Pastry Class in Paris
It all started in July 2015. I love eating out and wish that I was extracting more from our meals for my cooking at home but the secret is, I hate cooking. I can sit through a 20 course tasting meal and analytically comment on how the flavours go together and how well the wine complements the dish, but when it comes to hands-on cooking, I really derive no pleasure from it. Not only that but MD is a brilliant cook, and so when I try, even though rationally I know it takes practice and all that, I always want to be immediately as good as him. Or at least impress him with something. Or not burn something. So I began to bake, reaping the benefits of 1) cheap ingredients to practice with (flour, water, sugar etc) and 2) having something of my own (MD doesn’t bake, at least not that he’s shared with me). I had a sourdough starter on the go and I was telling MD that I’d like to learn pastries, at which point he looked me in the eye and said very seriously, “if you learn to make croissants, I will marry you”. A statement like that was all the motivation I needed.
So I began my croissant trials, learning the key things:
ALWAYS ensure keep the dough cold. If the butter layer begins to melt into the dough layer, well you have no croissant, you have bread.
DON’T keep the dough to cold. If the butter layer hardens, it will rip through the dough layer.
Sadly these lessons weren’t quite enough, so I was over the moon when MD surprised me with a croissant course in Paris for Christmas. We attended our class at Patisserie a la Carte in February, and now I can share with you what I learned, so you too can be a Sunday morning pastry goddess ;-).
- 250g All purpose flour (I use type-45 from Shipton Mill) + extra for dusting
- 5g Salt
- 30g Sugar
- 25g Melted butter
- 10g Fresh Yeast ( I use 6/7g of instant dried)
- 100g Milk
- 25g (1/2) Egg
- 150g Firm butter (at least 82% fat) for the buerrage
Dissolve the yeast into the milk. Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl, and make a well in the centre. Pour the milk and yeast into the well, and add the melted butter and the 1/2 egg. Work the dough together with the fingertips until the mixture is homogenous. You will need to use the wetter part of the dough to pick up the dry bits until all the bowl is clean. Throughout the croissant making place you should flour your work surface to ensure the dough does not stick at any point. When rolling, work in quick light movements in one direction.
Then you need to knead the dough, here is the “slap and roll” method that we learned in class:
Do this for approximately 10 minutes and the dough should become soft and pliable like play dough, and pass the finger test:
Once you can see the colour of your finger through the dough without it breaking, cover the dough with some clingfilm so that it doesn’t dry out and leave it somwhere to rise.
This is called a ‘detrempe’ and should double in size if using the same day.
For the butter, we were given a rectangle ready-made but I find that I can mold my own by placing a block of butter between two sheets of baking paper and sculpting with my hands or a rolling pin:
I try to aim for the same size and thickness (about 1 cm) as we were given in class. Put this in the fridge as it needs to be cold for the next step.
At this point, I’d suggest going to the gym and contemplating all the tasty butter you are going to be devouring. When you return and the dough has proofed, it can be wise to place it in the fridge for a few minutes. You could also take the butter out and let it stay in room temp for a little bit. The aim is to have both the beurrage and the detrempe a similar pliable consistency, that is still cold enough not to cause the butter to melt.
Roll the dough out so it is just big enough to wrap around the butter. It is important when working with croissants to keep things neat and corners squared, this will give you a good consistency going forward. Wrap two ends in to meet each other and then fold over the other ends.
This is a “paton”.
Roll out your paton until the length is three times the width. If you run out of counter space you can hang the dough off the edge as it is now elastic after all your arm work! It should be about 1cm thick. Brush off any extra flour (I use a pastry brush), and fold the edges in as illustrated (imagine the edges were straight, I had to pull mine in a bit with my fingers). Then fold it like a book. And repeat.
Wrap this in cling film and refrigerate. You could go to the gym again, if you were really keen, you could leave it overnight, or you could leave it just long enough for it to firm up.
Next you will roll out the dough to a large rectangle, about 1/2cm thick. Using a knife or, if your kitchen surface is delicate, a plastic scraper, slice the edges so that they are perfectly square (hold onto the extra you have just cut off). Cut the rectangle in half and half again. Cut through the middle halves from corner to corner creating triangles and half the outer halves.
Take a triangle and give the ends and the top a bit of a tug to ensure a good even shape. Cut a little slit in the base and then roll upwards like so:
Then take your other rectangles fold the bottom over slightly and add a stick of chocolate. Continue rolling.
With the extra bits that I told you to keep, you can do anything you like. I tend to mix some butter, the inside of one vanilla bod and demerara sugar into a paste that I apply and then roll them into mini pastry rolls. These are perfect as a petit fours.
And voila, there are your croissants and pain au chocolats! Rumour has it that French patisseries use the crescent shape to symbolise cheaper margarine croissants whereas the straight ones are all butter. But I like the crescent shape so down with tradition, I used it. They will need to rise for about half an hour in a warmish place.
Preheat the oven to 175C, brush on some egg wash (plain beaten egg) before placing in the oven of 12-15 minutes. The top (egg-washed bit) should be a deep golden brown and lighter on the sides.
Then enjoy, and wait for your proposal…
I would highly recommend going to the class, as I’m sure I have not imparted half the knowledge I picked up there. It has really helped. I still have difficulties with my croissant making so I know I haven’t quite nailed it. The dough isn’t light enough and the butter sometimes rips through when I’m rolling it. Leave any questions or tips in the comments!