“One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.” – Julia Child
A couple of weeks back, I took a short viennoiserie class with the lovely people at La Cuisine Paris, where pastry chef Guillemette guided half a dozen of us through the different techniques and steps required to make croissants, amandines and chocolatines. It was a bit of a surreal experience (pastry class, in Paris, in the springtime – pinch me), and despite not really being in my element, I ploughed away and left the class with a palpable sense of accomplishment. However minimal that accomplishment may actually be in grand scheme of things…still…I MADE CROISSANT. High five.
Arriving back in Montreal, I knew that if the information was left to hang out in the dusty recesses of my brain, I was sure to forget the details and subtleties that Guillemette had imparted to us. Not wanting to waste the potential of the experience, I stocked up on supplies and found the first available weekend to make a go of it. To my surprise, I also had volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves and do it with me – which was perfect, because not only would I have additional man-power, but I’d also have (other) inexperienced people to blame if it all went to hell.
Just kidding ♥
The start was promising – I had my yeast from the baker, my electronic scale, my mise en place. The whole set-up was disturbingly perfect. Even the starter dough, the thing I was most worried about, seemed to look and feel like it should when I tucked it into the fridge to rest overnight. I began to feel a little like Maria in that scene from the Sound of Music.
But soon, I was brought back to the reality of my amateurism. And things got ugly. Fast.
On the second turn (folding) of my puff pastry dough, the underside was showing signs of tearing. At first, it was just one tear, which I quickly (sloppily) patched up. But then the more I rolled, the more the dough started to look like it was suffering from third degree burns. The butter began to ooze out from air pockets that had formed during rolling, resulting in a pot-marked dough that looked nothing like the one I had made in class. Family was in the room, so I restrained from swearing aloud, but in my head there was a foul-mouthed sailor blaspheming on repeat.
Distracted by my ugly, ugly dough, I forgot to add a slick of egg wash to the first batch of croissants, which may explain why they turned out more like overcooked dinner rolls. My
guinea pigs taste-testers assured me they were good, but I’m pretty sure I heard someone compare them to the kind that come in the blue tube – you know, the one with that freakishly upbeat, miniature weirdo made of dough. With that as the barometer, I can’t say the croissants came close to the real deal. But while you wouldn’t pay good money for them, you’d probably eat them if they were hanging out on your aunt’s brunch table…and you were bored.
Then came the amandines, which looked promising before going into the oven, but then for some reason, decided to get their freak on: as they baked, the almond paste flowed liberally off the pastry, causing these pretty little “baskets” and “pinwheels” to morph into nondescript blobs, some of them binding together and making Siamese twins (I blame this not on the recipe, but rather my decision to make the almond flour from scratch. Bad move…).
The saving grace in this whole process were the chocolatines. They (miraculously) turned out flaky and delicious and even looked normal. Not perfect, not the best…but good. The taste-testers even took seconds, which is usually a good sign. Right at the moment when my faith in this experiment was sinking, the chocolatines bolstered my confidence and gave me hope that it is possible to make good croissant at home.
I suppose the bigger lesson in all this is that sometimes our expectations in the kitchen are shot down; sometimes the bread hasn’t risen or the cake has stuck to the tin or, in the words of Ms.Child, “the cat has fallen into the stew”. C’est la vie, mes amis. What would be more tragic is if these kinds of experiences turned us off from ever trying these things in the first place…
…ultimately causing us to miss out on moments like these:
Because, let’s be honest – an afternoon in the company of apron-clad men is time well spent.
On that note, I whole-heartedly encourage you to try making your own croissant. Here are a few things I learned (the hard way) and that you might want to keep in mind:
1) Give yourself plenty of time. No matter what recipe you end up using, all of them will require you to rest the starter dough (minimum 6 hours for mine) and the rolled dough between “turns” (folds).
2) If the dough seems warm or sticky or springs back a lot when rolling, put it back in the fridge. Along the lines of the point above, you’re better to err on the side of caution and rest your dough, even if it’s for a longer period of time than the recipe suggests.
3) When rolling the dough, be firm but gentle. The final result you’re aiming for is a light, flaky croissant that has several airy layers. It won’t reach it’s potential if you start getting rough with it – you’ll end up tearing the dough and making holes in the layers. NO BUENO.
4) Chill out. You are not a pastry chef, nor trying to be one. If things start to look scary, step away for a minute and take a deep breath. The Earth will not stop turning if your croissants aren’t perfect. Even if they’re inedible, you get a gajillion food-nerd points just for trying.
One last thing: Guillemette has kindly allowed me to share her almond cream recipe with you (merci Guillemette!). It’s traditionally used as a filling for almond croissant (amandines), but it’s also wicked in coffee cake and probably most places you would normally use marzipan.
Almond Cream (makes about 2 cups) – from La Cuisine Paris
- 55g sugar
- 55g softened butter
- 1 egg (also about 55g)
- 55g almond flour
- 15 g all-purpose flour
- almond extract or rhum (to taste)
Combine butter and sugar in mixing bowl and mixwith a wooden spoon until creamy. Add egg and mix until completely combined. Add the almond flour and all-purpose flour and mix well. Add flavoring and stir to combine. Cover and place in fridge 10-15 minutes before adding to amandines (can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen and defrosted in the fridge).
This is just amazing to me! I would never have the patience to do it. Just from the look of it, the chocolatines look delicious. Can I ask what kind or brand of chocolate you used?
Thanks Natasha! I actually found chocolate sticks made specifically for chocolatine at a place called Aubut (in Mtl): http://www.aubut.ca/
This is the brand: http://www.cuisineaddict.com/achat-art-batons-boulangers-en-chocolat-pour-pains-au-chocolat-x500-753.htm?utm_source=shopbot&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=753&utm_campaign=Kelkoo&ectrans=1
It’s worth mentioning, though, that since Aubut is a restaurant/bakery supplier, they come in packages of about 200 bars (!) and since they’re specially conceived for baking (and are resistant to high temperatures), they’re not super tasty on their own.
Thanks for checking in – à bientôt!
Karen Messer said:
I also took the croissant class in February at La Cuisine Paris and totally agree that they were very lovely indeed. My instructor was from my home state, Texas. (I also took the macaron and Market day shopping classes.) I like you returned home, but to south Texas; delighted to say that I had taken cooking classes in Paris – Wow! I have made 4 batches and have had varied results – but all my guinea pigs said they would be glad to sample anytime. After reading your blog I have renewed hope to continue with my desire to create proper croissants. Just today I talked to a friend of mine that owns a restaurant here is town that is going help me purchase cake yeast – I have not been able to find any online.
Glad I found your blog and will enjoy following – I’ll give you an update about my success. Karen
Hi there Karen! Thank you for the kind words – I’m always glad to hear when people get inspired about cooking, baking and getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. 🙂
Regarding the yeast – in Montreal we have a couple of suppliers, but they usually sell fresh yeast in huge, 1 kg “bricks”. Luckily, I discovered that bakeries sell smaller quantities of fresh yeast, and at a cheap price to boot (1$/100g). Hopefully, your friend will help you get your hands on some (btw – you’re lucky to know someone in the restaurant biz that can help you track down hard-to-find ingredients!)
Good luck with your next batch…and let me know how it goes! Always happy to hear from new readers!
All best, Julia
Harvey Chang said:
Wow, thanks for the great tip. I headed down to the nearby Premiere Moisson, and didn’t see any yeast on the shelves, but when I asked at the cash, they very easily asked how much I wanted. I sort of cupped my hand for a handful (I wasn’t prepared that this would work out so quickly!) and they suggested 100 or 200g and I said 100g to start, and though it was busy as usual there, she immediately went to the back, came back with a brick of yeast, cut off 100g on a scale, and put it in a plastic container. I took out a $20 bill, but it came out to 75 cents! Thanks again.
julia chews the fat said:
So glad to hear that the tip helped, Harvey! I was also surprised to find out how accessible and cheap fresh yeast was. I don’t know if they mentioned it to you, but you’ll want to store it in the fridge and it’s best if used within one week of purchase. Did you end up making croissant? Or something else?
Harvey Chang said:
Yep, croissants (including some chocolatines using a couple of rows of chocolate pastilles – I’m checking out your link for the 2 kilo box of sticks!), as well as experiments with the no-knead bread, which I’ve been so happy with since being told about it a year ago. I saw your recent blog on this, and it is my new link for sharing with others who want to try this out: thanks! By the way, were you at a croissant class two weeks ago in the Old Montreal area? I sat down with some of the fellow classmates before it started, and then the class was large and busy enough that I didn’t get much chance to interact after, but one of them looked sort-of like your picture and mentioned having been in Paris (I apologize if I’ve misidentified you).
julia chews the fat said:
Hi Harvey. I must have a croissant-making twin out there, because it wasn’t me that you saw! Full disclosure – I haven’t actually made croissants since that blogpost, now two years old (!) but I thoroughly encourage your pastry-making endeavours! I’m also really happy to hear that you liked the no-knead bread post and that you’ve been sharing it with friends : ) Thanks for your comments and keep on baking up a storm!
Geoffrey Barns said:
Is there anything better than dunking a buttery croissant into a warm café au lait while watching Saturday morning cartoons in your Batman & Robin limited edition PJ’s? Doubtful.
Hello there Geoffrey. As a person who fully believes in the merits of breakfast in bed, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for checking in 🙂
Geoffrey Barns said:
Kuddos on baking your own! My grand mammy – May that blue haired southern belle rest in peace – used to make her own too.