Monday, 1 May 2017

Own Croissants

Dear me, it really is the Year of Food. Last year was the Year of Wilderness Camping.  Last spring I loved to read guides to surviving in the wild, and now I am surrounded by cookbooks. I even have a cookbook geared to surviving in the wild--or, rather, in poverty in rural Greece.

Not being in poverty in rural Greece, on Saturday I had a pound coin with which to buy 250g of unsalted butter. Therefore, on Saturday night I made raw croissants and left them to prove in the fridge overnight. I awoke in a panic at 5 AM and moved them to the kitchen counter. At a more reasonable 7 AM, I woke up again and had a look. They had indeed doubled in size although I must admit they were not (and had not started) at uniform sizes. Getting a 20 cm x 65 cm rectangle of dough to the same thickness throughout was a challenge I met but imperfectly.

Into the oven they went for 25 minutes. I did them too brown (as Georgette Heyer would metaphorically write), so next time I will have a look after 20.

Even when overly brown, there is nothing like a  hot, freshly baked croissant straight from the oven, as I now know. The outer layers snap and flake, and the inner layers cling softly together until you pull them apart to apply the jam. You do not need to add butter. They are butter.

Various online wags say that after making your own croissants, you understand why there are bakeries. I wonder where the online wags live; it can't be suburban Scotland. It is a 30 minute bus ride to the nearest French bakery, and we consider ourselves lucky. Moreover, it costs less to make your own croissants (approx 10p each) than to buy even a bad, bready one from Tesco (approx £1).

Meanwhile, making croissants is not that difficult, especially if you add the butter in one-inch cubes instead of pounding it into a flat slab, as did Julia Child. The important thing is not to lose your nerve when the greasy dough sticks to your rolling pin. To avoid this problem, roll the dough between lightly floured sheets of baking paper. It will still stick, but don't panic.

Besides butter, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, milk, water, baking paper and a cool head, you need a refrigerator and time. The butter-studded dough needs about an hour to rise. The twice-turned dough-envelope needs about that (see recipe) to rest in the fridge, and then another hour for its second rest in the fridge. The crescent shapes need two hours (perhaps)  to double--unless you put them in the fridge overnight, as I recommend.  If you want croissants for breakfast, you have to start the night before, perhaps right after supper.

The long-term goal is to have croissants for breakfast, so the short-term goal should be to have the crescent-shapes in the fridge before you go to bed at your normal time. In the morning, you pop them on a counter/table, wait an hour for them to finish doubling, and then bake and eat them. This may mean getting up earlier than usual. As a morning person, I love the blissful solitude of being awake and busy before anyone else.

A problem I did not foresee is that 12 -14 croissants are too many for a middle-aged married couple, even over two days. (This morning's day-olds tasted great after being warmed in the oven.) Next time I will either freeze half of the proved-but-unbaked crescent shapes or I will wait until there are overnight visitors in the house. Of course, there is always the option of halving the recipe and making just six.  Rolling the dough to just 32.5 cm must surely be easier!

By the way, I didn't have plastic wrap to cover the dough, so I used a large white linen napkin throughout. French bakers thrived for at least three centuries without plastic wrap. I wonder how they coped without refrigerators, but presumably they had cellars.

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