counters (and lovely buttery hands which the dog seemed to find particularly, well, lovely), we realize that Desperate Measures Must Be Taken.
What would Fritz do? Well, I don’t think he’d go tell Wolfe that he wasn’t getting his croissants. Oh, no. He’d find a way.
A pan of ice water on the counter, to start with. Keep the work surface cold, slow down the butter meltiness. . .
Try again. Roll the dough, fold in thirds, roll some more, fold some more. At this point, I’m not even trying to get it thin – I’m just trying to keep it from sticking too much to the not-so-chilled counter and the even-less-cold rolling pin and maintain some integrity in the “layers.”
Last trip to the fridge. An hour and a half, then the Final Rolling And Shaping. This dough is so soft at this point that there is no way I’m going to be able to roll it into a 1/4-inch sheet (oh yes, 1/4 inch!), cut it and roll it into little croissant shapes. Not even after an hour and a half in the fridge.
Freezer. It can certainly set in there, on top of the ice, double-wrapped in plastic wrap, at least until it firms up enough to give me a fighting chance. . .
So here it is, a couple of hours later. The ridiculously soft dough has stiffened enough that I should be able to quickly roll it out one more time. The recipe says
“roll the dough into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick and cut the piece into 3/4-inch squares. Cut these squares in half diagonally to form triangles. Roll up each triangle and curve the ends to form a crescent shape.”
Hold it. Wait just a minute. 3/4-inch squares? Oh no. HELL no. There is NO WAY that a 1/4-inch thick yeast dough is going to be cut into 3/4-inch squares, then cut in half then rolled into a croissant. NOT gonna happen. I’m sure there’s some sort of physics reason it can’t happen, but I don’t care what it is – I know Fritz wouldn’t try to make 3/4-inch squares, and neither will I. I mean, can you imagine trying to feed Nero Wolfe 3/4-inch croissants?
That’s got to be a mistake. (Did you ever follow a recipe – to the letter – only to find that there was a typo or some other mistake? AFTER, say, you put a whole Tablespoon of salt in Emeril’s recipe for focaccia? Yeah, I hate that. A lot.) That “3/4-inch squares” has got to be something like, maybe “3-4 – inch squares” which would make a lot more sense. We’ll go with that.
Once the dough is cut into squares (we used our handy-dandy pizza cutter – it’s not just for pizza, you know!), the squares get cut into triangles, which need to be rolled into, well, croissants.
The directions simply say “roll up each triangle and curve the ends” – there’s no mention of which side to start rolling the right triangles – I was inclined to start at the hypotenuse because it just feels more even, but Peeps said to start at one of the other sides. That’s probably why his croissants were more, well, crescent-like than mine.
Once shaped, we brushed with a little egg yolk-half & half wash – after all, once you’ve folded half a pound of butter in, what’s a little egg and cream to top it off, right? – then into a hot oven. After 5 minutes at 400°, we backed the heat down to 350° and let the rolls finish baking, in this case, 17 minutes – until they were GBD, of course.
Timer goes off, we pull the little morsels out of the oven, and voilá! While some of them might be a little, uh, unprofessional looking, maybe even downright homely . . . they’re croissants. Real, honest-to-god, layers of pastry and butter croissants.
And really, how better to enjoy an honest-to-god, layers of flaky pastry and butter croissant than by smearing a little more butter on it?