What I Did During My Furlough, Part Three: Croissants

After I made Sarabeth Levine's Danish dough, I had some time on my hands, since the Danish dough needs to be made two days in advance of baking. So I decided to go ahead and make her croissant dough as well. The method is the same as the Danish dough, but the détrempe is different; it's made from yeast, sugar, milk, bread flour, cake flour, and salt.

Other than that, you incorporate the beurrage in the same manner and follow the same procedure for rolling out the dough and making the turns. Then you divide the dough in two, wrap each section well, and freeze the dough (see the recipe for details).

A few days later, I formed the croissants after defrosting the dough overnight in the refrigerator. You roll out the dough, let it rest in the fridge briefly, and then cut it into triangles. You stretch out each triangle of dough and then roll it up to form the croissant shape. I arranged the croissants on parchment-lined baking sheets, and put them in a simulated proofing box environment (a large closed garbage bag, with a tall glass of hot water inside) until they became puffy. Then after a quick brush of egg wash, they were ready to bake.

I thought that the baked croissants looked great. They were on the small side, not much larger than a Pillsbury crescent roll (one of my favorite childhood foods and I'm not ashamed to admit it!). But even for their size, they were surprisingly light when I picked one up. And when I tasted one fresh from the oven, I was floored by how good it was. I have never eaten a freshly-baked croissant, and it had a flaky and audibly crackly exterior with a tender buttery interior, without being greasy or heavy at all. The flavor was simple and pure.

I baked the croissants on a miserably cold and rainy day, and my breakfast of warm croissants with cherry jam was like a bright ray of warm sunshine on that dreary morning. At the same time, I also felt a twinge of sadness when I took those first wondrous bites of warm croissant. I think it was the realization that I can't enjoy the amazing warm homemade croissant experience whenever I feel like it, but only after much concerted effort and planning, with several days of waiting included. The warm croissant experience is incredible, but fleeting. While the croissants were still delicious over the next 24 hours after being rewarmed in the oven, the crackly exterior that shattered with every bite was quickly and irrecoverably lost.

I also suspect that it might be one of those taste experiences that is never the same after the first time. I can still vividly remember the first time I had a bowl of ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar -- I recall thinking that if I had to request my last meal on earth, that would be it. I have since been back to Momofuku several times, and while it is always fantastic, the experience has never had the same profound emotional impact.

I don't think that these croissants were perfect my any means. As you can see from the photo of the cross section above, the air bubbles in the interior were a little dense (I think that the large air bubbles resulted from gaps as I rolled up the croissant shape). In trying to figure out what the perfect croissant should look like, I found a blog about pastries in Paris that includes a five part series reviewing the city's croissants. It includes great photos, including cross sections, of each croissant reviewed (see the reviews here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). The huge variety of croissant shapes and interiors was surprising to me, but it made me feel a little better about the way my croissants looked.

I had always assumed that croissants are one of the fattiest, unhealthiest pastries out there. But this croissant dough recipe requires only two sticks of butter, and you divide the dough in half before freezing it. I used one of these halves to make 18 croissants, so that's only one stick of butter in 18 croissants (I used higher fat Plugrá butter, but still). Knowing this gave me license to enjoy more than one in a single sitting.

This first experience of eating a homemade croissant fresh from the oven is one that I will remember always. It was more fulfilling that I could have imagined. I think the folks at Leite's Culinaria described these croissants best: "Though the recipe may appear quite long, it’s not complicated. It’s just precise. Trust us, when you’re standing at the counter with your sleeves rolled up, your cheeks smudged with flour, and this ridiculously, obscenely, ineffably buttery loveliness before you, you’ll understand."

Recipe: "Croissant Dough" and "Croissants" from Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Recipes available here at Leite's Culinaria.

Previous Post: "What I Did During My Furlough, Part Two: Fruit Danishes," October 12, 2013.