Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reward of a Sleepless Night

I hardly slept a wink Friday night. Which is odd, because I always sleep. I love to sleep. I live to sleep. But on Friday night, I didn't sleep. I went to bed around eleven and was still awake at midnight. I heard every word of the hour-long, drunken conversation outside my window. I heard different drunken people retching in the street. I heard crickets. I heard my refrigerator cycle on and off. At 3:30 I got up and made myself a cup of hot milk and read a chapter of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. I turned my light back off and tried to go to sleep. At 4:30 I decided to make croissants--just a half batch.
There was a point at which I asked myself if I was really doing this and wondered what other people did when they couldn't sleep. But I let it go and dissolved my yeast and kneaded my dough and pounded my butter and five hours later I was eating a perfect croissant with some of my own (less than perfect, but still delicious) raspberry jam.


adapted from Andrew Whitley

  • 5 g active dry yeast
  • 385 g milk, cold
  • 600 g strong white flour
  • 5 g sea salt
  • 250 g butter, slightly salted or unsalted
  • 1 egg, beaten for brushing
  • I (when croissant making isn't my answer to insomnia) prepare my butter the night before so I don't have to mess with it the day of. Place your butter in the middle of a plastic bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap and carefully mash it down with a rolling pin until it becomes rollable. Roll the butter out into a sheet, making it as rectangular as possible, using the edges of the bag to your advantage. Make sure your butter is well wrapped and place in the fridge.
  • Dissolve the yeast in the cold milk. It seems like the yeast might never dissolve, but it does. Make up a dough with the flour, salt, and yeast mixture. It should be a pretty stiff, stretchy dough. Too soft and the butter will break through the dough and then you won't have the layers you want. After kneading your dough for about ten minutes, place it in a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
  • Roll out your dough until it is approximately twice as long as it is wide. Place your butter sheet over two-thirds of the rolled out dough, handling it as little as possible. If it is the wrong shape, or if there isn't enough at the edges, break off bits and put them where they need to be. Fold the unbuttered dough over half of the buttered section. Fold the remaining buttered section on top of what was the unbuttered section. Congratulations, you have a billet and two butter layers. Now roll it out again in the opposite direction than you did before, again aiming for it to be twice as long as it is wide. This time you want to do a book turn: fold the narrow edges in towards each other so they meet in the middle (leave some space for the next step of the fold), then fold the dough in the middle as if you're closing a book. You know have 8 dough-butter-dough layers. Put your dough back in its bag and back in the fridge.
  • After half an hour (or up to two hours) take your dough out of the fridge and roll it out again, the opposite way from the last time. Do another book turn. Now you have 32 layers, which Andrew says is the "maximum desirable number for a croissant dough" and he, too, defers to experts. Put your dough in the fridge for another half-hour.
  • This will be your final roll. Roll out the dough so it is about 5mm thick. Andrew likes equilateral triangles, but I have had better luck with triangles that are taller than they are wide at the base. So. Square up your dough and cut it horizontally so you have two very long pieces of dough that are each about (and here I revert to inches) 6 inches wide, a little more if possible. Take a ruler and make a mark every 4 inches along the bottom of one of your strips. Make a mark 2 inches in on the top and then, starting at that mark, every 4 inches. Using these marks as guides, cut out triangles. Repeat the process on the other piece of dough. Feel free to vary the measurement depending on how big or small you want your croissants. Andrew says this recipe makes 16, but I usually only make 10, give or take.
  • Make a half-inch notch in the center of the base of each triangle. To form a croissant, take a triangle in your hand. Hold the apex and the base and stretch it gently. Then gently stretch the base. You should end up with something vaguely resembling the Eiffel Tower. How fitting. Place the stretched out triangle back on your work surface. Fold the base tightly over on itself and then, taking the apex with one hand, keep stretching it slightly while you roll the croissant up with your other hand. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet so the tip is underneath the croissant (otherwise it might unroll during proving.) Turn the ears inward to make the classic croissant shape. If that makes any sense at all, repeat with the remaining triangles.
  • Once all the croissants are on baking sheets brush them with the egg wash and place in a warm (but not too warm or all the butter will ooze out) place to prove. At about 80°F proving takes 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours. Once the croissants are done proving--they look puffy and fragile and somewhat transformed--gently brush again with egg wash and place in a 400°F oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • You can also make pains au chocolat by cutting out rectangles instead of triangles and rolling a stick of good chocolate up in the dough. Pinch the edges together so the chocolate doesn't run out during baking. Wash, prove and bake as for croissants.

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