Well, no, actually not easy, but perhaps crisis is a bit melodramatic. As an amateur cook living life as a realist and with a lot to learn, I am not going to pretend that everything I create works first time, looks and tastes great and makes it as far as this blog. Croissants are a case in point and after my third attempt, I am pleased to say that following a steep learning curve, I have produced offerings that are more edible than laughable.
I am used to making enriched doughs. Brioche for example, is a safe place to dwell and never really goes wrong. Croissants, however, are laminated dough Viennoiseries with lots of butter and are more akin to pastry than bread, being rich and, well, pretty unhealthy, although undeniably tasty and even more delectable fresh from the oven. I would describe them as making puff pastry squared.
I recently had excellent croissants for breakfast at The Peat Inn in Cupar, Fife, the best I have had for a long time. However, this is a Michelin star establishment, so the expectation was that they would be delicious. This inspired me to give croissants another shot. Yes, one could argue that life is too short and could be better spent doing other stuff, but sometimes you just have to get these things out of your system.
Once, twice, three times… you know the rest
I don’t know how Lionel Ritchie crept into this post. Must be an 80’s flashback or something. I’m not a fan. Really.
I started by somewhat ambitiously using the Roux Brothers recipe from their formidable (et c’est formidable) book ‘Patisserie’. As you can imagine, it is all very precise and uncompromising. Trouble was, my old Kenwood Chef wasn’t at all precise and set off at the RPM of a sports bike at full throttle. The recipe called for 1 1/2 minutes of gentle kneading, so it was curtains within a couple of minutes and I had a dough that I knew was overworked. Despite this, I tried a second time, persevering with the Roux recipe.
By this time, my Kenwood Chef had expired so I mixed the dough by hand. After 6 – 8 hours in the fridge, the dough had not risen significantly and this set off alarm bells. Sticking my head in the sand and feeling an overwhelming sense of impending doom, I went ahead and rolled the pastry and shaped the dough anyway but predictably, it never did rise. Although the laminae were numerous and well-defined, the exterior was tough and the croissants were generally too dense. I didn’t view this as a waste of time and money though, it was part of the learning process that led to my third attempt – with the benefit of a different recipe.
One problem for me with the Roux recipe is that I didn’t have access to fresh yeast, so substituted with an appropriate quantity of dried yeast (after checking the conversion online). I think this may have exacerbated my problems as I am sure it would work better with the fresh yeast. To explore in future, perhaps.
I found a croissant recipe in my River Cottage Handbook – Bread. It is a lot simpler than the Roux recipe (bien sur), uses dried yeast and has two not four pages of instructions, so better for the shorter attention span (although I must admit I followed dough folding instructions as per Roux as it worked so well).
This entails making the sticky, elastic dough in a food mixer the night before preparation of the finished article. You do need a big time commitment the next day, so make sure your diary is clear at least for the morning. The dough must be cold when it is rolled. A food mixer is best as the dough ends up way too sticky to easily be kneaded by hand.
You need to make an isosceles triangle template out of cardboard or similar, 14 x 18 cm.
1kg strong white bread flour
330ml warm water
330ml warm milk
10g powdered dried yeast
140g caster sugar
500g unsalted butter
Dough the evening before
- Put everything except the butter in a food mixer. Using a dough hook and low speed, knead for 10 minutes until the dough takes on a stretchy, satiny quality.
- Put the dough in a poly bag with enough space inside for it to rise, tie a knot in the top and stick in the fridge overnight to rest.
Butter next morning
Next morning, take the butter out of the fridge and let it soften slightly – it should be about the same temperature as the dough.
Flour it lightly, stick between 2 sheets of cling film and give it a bash with a rolling pin until it is about 1cm thick all over.
- Take the dough out of the bag and turn it onto a large floured surface. It should have risen quite a bit overnight. Knock it back gently.
- Roll it into a rectangle a bit bigger than twice the size of the butter, allowing a couple of centimetres all round.
- Lay the butter on one half and fold over the other half on top of it. Seal the border of dough all the way round.
- Roll out the dough until it twice its original length and fold over each end of the rectangle into the centre on top of each other to produce three layers of dough. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- This should be repeated another twice so it is rolled 3 times in total, 20 minutes rest between, each time rolling along the long axis of the rectangle (in effect giving a quarter turn each time as you would with puff pastry).
The Finished Article
- Roll the dough into a rectangle about 75 x 40 cm on a lightly floured surface. Flap up the dough a couple of times along its length to prevent shrinking.
- Using the triangle template, cut rows of triangles from your rectangle.
- Leave the triangles to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before rolling to form the croissant.
- Place the central point underneath, sticking it in place with some water.
- The corners can be turned in to form a crescent.
- The croissants should then be egg washed and left for at least an hour to double in size before baking.
At this stage, they can be frozen in batches, but you must use them within a week and allow them to defrost and rise for an hour or so before baking. It’s probably therefore easier to bake them then freeze, although they take up a bit more room in the freezer.
Croissants – A worthwhile endeavour?
Overall, while I was pleased with the results, I wasn’t quite dancing on the ceiling ( I know, must stop). They were not perfect and could have perhaps done with a bigger rise before baking. If you live in an isolated place where there is not access to ‘real’ croissants, and you can make a big batch and freeze them, yes, making them is worthwhile.
I have to be honest and say that I might think twice if I lived in a town with a good artisan bakery or patisserie. However, I am glad that this is not the case (for more reasons than just croissant buying, admittedly). I have learned a significant amount about the character of the enriched dough for croissants. This can be applied improving the way I make them in future, as well giving me a better instinct when making other enriched dough recipes.
Seville orange marmalade
I could in some respects justify my time for making the croissants because I did so in tandem with making a sizeable batch of Seville orange marmalade. Not just a perfect Sunday treat of a breakfast, but also an ideal recipe partnership because the marmalade also takes a night and part of the next day to make.
It is quite remarkable that every January when Seville oranges begin to come into season, our local independent supermarket ‘Neilly’s’ (Maclennans to visitors) on Benbecula always stocks them. Sometimes I miss them – the window of opportunity is small, but this year, I am in luck.
Coincidentally, I was in the supermarket looking for fruit to make marmalade, not anticipating these oranges would be in, as it is perhaps a bit on the early side of the season. We were down to our last centimetre of marmalade at home, an unacceptable situation that had to be remedied.
Having decided on a pink grapefruit, orange and lemon marmalade, I put the fruit in the basket and turned round to see a crate of Seville oranges. I tried to contain my excitement, and selected 2 kilos. I would have perhaps taken another kilo, but there wasn’t that much left, so I wanted to leave some for other shoppers, lest that was all that was remaining.
Whole fruit or sliced fruit method?
I first learned to make marmalade using the whole fruit method from a 1981 copy of the Good Housekeeping Book of Home Preserving, which contains many wonderous suggestions for brining, pickling and preserving a gamut of fruit and vegetables. There are also recipes in the River Cottage Preserves handbook worth checking out. I consulted both for my marmalade.
Although the whole fruit method is quicker and easier, I now prefer to use the sliced fruit method as it produces a lighter, clearer and more delicate preserve. It’s just down to personal preference, and time, and I had plenty of that as I was moving between croissant and marmalade management.
For this method, the raw peel of the oranges is cut before cooking and Demerara sugar is used instead of granulated, so it’s a bit more expensive to produce. The fruit to sugar ratio of 1:2 is the same for both methods. My quantities were large, so scale down, as appropriate if you are not a marmalade addict. I think I cleaned out the supermarket supply of Demerara sugar to make this quantity.
Take time and care to sterilise your jars properly. It is heart breaking to find bacteria have got in and mould is present, especially if you make a big batch to last a year or so, like this one. I wash my jars in very hot soapy water, rinse with clean hot water, pour in boiling water then leave to stand for a couple of minutes, empty this out and let the inside dry in an oven at 100C. A bit OTT, but it works.
Makes about 12 x 500ml jars
2kg of Seville oranges
100ml lemon juice
4kg Demerara sugar (!)
- Clean the oranges, remove the button and cut them in half, squeeze out the juice, and sieve to remove the seeds.
- You can place the pith and seeds in muslin and float the bag in the preserving pan. This allegedly adds maximum pectin. Personally, I have never done this and have no problem getting marmalade to set without doing so.
- Slice the rind to your desired thickness. I like to do this by hand as I am very particular about the thickness of the cut, which must be as thin as possible. I don’t like the results a food processor or mandolin slicer give. However, slicing by hand is very time-consuming.
- Take the sliced oranges and put in a large bowl or two, together with the juice and 5 litres of water. Soak overnight.
- Next day put the mixture into a preserving pan, boil then simmer gently, covered, until the peel is tender, about 2 hours.
- Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring to a rapid boil until setting point is reached. For this volume, it takes about 45 minutes. I know to start testing for set when the mixture starts to get a bronze foam on top, then I do a ‘wrinkle test’ using a chilled saucer, pushing finger through a teaspoon of marmalade on the saucer. When it has thickened sufficiently enough to wrinkle, it’s ready.
- Leave to cool for 5-15 minutes, depending on how chunky the peel is. Remove any scum from the top and place into sterilised jars and seal immediately.
While the outlay appeared large at £12 for fruit and sugar, each large half litre pot of jam worked out at about £1 each. This is amazing value, considering the price of good quality marmalade and all free from additives and preservatives. It was a joy to make as much as it is to eat!