Thursday, March 22, 2007

Taking a Break

Much as I enjoyed posting about the croissants, I think that was my last ambitious project for a while. I'm juggling too many things a the moment (work, vacation, kids, pregnancy, looking for a new home), and must therefore take a break from blogging. As soon as things settle down I'll be back. Thanks for checking in every now and then!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Update March 2008: This was the first post I wrote about croissants. To go directly to my current favorite recipe, click here. Links to all my subsequent croissants adventures are included at the bottom of this post.

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I hesitate to publish this post about croissants. My husband has been away 6 days, and when he sees how much time I've spent on this project in his absence, he's bound to wonder whether I didn't have more urgent tasks to address. Which of course I did...

But how can I not share the fun I had making one of the most challenging baked goods, croissants?

I won't publish a detailed recipe (update October 2007: actually I did, see the last part of this post). The (excellent) recipe I used is here, courtesy of Le Pétrin. I'll translate it to English if anyone requests it. But there's loads more information to be had about croissants in the links below:
- A group of bloggers all recently got together to post about croissants on the same day. Links to their varied and interesting experiences can be accessed on Cream Puffs in Venice. Veronica's Test Kitchen has their full recipe (which seemed a bit harder than the one I used, and perhaps even richer in butter).
- Very useful discussion threads in egullet here and here (courtesy of this post).
- Two more good posts in French: Mercotte and Plaisir Gourmand (lots of photos in the last one, even if you don't understand French)
- Another long post by La Tartine Gourmande
Update March 5:
- Zorra posted about the difficulties she had producing croissants in warm weather. The result nevertheless looks appetizing to me.
- Oh and I almost forgot, a full video demonstration by Esther McManus on my favorite video site, PBS Julia Child Lessons with Master Chefs. Her recipe, if I remember correctly, seemed a bit long and initimidating the first time I saw it on video, so I didn't rely on it this time. Until I ran into trouble with butter leakage and ran to my computer for advice.
Then I noticed how much she emphasizes working firmly yet gently with the dough, using amusing expressions: "you're in position of authority [...] don't be scared of the dough, the dough should be scared of you [...] the dough doesn't want to but you're the boss" but also "beat the butter kindly but firmly"... "I won't go any further than this because I feel that it doesn't want to"... "I am going to tell it 'come on, please, get together nicely' but I'm not going to force it because it does not like to be forced..." "if it doesn't work, it means it's not ready. Put it back in the fridge and don't worry about it". (If I confess I feel these instructions also apply to parenting, in an allegorical sense, you won't assume I beat my kids either kindly or firmly, right?!)

I did put together a few slides with step by step photos of my experience, along with comments. Just click on each slide to view the details.

Making the dough
(As always, click to view larger image)

Creating the butter layers
(Update: when I look at the pictures below, I am quite sure that the butter block was much too small compared to the rest of the dough, and therefore the croissants came out too heavy and dense. Definitely roll the butter out to a larger square than what is shown here.)

Rolling out the dough and forming the croissants

Proofing and baking the croissants

Anyway, the kids are happy, the wife is happy, so the husband should be happy! And we have some croissants waiting for him in the freezer, just in case he needs further convincing this was a highly productive use of my time.

Update October 2007
I feel a new wave of croissants coming soon, and to get in the mood have decided to post the recipe here in English:

Recipe: Croissants
Source: Le Pétrin
(for about 20 croissants)

For the fermented dough
- 88g flour T45 (or "gruau" [whatever that is. Try all-purpose flour as a substitution])
- 88g flour T55 [try all-purpose]
- 100g cold water
- 55g soft butter
- 2,5g fresh yeast ("levure fraîche de boulangerie") [I used dried yeast, don't remember what conversion ratio I found but I looked it up on the internet]

For the "Détrempe" (dough?)
- 312g flour T45 (ou de gruau)
- 94g flour T55
- 175g cold milk
- 65g sugar [a little too much?]
- 20g fresh yeast ("levure fraîche de boulangerie")
- 15g salt
- 250g butter or special margarine for "feuilletage" [I used butter]

Preparing the fermented dough

In a large bol or the bowl of a mixer, mix all the ingredients and knead until you get a fairly supple dough that is no longer sticky. Roll in a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 15 hours.

Making the croissant dough

In a large bowl, mix the flours, the salt and the sugar.
Make a well: add the crumbled yeast, the cold milk and the fermented dough broken into pieces. Mix for 5 minutes then knead for 10 minutes [my note: this seems like it might be a bit too long, but I haven't tested a shorter kneading time yet] until the dough, which was hard and firm at the start of the kneading process, becomes more supple and homegenous. (If you are using a mixer, it is better to use the paddle attachment rather than the kneading attachment to avoid making dough that is too elastic, which would make rolling the dough more difficult). [That was Sandra's note. I don't have a mixer, I kneaded by hand or with my hand-held mixer, I forget].

Divide the dough in two balls of the same weight (to make things easier). Reserve one ball in the fridge.

Roll the dough on a silicone mat or a piece of baking paper to form a 25x25cm square. Place in the freezer for 15 min.
During this time, take the butter out of the fridge, place it between two sheets of baking paper and roll into a square that is 1cm thick (bang it regularly with the rolling pin). Keep in the fridge.

"Tourage" (Turns?)

Take the dough out of the freezer and the butter out of the fridge. On a lightly floured work surface, place the square of dough and place the square of butter on top in a diamond position (see illustrations). Close the dough over the butter to lock it in completely, and turn it over so the closure is against the table. Roll out the dough as regularly as possible and form a rectangle 45x15cm (place the rolling pin in the middle of the dough and roll from the middle up then from the middle down). Bring each extremity into the centre of the rectangle, leaving 1 cm space for folding (double turn). Turn the dough a quarter of a turn. Remember to remove excess flour regularly with a brush. Roll again into a rectangle that is three times longer than wide, and make another double turn or a single turn (the dough is folded in three like a letter). Wrap the dough in plastic film and let it rest in the fridge at least 15 minutes (you can leave it 3 or 4 hours).

Proceed the same way with the other half of the dough.

Shaping and baking the croissants

On the floured work surface, roll out the dough to form a rectangle measuring 50x40cm. [I was not able to get it this big.] Cut in two width-wise (resulting in 2 strips of 25x40cm). Cut triangles that are 25cm high and 10cm wide (6 triangles in the top half, 6 in the lower). Make a small incision at the base of the triangle to make rolling easier. Roll the dough from the base of the triangle to the point, not too tightly.
Place the croissants with the tip of the triangle Déposer les croissants pointe wedged underneath on a baking sheet covered with baking paper. Brush with egg wash made of an egg whisked with a pinch of salt, being careful not to let the egg wash run down the sides (would inhibit the puffing). Let the croissants rise for 2 1/2 hours at 26°C.
Again apply egg wash delicately, and bake in the preheated oven (200°C) about 20 minutes (you can place a recipient with water in the oven to increase puffing).

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Update: Summary of my croissants endeavours

I've written a total of four posts about croissants (yes...), so here's an overview:

- First attempt (this post), recipe from Le Pétrin. This post provides the first recipe I used, a lot of process photos, and links to many other croissant resources.
- Second attempt. The recipe from Hermé is included in this post. This is my current favorite recipe, provided the water is increased.
- Third attempt, and total failure, still using recipe from Hermé.
This shows what happens when the dough is too dry (yuck)
- Fourth attempt, using recipe from Hermé. Good croissants. Increasing the amount of water and improving proofing made a huge difference. Some process photos.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Individual Lemon Tarts

I was looking for a recipe for a lemon tart in which the lemon filling is baked inside the shell, as opposed to simply pouring a lemon curd into the shell and waiting for it to firm as it cools. I'm not as fond of unbaked pie fillings. To me they taste like custard on top of a cookie, as opposed to a real marriage of textures and flavors. I make one exception, chocolate tart, which is usually a simple ganache of cream and dark chocolate, poured into a baked shell. But I'd still like to try a baked version of a chocolate tart, as the unbaked version tastes, well, like truffles on top of a cookie. Which really isn't such a bad thing.

But back to my lemon tartlets. I found the following recipe in Joy of Cooking. What drew me to try it is the unusually large amount of egg yolks it calls for. I had lots of egg yolks left over from making my Meringue d'automne cake, and didn't want them to go to waste. For some reason I'm happy to freeze egg whites for later use but don't feel as confident freezing egg yolks.

So yes, this makes a very rich filling. But a small portion goes a long way.

I like this recipe for individual tartlets as the crust is delicious on its own, and with such a rich filling a high ratio of crust-to-filling is actually quite desirable.

I also made a larger tart, which worked out well too (but the photos didn't come out, see the one to the right. I wish I could bake more during daylight hours to get better photos).

Some of the tartlets I've made did not have a pretty surface: bubbles formed, as well as brown spots. Perhaps I have to work on how I whisk the filling, and on the oven temperature.

Another thing to watch out for is to lightly oil the plastic film wrap when you store the tart: if you lay it on as is, it will stick to the top of the tart and remove a thin coat of filling when you take it off. This happened to the tart in the photo on the right.

A few more things I like about this tart: it stays crunchy, even after a night in the fridge. As a matter of fact, I froze a whole (large) tart, let it defrost several hours at room temperature, and served it as is, and the crust was lovely and crispy. And I don't think it was particularly thick either.

The other thing is has a very lemony flavor. If you're temted to increase the lemon juice, don't, and increase the zest instead. Unless you like super-sour flavors.

Recipe: Lemon Tart
Adapted from: Joy of Cooking

Prepare a baked crust (or several small ones) from your favorite Pâte sucrée recipe, or use my favorite. The recipe says to glaze the crust with egg yolk before baking, I don't bother.
If you use tart rings, I find it quite helpful to cut the bottom out as a large cookie, then build the walls from strips of chilled dough that you just position around the bottom, against the ring. Make sure the walls aren't too thin.
Baking with or without pie weights, that's up to you. For the little tarts I manage without pie weights, but I have to be very vigilant during the first minute or two in the oven, to prop up with a spoon any wall that threatens to drop. Maybe freezing the dough before baking can help keep the crust's shape. I so far have only tried chilling it.

Ingredients for the filling
- 200 g sugar (1 cup)
- 115 g unsalted butter (8 Tbsp), cut into small pieces
- 130 g egg yolks (8 large)
- 120 g strained fresh lemon juice (1/2 cup, from 2 to 3 lemons)
- 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest

Making the filling
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine in a heat-proof bowl the sugar and the butter. Bring 1 inch of water to a bare simmer in a skillet. Set the bowl in the skillet and stir until the butter is melted. Remove the bowl from the skillet.

3. Add the egg yolks and beat until no yellow streaks remain.

4. Stir in the lemon juice.

5. Return the bowl to the skillet and, stirring gently, heat the mixture until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream (lightly coats a spoon), 6 to 8 minutes.

[Note: Aha, I now know what I did wrong (nothing like typing up a recipe to actually really read it through): I whisked the mixture vigorously, which probably created the bubbles that occasionally marred the surface of my tartlets. Also, I never thought the mixture thickened sufficiently, and after 10 or 12 minutes gave up and used the filling as is, with no apparent harm done.]

6. Strain the lemon mixture through a clean fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, then stir in the grated lemon zest.

7. Pour the filling into the tart crust(s). Bake the tart(s) until the center looks set but still very quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged, 15 to 20 minutes for a 10 inch tart. For tartlets, 10 minutes I believe is sufficient, perhaps less. [unfortunately I don't remember]. If overbaked, the tart will be grainy around the edges. Let cool completely on a rack. Lightly oil a sheet of plastic wrap and press it directly on the filling. The tart can be stored in the refregerator for up to 1 day. Let warm to room temperature before serving.
[I also like it cold from the fridge, but the texture is different, more firm.]