17 July 2012

Croissants & Pain Au Chocolats

How do I cook badly? Let me count the ways.
1. Age 11: The first time I made potato/carrot pancakes, I added way too little oil. Result? No dinner and a super dirty frying pan.
2. Age 18: I thought it'd be smart to make lime pie filling with all aspartame/sucralose and no sugar. Of course, nothing set, and everything tasted metallicky and nauseating.
3. Age 14: I made a red currant tart without a recipe, and I recall only putting in a few teaspoons of sugar (resulting in a tremendously sour tart that everyone else pretended to enjoy).
4. Age 14: Oh, and that apple pie made with semi-rehydrated dried apple.
5. Age 14: Nutella cookies that were as hard as hardtack and as strong as steel. Those days...
6. Age 15(?): Silken tofu chocolate pudding, which turned into a watery drink instead.
7. Age 13: Bread. Everyone else in Food Tech managed to get risen loaves, while SC and I were left with hardtack studded with pistachios, even though we all used the same yeast. This bread problem also came up last week.

The common element in these failures is that after just one or two tries, I succeeded. So, I knew that, at some point or another, I was going to be able to work with yeast, and make croissants. Croissants are just extremely time-consuming and also really time-dependent. It's like performing a Western blot (but more fun)! Unfortunately, out of all dessert items, SP chooses to like pain au chocolats ("chocolate bread", which is a rectangle of croissant dough with a stick or two of chocolate in the middle), and he said he'd do anything for me if I made these for him for his birthday. And who wouldn't be willing to exchange pain au chocolats for an electric broccoli trimmer with detachable non-electric cauliflower trimmer[start at 2:04]?
The recipe I used initially was this French one. After failing with it twice, I did some research and found an English recipe written by a French guy, Louis la Vache, who used tremendous detail and stressed the importance in all these fridge times. However, I also found a really quick croissant recipe that I will try later (if I can find it!) because it looks MUCH less time-consuming than the 12-hour process I finally followed.
Two months ago, I attempted to make croissants with yeast, and the dough wouldn't rise (the dough was in the sun, perhaps 20-30 degrees C for over 4 hours). Despite the fact that the yeast were obviously dead (and I should've just made tortillas instead). I figured I should go ahead and make the croissants with the unleavened dough, and I got cute little croissants whose hardness matched a 7 on the Mohs scale. Heh, at least the layering idea worked - vital for photogenic and flaky croissants.

A few days later, I decided to make them again. Unfortunately, I reduced all the fridge times (seeing as I really didn't understand that the dough actually RISES while in the fridge!). I scaled down the recipe, even though the yeast to flour ratio is probably not linear, and also probably accidentally killed off half my yeast with the too-hot milk. The dough rose a bit, but it was insignificant compared to the dough my mum was using to make Chinese steamed buns - mantou (馒头)! The butter kept oozing out of the too-thin layers, and everything was just messy. Either way, these failures were eaten and enjoyed, slightly (more avidly by my sister, who likes anything buttery).

So, after the past week of buying new yeast, successfully making bread twice, and healing from the failed croissant scars, I set to make croissants and pain au chocolats for SP, this time using une recette de Louis la Vache.

I only used 7 g of yeast (1 package) because not only do I have a small bowl, but I also didn't want to have another failure. I also used a lot more flour than expected! These are just what I did, and I would prefer to go back to the original recipe when making these again.

Ingredients I used:
1 tbsp white flour
1 stick butter

2.5 c white flour (+ more... I might've used 3 - I just kept adding tbsp by tbsp)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
7 g (1 sachet) yeast
1/8 c 30 degree C water
1 c 30 degree C milk

1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water

Notes on the Method:
1. The dough rises in the fridge! This was the biggest surprise, because I didn't think that yeast would be so active at 4 degrees C. This means that for the least usage of energy, the croissants would be best made in the winter, when I can leave the dough to rise outside in the cold (and after baking, the oven can be let open to keep me warm)! Look at that risen dough!
2. The first dough rise was about 70 minutes. The second was about an hour, and the third was 5 hours. Then, they were rolled out, and that dough was chilled for 15 minutes (just so that rolling it would be easier - so the butter wouldn't melt onto my hands or table). Then, the rolled-up croissants/pains were left at room temperature for 1 hour to rise a bit more. They actually rose (unlike what I had before, pictured below).

I wanted the croissants to be baked by midnight, and I started kind of late in the day, so I was operating on a tight schedule! They actually started baking at 10:00pm, and I was on my way to SP's place at 10:30pm! 12 hours on the dot (or maybe I started at 11am...)!

3. I used a plastic bag instead of plastic wrap because the bag is reusable. I also mixed the butter and flour in a plastic container, which resulted in broken blobs of butter on the dough, which wasn't a huge deterrent, but my technique could definitely be improved.

4. I used a paper towel instead of a tea towel because I don't have clean towels :(. The damp paper towel didn't stick too much to the dough, especially if you pull it off slowly and carefully. Excellent.

5. The butter was generally too warm, and probably fell into chunks while I was rolling. The table got a bit buttery. I used my room's desk (cleaned it beforehand, but I feel like I should've done an ethanol cleaning yesterday) because there is just no space in the kitchen. Next time, I would put way more flour onto the table.

6. The dough was extremely soft and, at times, sticky. Everything must be generously coated with flour!! As I was rolling, I could hear the bubbles popping, and the dough reminded me of marshmallows, mochi, and pillows. Certainly, this is NOT what I saw the last two times I made croissant dough!

7. For the egg wash, I used an egg yolk and 2 tbsp of water. There was probably enough wash leftover for 2 croissants. I painted on the egg wash right before putting the trays in the preheated oven (no skimping for this...). The oven is too small to fit 3 trays on one rack, so the pain au chocolats got the bottom rack. For this particular oven, everything was done between 17 and 20 minutes, and the tops were golden brown and quite close to being burnt.

8. My final yield was 6 pain au chocolats and 10 croissants. I could've made 12-13 pain au chocolats, or 18-19 croissants.

Pictures of Method:

Dough rose in the fridge!! 70 minutes.

Package of butter.
Rolled out package of butter.
Folding like an letter, then folding like a book.

Folded! Fridge time! (1 h)

Covered with damp paper towel while rising - no plastic.
After hour of rising.
500 g of chocolate!
Rolling number 2! Note the bubbles!

5 h in fridge, in damp paper towel and plastic bag.
After the rise.

I saw this idea of cutting a slit online and it seems to help in rolling a more evenly-tall croissant.
There were four Asiago cheese croissants. Those did not rise as well in the next hour, but still baked well.

Rolling pain au chocolats - I used two sticks each.

Before rise.
After rise (and rearrangement). The cheese ones are the top left; they are smaller...
Egg wash! I used the brush I got for $1 at the Penn Moves sale this June!

Taste? Phenomenal! Crispy on the outside, flaky layers on the inside! Not too salty and not too sweet, and perfectly buttery. I've never had a croissant IN France (even though I've been there twice...sad, I know. It's like how I've been to Japan, but only sampled half of a tamagoyaki nigiri on the plane back...no other sushi!), but I'd imagine it's something as fresh and delicious as this (and correctly-sized). It doesn't look like the croissants I've seen in books or on photogenic food sites, with holes the size of ice cubes, but SP assured me that real croissants have layers you can peel and don't have giant holes. He was able to peel his pain au chocolat into layers during his lunch and apparently it made him very happy. So, thank you, Louis la Vache!

This is a quote from him:
Those pains au chocolats were amazing! They're the best ones I've ever had in the US.
[he's lived in France, and he indeed does constantly consume pain au chocolats]

So now, I feel like I can cook ANYTHING.

In other news, in the past few months, my 9 year-old sister made cornbread from a cornbread mix, using the toaster oven, at 7 in the morning for Mother's Day. She even made a glaze from scratch (by herself!!). I am pretty proud of her, especially as she said that I gave her the idea to make glaze (because we've cooked together so many times before). When I was 9, I knew how to fry super oily eggs and make scrumptious buttered toast. Actually, I may not have known how to fry eggs. She also apparently went on a pancake-making spree (from a pancake mix) when I was at school last semester. She also made a cake for Father's day. I suppose I should document her cooking experience here too, every once in a while.

Cheese croissant

Pain au chocolat, the next day.
I didn't have time to take glossy magazine-type photos because SP and I were too busy eating them and watching Adventureland.

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