Wednesday, February 25, 2009


What with all the time I'm spending at home now doing schoolwork, I've taken to experimenting with baking. I've discovered rather quickly that the process of baking bread from scratch has been given a bad rap. Yes, yes, it does require that you check on it occasionally over the course of the day, which is a bit difficult for those ensconced in 9 to 5 employment (or 8 to 5, as the case may be). But if you have the freedom to be near your home (or in your home) at 1 to 3 hour intervals, you can make some awesome baked goods with relatively little hands-on time. I've experimented a bit with your typical bread options (french bread, dinner to come), but I decided yesterday to attempt to tackle the mother of all "bad rap" baked goods...croissants. And I'm happy to say, I'm glad that I did.

In an effort to make creating these beauties a bit easier to fit into your day, I've listed each task in the "Directions" as a time instead of numbering them (examples, of course...please don't leave comments asking why you need to start the recipe at precisely 8:00 a.m.). My next attempt will be to try making the dough through forming of the croissants stage, and then putting them in the refridgerator to rise overnight so that I can bake them in the morning. I'll keep you updated on the results of that endeavor...

(Modified from this recipe found on the All Recipes website)

1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast3 tablespoons warm water (about the temperature of your bath water)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for the table to roll out the dough)
2/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Directions (with time examples)
8:00 a.m. - In the mixing bowl of your stand mixer, add the yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let the mixture stand until it becomes creamy and frothy (about 5 minutes - see the first photo below). Meanwhile, heat the milk in the microwave until it is very warm, and dissolve the additional 2 teaspoons of sugar and the salt into the warmed milk.

8:05 a.m. - Add the milk mixture and the vegetable oil to the yeast mixture, and blend in the flour using the paddle attachment until it is well mixed (a minute or two - the second photo above).

8:07 a.m. - Change the attachment to the dough hook and knead the mixture until it is smooth (about 5-7 minutes). If the dough is pooling at the bottom of the bowl (like in the first photo below), add more flour and allow it to incorporate into the dough ball. Add only enough flour to just form the dough ball without any remaining dough pooling at the bottom; if flour remains in the bottom or on the sides of the bowl, you’ve added too much flour. Add some additional water to compensate for your over-exuberance with the flour.

8:15 a.m. - When the dough is smooth, remove it from the bowl and oil the bowl with vegetable oil. Put the dough back in the bowl and turn it to coat it in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and let is rise in a warm place until it’s about triple its size (could take as little as 1 hour, but may take up to 3 hours).

11:00 a.m. - Deflate the dough ball gently, and allow it to rise again (still covered with the plastic wrap) until it’s about double in size (probably at least another hour).

12:30 p.m. - Deflate the dough, cover it with the plastic wrap again, and put it in the fridge. Get out the butter, a rolling pin, and some more plastic wrap. Wrap the butter loosely in a big piece of plastic wrap and then hit it and roll it with the rolling pin into a thin, rectangular shape (about 6x10 inches). Make sure the butter is still completely covered with the plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer. Even if it’s too cold when you pull it out of the freezer, it will warm up very quickly when it’s this thin.

Butter prior to beating it up and following its beating with the rolling pin:

1:00 p.m. - Roll out the dough into a rectangle (about 8 x 15 inch). Take the butter out of the fridge, and unwrap it from the plastic wrap onto the top 2/3 of the dough (you should leave about a ½ inch margin the whole way around the butter…push it into the center if it sticks into your ½ inch margin). If it’s not coming off of the plastic wrap, just use a knife to get it out and spread it around a bit.

Fold the unbuttered bottom third up over the middle third, and then fold the buttered top third down over the middle.

Turn the whole thing 90 degrees, so that the folds are on the left and the right.
Using the rolling pin, roll it out again (stretch it) to another 8 x 15 inch rectangle.
Do the same folding technique again, but without the butter – bottom third up, top third over that fold.

Sprinkle lightly with flour, and wrap the dough back up in the plastic wrap. Put it back in the refrigerator until it is nice and cold (about 30 minutes).

2:00 p.m. - Unwrap the dough, sprinkle it with a little bit of flour, roll it back out to a 15 x 8 inch rectangle, and fold it again just like above (into thirds, turn, then into thirds again – just no butter this time). Wrap and chill another 30-60 minutes. At this point yesterday, I put the dough (wrapped up) back in the refrigerator overnight and it worked just fine.

3:00 p.m. – (or the next morning, in my case) Drag the dough back out of the refrigerator and roll it out again into another rectangle. Cut it into triangles (not right triangles…cut it into triangles with three acute angles…how’s that for a flashback to Plane Geometry class?). I’ve read in several places that it should be rolled to a 1/4-inch thickness, but after the second time of making this recipe, I think I would prefer the croissants if the dough were rolled a bit thinner (say, 1/8 inch) and triangles were a bit larger than shown in the photos below. The croissants turned out pretty small this time (that's them in the photo up top).

Be sure to keep it chilled while you’re working with it, or the butter will melt out of the dough. If it’s starting to feel melt-y, cut it in half and put one half in the refrigerator while you work with the other half. Roll each of the triangles from the odd-sized edge to the smallest angled-point (they’ll be pretty small croissants, but they’ll rise to at least double, if not triple, their size…cut your triangles appropriately). Curve them around (this would have been easier for me if the dough had been rolled thinner and the triangles were larger) and place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover them with the plastic wrap and let them rise until they’re really big (probably 2 to 4 hours…I left them for 3 hours this morning while I ran errands and came back home to bake them).

6:00 p.m. - Whisk the egg with the water and brush over the tops of the risen croissants. Bake them at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, and then decrease the temperature to 375 and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. FYI – I believe the purpose of the higher temperature is to get the butter in between the layers of dough hot enough to form steam, which will cause the croissants to puff up. However, if you leave the croissants in the oven at that hot of a temperature for the entire time, they may brown more than you would like. With that info, play with the temperatures/times as you will to get your favored result. I left them in the oven on 425 for the whole time this morning, and they were almost as good as turning down the heat for the second half. This morning’s batch was just a bit browner on the outside and not quite as brown and puffed in the center.

6:30 p.m. - Eat your friggin’ yummy croissants!