Sunday, February 28, 2010

Homemade Croissants, Attempt 1

In May 2002, I was lucky enough to spend a couple weeks in France--mostly Fanjeaux, with a couple days in Paris. Many remarkable things happened there, and I met people who changed my life. And, like many people who travel to France for the first time, I was awed by the food. Fanjeaux is a middle of nowhere town southeast of Toulouse. It has one restaurant, a single stop light, a cafe that serves as the town bar at night, and a solitary bakery. It was at that bakery that I had my first true, not-from-the-grocery-store-in-a-plastic-container croissant. Then, I had my first with chocolate. And my first with almonds. Although I was living in a community during my time in Fanjeaux, I've always been an early riser, and I took great joy in my own quiet walks through the town early in the morning. Inevitably, the scent from the bakery would call to me, and I'd wander that direction.

As my baking skills have grown since then, I've always thought about how, one day, I'd learn to make laminated dough, and would find a way to replicate those croissants in my own kitchen. Having a new convection oven, I've been more inspired than ever to try out more complicated recipes. Yesterday, I found myself home for the day, with only household chores I was eager to ignore. I've collected many recipes for croissants over time. So many, in fact, I'm not sure where this one originated. I reduced the proportions, and followed directions amalgamated from several other recipes. The croissants that resulted were not quite the perfection of my memory--mostly, I think I needed additional turns of the laminated dought to create more layers--but the buttery texture, the lightness, pleased me for my first attempt.

Makes: 14 good-sized croissants

2 sticks butter, softened
2 tbl flour

2 2/3 c flour
2 tsp instant yeast (I used SAF Red Instant Yeast)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbl sugar
1/8 c water
1 c milk, warm
1/3 c half and half

1 egg
1 tbl water

Combine 2 tbl flour and butter, kneading until well combined. Shape butter into 4" square, wrap in foil, and refrigerate until firm.

In food processor, combine 1 1/3 cups flour in the work bowl and add the dry ingredients, including yeast. Pulse to mix. Pour the water, milk, and half-and-half through the feed tube. Pulse once or twice to moisten dry ingredients. Add the remaining 1 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition. When the mixture forms a mass and begins to clean the sides of the bowl, pulse about 15 times. Mine was very wet--more like batter, so I added about another 1/3 cup flour. When that didn't help, I just went with it, transferred it into a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge for a couple hours, where it firmed up nicely. Not to mention that it expanded into a pleasant smelling yeasty sponge. Put it in a bowl bigger than you think you need so you don't end up with a mess!

After a couple hours in the refrigerator, scoop the dough onto a floured surface, and press it into a square that will comfortably wrap the butter. Unwrap the block of butter and lay the block diagonally on the dough. Bring each point of dough into the center, overlapping the edges sufficiently, and seal well. With big rolling pin, roll the dough into a fairly large rectangle--I rolled to about 3/4" thick. If the butter breaks, let the dough and butter warm up a bit at room temp. If the butter is squishy, stick in the fridge for a bit. Fold the length of dough into thirds, as for a letter. Turn so that the open ends are at twelve and six o'clock. Roll again into a rectangle. This time, fold both ends into the middle and then close, as one would a book. Wrap the package of dough in a damp dishtowel, and stick in the refrigerator to chill for 1 or 2 hours.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I did the same series of fold as the first time one more time. I let it chill again, then folded in thirds one more time. Next time, I will probably do the book fold a third time, too. I want it REALLY flaky, though.

Each time you re wrap in the damp towel and refrigerate, it will rise some more. I know this is a "duh" phenomenon, given all that yeast. It still surprised me, though. Consider yourself warned.

At this point, I rolled the dough and cut it in triangles. I rolled 6 triangles into plain old croissants. To another four, I added a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and to the remaining four, chopped milk chocolate before they were rolled. I placed these onto cookie sheets, again covered with a damp kitchen towel, and refrigerated over night. This morning, I brushed the croissants with the water and egg mixture, sprinkled the sweet ones with coarse sugar, placed the cookie sheets of croissants into my oven (not preheated, because I'm lazy and figured they were cold, anyway), set on convection bake at 360 degrees. After 15 minutes, I rotated the trays. In another 15 minutes they were gorgeously golden.

We ate the chocolate ones immediately, hot from the oven with coffee. If not the quality of my first taste almost 8 years ago in France, they were certainly the best I've ever had in my own kitchen, or in this country, for that matter.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Espresso-Amaretto Creme Brulee

I'm still without my stand mixer, meaning that all desserts I've made recently have been those that don't require an electric mixer. Yes, I have an inexpensive hand mixer...but using it is so much work! Creme brulee is one of those desserts, however, that require shockingly little in the way of equipment. It is luxuriously smooth, completely decadent, and deceptively simple.

This recipe, while inspired by a recipe in Lou Seibert Pappas' Creme Brulee, is an adaptation to suit my preferences in flavor and ingredients, as well as number of servings. One of the adjustments I made is to include one of my most recent culinary discoveries: espresso powder. I hate, hate, hate the flavor of instant coffee, and cringe every time I see instant coffee granules dissolved in hot water in an otherwise promising recipe. King Arthur Flour recently ran a special on their "secret ingredients" and I indulged in this powder. Simply, it's amazing. It's smooth, with none of the rough aftertaste I associate with coffee granules. It just tastes like good coffee, powdered. As a complete aside, I think King Arthur has probably the best customer service of any baking catalog/website. They made a minor error in that same order, and when I called to see how to have it fixed, several unusual events occurred: 1. A real, live, human being answered the line, on the second ring. 2. She was genuinely apologetic for the mistake, and fixed it immediately. 3. They rushed shipping on the replacement item at no cost to me--I had the item about 36 hours after making the call. 4. The entire call lasted just over a minute.

Without further ado, what Carolyn calls my Best Creme Brulee, Ever.

Serves: 3 reasonable ramekins full or 2 large heart-shaped dishes

3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons espresso powder
a few drops molasses (literally, less than 1/8 teaspoon)
3 tablespoons amaretto
1 cup whipping cream

2-4 tablespoons raw sugar

Pre-heat over to 275 degrees. In medium sized bowl (I like a 1 quart measuring cup, because it making pouring into ramekins easier), combine egg yolks and brown sugar, whisking until the sugar is dissolved and the the yolks are creamy and thick looking. Add the espresso powder, the molasses, and the amaretto, stirring until well combined and espresso powder is dissolved. Add cream, and stir gently to avoid whipping air into mixture. Place ramekins into a baking dish, and fill baking dish with water, coming up at least half way up the sides of the ramekins. Divide the egg yolk/cream mixture among the ramekins. Place the ramekins in the water-filled baking dish in the oven for at least 25 minutes. If you are using deeper ramekins, it may take longer to make. The custard is done with it's set, but still wiggles in the center. Remove from over and let cool.

Before serving, top with raw sugar, and caramelize the sugar with a hand-held kitchen torch.

Please let me know if you decide to try the recipe! I like way the amaretto flavor comes through the coffee so clearly--a perfect combination. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts of torrone, marshmallows, and other candies. Once my KitchenAid is back in working order, I'll be making use of the egg whites accumulating in my refrigerator!