Thursday, March 14, 2019

puff pastry, expanded

Ever since I posted that recipe for croissants, I have been steadily chipping away, familiarizing myself with the process, experimenting with different variations, growing ever more comfortable and self-assured.



I’m still not all the way there, of course — that will take months — but I am much, much, much more confident.



I mean, just look at these babies! ARE THEY NOT SPECTACULAR?!?!?!?!





(In case you were wondering, the answer is, "Yes, Jennifer. Why yes, they are.")

In fact, I do believe I have crossed the line from experimental puff pastry baker to The Real Deal. The proof? I keep a couple pounds of Kerrygold butter in the fridge at all times, just for puff pastry.

I even gave my niece a lesson in puff pastry. (No fair! my former self cries. No one ever taught ME how to make puff pastry!)



When she arrived, I had Day Two and Day Three doughs in the fridge ready for laminating and baking, respectively. Together, we mixed up a new batch of dough from scratch, laminated a batch of dough, and then baked up a tray of croissants and Danishes. And all in one afternoon, shazam! I should’ve been on TV.

A few of my experiments:

Puff pastry twists: I loosely bundle together the cut-out scraps and then brush with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Same for little round dough cut-outs.



Tip: for added deliciousness, dust with powdered sugar. They’re dangerously addictive.

Puff-wrapped Brie: Actually, this was two bakes, and a complete failure, to boot. I split the brie in half and did part cranberry-pecan and the other part onion jam-pecan.



But the pecans were a mistake — the crunch messed with the gooey cheese — and I didn’t bake it long enough so the puff was doughy. (Should've stuck with this recipe.)



The chickens had a feast, at least.

Almond croissants: I thought almond croissants would have almond paste in the them, but no.



The vast majority of recipes said I was supposed to split stale croissants in half, brush the cut sides with an almond-flavored simple syrup and then fill with a mixture of almond flour, butter, vanilla, and sugar before slapping the two halves together, spreading more filling on top of the croissant and sprinkling with sliced almonds. Then, bake.



We weren’t fans — not enough flavor (weirdly enough) and too buttery (again, weird). I’m still holding out for a more authentic version, and now I have a jar of almond filling rotting in the fridge, ugh.

Danishes: These are fun!



It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to fill these in such a way that the filling doesn’t mash down the puff pastry and make it doughy (or spill out the side).



I’m still not a hundred percent there, but I do know these are definitely worth figuring out.

Cinnamon buns: these are, of course, crunchier and flakier than regular cinnamon buns (which I prefer), but still exotically delicious.



I’d also like to figure out puff pastry cups (flipping muffin tins upside down, draping with dough, and then baking, probably) so I can fill them with my favorite chicken salad. And what about parmesan twists, or using the pastry as a topper for chicken pot pie or as a crust for a simple cheese pizza? And I think I owe it to myself to make at least one batch of cronuts, right?

A few notes about the puff process (and I will be cross referencing this information with the actual post on croissants):

*I think the gumminess I was struggling against in the beginning was due to the moisture in the butter. I read somewhere that I should warm the butter to room temperature and beat in a couple teaspoons (tablespoons?) of flour before spreading it into the desired square shape and refrigerating until set. I’ve never done that — too complicated — but I do sprinkle the top and bottom of my butter with plenty of flour before rolling it out. Ever since, I haven’t had any trouble.

*Confession: I said that you can’t use Rapid Rise yeast — it has to be instant rise — but I’ve used both and I can’t tell the difference. In fact, I’m not sure why I couldn’t use my regular yeast. I use hot tap water — the milk is cold, and so is the butter, but the hot water, plus the friction from the six-minute mixing is probably enough to activate the yeast. But maybe not? Hmm, for a dedicated baker, it’s quite shocking how little I understand about yeast.

*After Day Two’s Lamination process, the dough can live in the fridge for several days. I kept thinking the long refrigeration might result in a smaller rise, or a sour taste, but I needn’t have worried.



day three (or five?) dough: LAYERS!!!!

The croissants were as good as ever.

*On Day Three, I often cut the dough in two parts.



Again: LAYERS!!!

I bake one half and rewrap the other half in plastic and return to the fridge for another day.

*After brushing the croissants with an egg wash, do not cover them with anything — neither cloth nor plastic — while they rise because they'll stick.



*While croissants can be frozen raw (after rising), they seem to do best if they’re baked fresh, without the freezing. They just get so lofty high and lovely!

*Baked croissants freeze well. My parents froze a couple that I gave them, and just this week my mother sent me the following email: They freeze perfectly and we had perfect ham-and-cheese croissants for breakfast. So there you have it — perfection!

*To keep the bottoms of the croissants from getting too dark, I often slip a second baking tray under the pan around the 18-minute mark for lovely golden brown, unscorched bottoms.

*I store baked croissants, uncovered, in the jelly cupboard. After several days, they’re thoroughly stale but still quite delicious, especially with a smear of knock-off Nutella.

This same time, years previous: fresh ginger cookies, the quotidian 3.13.17), homemade pepperoni, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, now.

10 comments:

  1. Hooray! And yes, I don't know where that almond flour and butter filling came from, but for almond croissants, do just cover the rolled-out dough with rolled-out almond paste (or a slightly thicker layer of rolled-out marzipan) and cut and proceed with rolling and such. Optionally, sprinkle with sliced almonds for a closer imitation to the ones I've had in France (and England and the US), but honestly I prefer without. If you haven't yet gotten to pain au chocolat and you like dark chocolate, do it, because ummm. Ham & cheese is also worthwhile if you have a relatively-dry ham and relatively-dry cheese option available, although there's less benefit to that than with the almond - in that case it bakes together into something superior to just "croissant with Thing inserted" - whereas my limited experiences indicated that eh, post-baking ham-and-cheese adding was basically fine, and ham and cheese do have a while-baking croissant-sogging risk. (although: if you bake them together, you get frico, so there's that)

    Another thing I figured out in my croissant phase is that one can make mini croissants and pain au chocolat and freeze them and bake them off a few at a time as wanted and people who drop by for tea will never be the same (although, yes, they are not as Perfect as never-frozen croissants, at least with our freezer). However, if you make minis, you need to give the dough fewer layers or when it's rolled thin enough for the 1/3 size croissants, the layers will be less defined. (unless you're normally giving the dough fewer layers, in which case it'd be fine; but my number of layers worked well for regular-size croissants et al, and did not work well for the minis)

    Incidentally, I assume you know that normally "puff pastry" refers to the unleavened product (leavened by steam exclusively and also quite fun), whereas this is laminated yeasted dough? It might account for the brie-recipe crash, since regular puff pastry is a whole lot drier than croissant dough (as well as usually being rolled thinner) - but I don't know. They behave slightly differently all the way through, although there are times you can get away with substitutions (for instance, either will be delicious as a jam tart, or doused in cinnamon sugar, etc.).

    For chicken salad, there's a venerable puff pastry tradition where you cut out several rounds, cut the centers out of all but one of them, stack them, and bake them. (and, optionally, bake one of the centers to "top" the little receptacle.) There's a variant (or maybe the original?) where you cut a center ring through most of the way of a fat puff pastry round, then bake, then cut through again, remove a thin layer of the top smaller circle, excavate the middle (and throw away), fill, and retop. (vol au vent) But draping puff pastry upside-down over a muffin cup works, too (but put something underneath for butter drips); again, I do not know whether this works with laminated yeasted leavened dough, but it does work nicely with plain ol' butter-and-water-and-flour puff pastry.

    That said, it's kind of a pain to eat, like soup in a bread bowl? So there's that. The presentation is fancier than a sandwich-style-filled croissant, but the trying-to-cut-it-apart-with-your-fork chasing-puff-pastry-around-the-plate... eh. But very pretty! So there's that.

    I hope you continue to have great fun experimenting, and if you ever crack the Danish code entirely for not-sogging the dough (other than having drier fillings), I'd be very very interested. (and will enjoy further updates in general, if you provide them!)

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    1. Who is this anonymous expert??

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    2. I don't know, but I'm learning a lot!

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    3. maybe it is a famous chef

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    4. Sorry; that was more of a Wall of Text than I was intending. I loved making croissants and puff pastry, so I got excited. :-)

      The other thing I would note was that kitchen temperature is unfortunately relevant). To make it in summer in our miserably hot little kitchen was a lot harder than in cooler months because:
      1. it was also humid, so straight-from-the-fridge dough tended to get damp from condensation (auuugh)
      2. the window where the dough is perfect and workable, before it goes soft/soggy/floppy/layer-merge-y, can get really, really short, especially if your rolling surface is heat-conductive. I ended up chilling the countertop because it bought me more time - but that requires chilling the countertop with ice packs, then wiping off the condensation, *then* flouring it and rolling really quickly. A wood table might be totally fine, though? (marble rolling pins also cause problems when they're summer-warm, but I didn't notice any issues with wood, so I have some hope that your table wouldn't "share" heat with the dough as badly?) But anyway, be aware of the effects of room temperature (and, if applicable, humidity).

      Obviously, the rise time was also affected, but that whole "kitchen is warm enough to melt butter" thing is a *real* pain when the structural integrity of butter is vital.

      (not trying to pose as an expert; these are just things I learned from trial and error [many of which have been confirmed by probably-unnecessarily extensive reading because this stuff is *fascinating*] and which I'm very enthusiastic about, and which I wanted to communicate so that other people can have fewer mystery-flops than they might otherwise have had. And that might be annoying, and if so, apologies!)

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    5. Oh no, you're definitely not annoying me! This --- informed readers who care enough to share --- is what makes blogging so much fun, so thank you!!!

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    6. Anonymous Expert,

      About the "real" almond croissants: do the almonds get sprinkled on the top of the croissant, or on top of the amond paste before rolling it up?

      I was thinking of grating some almond paste over the dough before rolling, but I'm concerned that the paste will make the croissant sodden and heavy. But I really want that almond flavor!

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    7. Oh, good. :-) dr. perfection's likely-sarcastic comments were worrying me a bit. I'm honestly not an expert/professional, I just... *really* got into croissants. (they're addictive, yes?)

      The sliced almonds get sprinkled on top of the croissant and not included in the middle (they would go a bit soggy and mess with the texture and the rolling-up if they were inside).

      I haven't used almond paste; the almond product I tend to have on hand is British marzipan made for covering cakes (the best non-chocolate-based cake play-doh, in my opinion :-) ) and it causes no textural issues whatsoever. I'm pretty sure it's sweeter and less almondy than straight almond paste (at least: I have seen recipes for marzipan that started with almond paste *and* sugar - maybe there are differences between almond pastes, though?), but I expect almond paste should work fine. The main issues I've experienced from croissant-dough-based inclusions have been when they have excess moisture or when they curdle/release fat (when something just can't deal with the heat of baking without breaking down) - I'd be surprised if almond paste gave you either difficulty unless it's surprisingly oily and breaks down over heat.

      There's also the question of adhering the sliced almonds. With not-leavened puff pastry, you have to really watch anything dripping down the side, as it has the potential to block the rise or make it rise askew (I have accidentally clothespinned puff pastry together with a drip of egg wash that set in the oven before the pastry could rise, resulting in a weird valley-shaped thing, sigh); with croissants, you can get away with a fair bit, although it's still something to keep in mind. Anyway, sometimes the almonds from bakeries are sugar-syruped in place, sometimes egg-washed, and sometimes glued on after baking with a powdered-sugar-and-almond-flavor drizzle glaze. (and yet I have never run into one of these day-old croissants rebaked with almond filling? Have I been weirdly regional? Or is this the culinary equivalent of flipping a coin a dozen times in a row and getting "heads" every time? I do not know.) I personally really like sugar-syruping, *but* it tends to alter the exterior surface of the croissant away from the shatteringly-crisp traditional epitome of croissant. (but... I actually prefer the slightly softer/chewier crust [shock! horror! lack of taste!], so I go for a microwave-made simple syrup brushed on).

      My vote would be that if you've got almond paste on hand, just try slightly different quantities in a couple of croissants next batch - no real penalty for experimentation, and the beauty of croissant-y things is that as long as you only put similar-baking-time shapes on the sheet, you can try out 20 variations or just 1 without much additional effort. :-)

      (also I endorse checking out the corners of your fridge for good strong flavors; pesto? sun-dried tomatoes? charcuterie? random cheeses? olives? fruit paste? [not jam; jam is usually too wet; but that sliceable stuff that's somewhere between very thick apple butter and a fruit rollup and whose formal name I am totally blanking on?] I do tend to mostly make plain (and chocolate and almond) croissants because I love the base flavor so much - yeasty buttery browned goodness - but there are so many things that are awfully, awfully good in croissants or using croissant dough. But do be cautious to have some sort of clear shaping or topping so that you don't bite into a garlic-parmesan croissant expecting an almond one or vice versa...)

      Happy experimenting to you!

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  2. Very impressed! You are leap years & light years ahead of me in the baking department but it's very inspirational! The only think I have ever done with stale-ish croissants (the ones from Costo-shame!) is make them into the most delicious, decadent french toast I have ever had. It was so good. I think it was a Barefoot Contessa recipe and very easy because I remember doing this when my youngest son's pre-school had a sugar-shack theme day!

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  3. Impressive!!! (Also impressive that you are not fat with all this rich experimentation, haha)
    Perhaps your relief sale gig needs to be cronuts instead of doughnuts? (I JEST)

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