The summer before last, I spent six weeks taking classes in Arcachon, France. I lived in this house:
This was the view from my room:
I had class until early afternoon, and then spent the rest of my time sitting on the beach, taking trains to various European cities, drinking wine, and swooning over pretty pastries. It was, in short, the best thing ever. Sometimes, when my life feels a little blah (which can certainly happen as the semester starts winding up toward finals), I have to do something French-y to get my spark back. Enter: CROISSANTS.
This recipe is from “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. I haven’t read the book in its entirety–I just flipped through and looked at the recipes, mostly–but I think the gist is as follows: if American women want to feel better about themselves they should stop eating so much fake, processed food, not obsess over calories, and probably drink more wine. This is a philosophy I can support, Ms. Guiliano.
This recipe takes 3 days, and there are quite a few steps. But come on, people–homemade croissants are worth some sacrifice and time with the rolling pin and flour all over the place. Aaaaand now….the recipe, as it appears in the book, plus some nifty how-to photos (my camera is now a buttery mess). Editorial comments (because I do love to editorialize when it comes to baking) are in italics.
- 1 c. milk plus 2 tablespoons to brush over croissants
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 1/4 c. plus 3 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour (I never sift, because I like to live dangerously.)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons sweet (unsalted) butter
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk for glaze
Friday Evening (Day 1):
1. Heat 1 cup of the milk to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of the lukewarm milk. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour (from the 2 1/4 cups) and whisk until there are no lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume (this will take about 20 minutes).
2. Mix the sugar and salt into the 2 1/8 cups flour.
3. Heat the remaining milk. Transfer the raised dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the lukewarm milk, and with the mixer at high speed, start adding the sugar, salt, and flour (from step 2), a little at a time, reducing the speed to low-medium until the dough is sticky and soft.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, the dough will look like this:
Saturday Morning (Day 2):
1. Bring the butter to room temperature and work it with the heel of your hand to incorporate the remaining 3 tablespoons of flour until smooth. Shape into a square. (This sounded a little nuts to me. I mixed in the flour with a spoon rather than my hands, because it seemed like the civilized thing to do, and I did not “shape into a square.”)
2. Sprinkle the work surface (a marble slab is ideal) (I did not run out to purchase a marble slab, and there were no adverse effects) with flour, shape the cold dough into a 6 x 15-inch rectangle, and spread the butter square (or just spread it out of the bowl you mixed it in) on the upper 2/3 of the rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides and top.
(The ruler I use for baking has slang terms and harmful effects of various street drugs on the back. It’s always good to be reminded to just say no, am I right?)
Fold the dough like a letter into thirds.
Turn the dough counterclockwise (it will look like a notebook with the open flap on your right), and then again roll out the dough into a 6 x 15-inch rectangle and fold as before. (I turned the dough clockwise, and once again there were no adverse effects. Also, it did not look like any notebook I’ve ever seen, but maybe French notebooks look more like dough.)
3. Transfer the dough to a baking pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 hours.
Saturday Afternoon (Day 2):
Roll out the dough 2 more times, wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (All of this rolling and folding means the butter is getting in between layers of the dough, so once the croissants hit the oven they’ll puff up and be flaky.)
Sunday Morning (Day 3):
1. About 1 1/2 hours before baking time, remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle flour on the work surface. Roll the dough into a 16-inch circle, working as quickly as possible. To make the rectangle into a circle, I suggest spiraling it up like so, and then rolling out.
Using a knife, cut the dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into 3 triangles.
2. With both hands, roll the base of each triangle toward the remaining corner. Do not curl the ends in a croissant shape. Transfer the croissants to a baking sheet and brush with 2 tablespoons milk. Let stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until the croissants have doubled in volume.
Helpful hint: If it’s cold in your kitchen, things won’t rise as well as they should. Try preheating the oven to 200, and then turning it off and leaving the door ajar. The extra heat will help the yeast do its thing.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. At this point I could barely contain my pastry-related excitement and had to take a picture of myself with the future croissants…
Brush the croissants with the glaze and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. If the croissants brown too fast, cover them loosely with foil and continue baking. Let cool 20 minutes before serving. (I usually lack the patience required to observe the recommended cooling time in a recipe.)
With a foamy latte:
Was it worth it? The answer, mes amis, is a resounding OUI. These were buttery, flaky, and pretty much perfect. Yes, they took 3 days, but the steps themselves are simple and there’s really nothing like baking your own bread. I am, as they say, très, très contente.