Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The croissant experiment

They are not that nutritious. They are definitely not low in fat. They are full of calories and taste even better when you put even more butter on them. They are not easy to make and they take a very long time to make. However, croissants taste good, damn good.

After enjoying a warm croissant fresh from the bakery this morning and looking up at the rain clouds that were rolling in, I decided to do a day of experimenting. How hard can it be to make a croissant? Thousands of bakeries do it every day so surely there is some short and easy way of doing it? And as the saying goes. When in Rome... (well Europe anyways) I decided to document this experiment for two reasons; firstly, so that I focus on the recipe closely and don’t stuff it up by adding salt instead of sugar or something else along the lines of a year 8 Home Ec class failure. Secondly and more importantly, so that my wife actually believes that I made them. That is, if they turn out good enough to look like they came from a bakery. I was going to need a recipe.

As it turns out, a Google search for ‘croissant recipe’ yields an astounding number of results. Some have ingredients in them that I am pretty sure I need to go to the black markets in the back streets of France to buy and some use ingredients that I think have no place in a croissant; kind of like pineapple on a pizza. So I limited my search to ‘easy croissant recipe’ and found one that seemed suitable.

My next step was to obtain the ingredients. No problem, right? Just head to the grocery store? Well, the thing is, I have no idea what the ingredients are called in German. Some translating told me that I needed... milch, salz, buttern, zucker, wasser, weizen mehl und hefe. Easy.

Our home here in Munich is a simple one. No 42 inch plasma (no tv at all, in fact). No home telephone. No clothes dryer. No mix-master and pretty much no kitchen utensils in general. Even our fridge is the size of a single-draw filing cabinet and doesn’t have a freezer. So I have to make do with what is available. A jug with some numbers on the side serves as my measuring cup, I roughly estimate tablespoons and teaspoons, I use a hand whisk to make the dough and my rolling pin is the flattest and smoothest empty wine bottle that I could find.

So it begins... Add 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt and 1 cup milk to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Add 1 packet yeast to ¼ cup warm water and stir. Add to the milk. Slowly mix in 2 ½ cups flour until you have a very large mess and a yellow, stickyish ball that resembles a dough. If you are like me and don’t have a mix-master, it is at this step that you will get cramps in your forearm from stirring the mixture and will eventually resort to using your hands. Leave the dough to rise for 1 ½ hrs and it will almost DOUBLE in size! Cool in the fridge for 30mins.

While you wait, here is some pointless croissant trivia: Today, 30-40% of croissants sold in French bakeries are frozen. The modern croissant dates back to 19th century Paris. The Austrian ‘Kipferi’ bread is an ancestor of the croissant and its evolution into a puff pastry can be dated back to 1839 when August Zang, an Austrian officer opened a Viennese bakery in Paris. The French adaptation of the Kipferi got its name from the crescent (croissant) shape. There are many fake stories about the origins of the croissant with the most popular being that it was invented in Vienna in the 17th century to celebrate the defeat of the Turks with the crescent shape designed to mock the Turkish flag. So, even though it is considered a French pastry, the croissant was invented by an Austrian.


By now, the dough should be massive. At this point, I began to think that croissants weren’t so bad. There has not been a tub of butter added or 12 cups of sugar poured in. Then I read the next few steps... Roll the dough (using your best wine bottle) into a rectangle that is about 1/2 cm thick.


Now the healthy part and the messy part: Spread 250gm of butter over the lower 2/3 of the dough. Once covered, fold the top third down over the buttered section, then the bottom 1/3 back up over the others. Roll it out again and repeat the folding process. Cover the dough and throw it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then repeat the folding process another 3 times!

So that's it. The hard part is over. All that is left to do is roll out the dough for the last time, cut it into 8cm squares and then in half into triangles. Then roll the triangles VERY thinly (I only learnt this AFTER I my practice batch and I had already rolled the others) otherwise they turn out more bread-like rather than flakey. Then to get the shape of the croissant, start rolling from the base of the triangle towards the tip with the point ending up in the middle. Curve it into a crescent and there it is....

Paste it with a whipped egg to ensure they turn golden brown (this was difficult as all I had for a brush was my finger) and put it into the oven for 25mins at 180 degrees celcius. Your kitchen should now look like someone had a papier mache fight but your croissants should come out looking... well... hopefully a little better than mine did. Let them cool before you eat them (the hardest part) and at least they should still taste like croissants. Not much risk of Emily thinking I got these from a shop...

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