Croissants – A La Julia Child
In honor of my culinary hero Julia Child and upcoming movie about her life Julie & Julia (where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, and Julie Powell is played by Amy Adams) I decided to bake one of her recipes from her TV show The French Chef With Julia Child 2 – Croissants.
Although the process might sound intimidating it is in fact quite simple. Hey – if a rookie like Julia could make it, you can make it too! I will go with you step-by step as presented by Julia in her show. Read along – it is fun and delicious!
Julia Child, More Than A Character
As she goes through her rolling pins collection in the Croissants episode of her late 1960’s TV show The French Chef, where she flamboyantly throws one of them in the trash bin, concluding that “It’s good for nothing, I don’t know why I keep it”, or as she encourages you to take heart when you flip anything in a pan to do it with the “courage of your convictions”, while she spills most of her potatoes on the stove top, Julia Child – the pioneer of cooking shows, gives hope for cooking newbies like you and me who feel so small and intimidated while watching modern big-wig cooking shows where everything turns out perfect, manicured and shiny!
I was extremely excited to hear of the Julie & Julia movie and from what I’ve seen of the trailer, Meryl Streep does an outstanding acting in playing the role of this extraordinary woman! Can’t wait to watch it on 7th of August!
Considered the donut rival in America (and rightly so), the croissant gained quick popularity in every pastry shop, continental breakfast plate, and even in donut chains. Charles Dickens wrote about the Croissant in his 1872 All Year Round periodical, “the workman’s pain de ménage and the soldier’s pain de munition, to the dainty croissant on the boudoir table“.
But it’s humble origins are mentioned long before that year, when August Zang (an Austrian artillery officer) opened the Boulangerie Viennoise in 1838 in Paris featuring the popular kipfel, that inspired the French pastry chefs to roll out a nationalized version calling it Le Croissant, due to its crescent shape.
As intimidating (and cliche) as it probably sounds – if you can make a humble omelet, you CAN bake a beautiful batch of 12 Croissants. I mustered up enough courage by watching Julia’s episode on how to make Croissants, and being baking a couple of successful batches since then – well, one of them turned out more browner than needed as I left them in the oven too long [ahem!]. The nice thing about it is that the dough can be prepared ahead of time, and frozen so when you are planning on baking, all you need to do is to get your oven going and your appetite. There are a lot of Croissants recipes, I am sure, but just for the sake of celebrating the movie and the women who inspired it, I’ll stick with her version.
Probably the most important step in the recipe is to use the right flour type for this type of pastry. Julia suggests using a low-gluten flour so the dough can be easily rolled without becoming rubbery, etc. You could for instance use a mix of 1 part unbleached all-purpose and 2 parts unbleached pastry flour. She also adds tasteless oil to the mix, to help tenderize the dough.
Even if today’s dry yeast has a very small chance of failing to do its job, I will give it a chance to prove itself to be worthy of our croissant dough.
1 Tsp dry yeast
1/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tb sugar
1/4 cup warm water (not more than 110 degrees, otherwise you’ll kill the yeast)
Start by mixing all these ingredients with the warm water until dissolved, and let it sit for 5 min. If the yeast is active (and it should) it will form a soft foamy mass on its surface:
No big secret here to be learned. Make sure that when you measure “1 cup of flour” you actually sweep off the excess with the edge of a knife so you will have a consistent quantity. The quantities given here are good for a batch of 12 croissants. I usually double it and freeze a half of the dough (after I have the butter in it).
2 Cups of your flour mix (see Flour Options above).
1 Tb sugar
3/4 Tsp salt
1/3 to 1/2 cups tepid milk
if using unbleached flour: 2 Tb vegetable oil (I used Canola)
if using bleached flour: 4 Tb vegetable oil
Blend all the above in a mixing bowl (don’t forget the yeast mix) with a spatula into a sticky mass, then out on the board:
Time for some punching – works well when you are mad. Julia suggests the lift-and-throw motion and as she talks and demonstrates the moves, the dough gets stuck to her pastry scraper and goes flying as she exclaims “Whew!” and goes on with her explanation without any trouble… Typical Julia Child! Love it. Un-edited fun!
Keep on being rough with your dough for about 3 minutes – it’ll be somewhat sticky at first but after a good rapid fold and knead with the heels of your hands it will become elastic, smooth and will not stick to your hands anymore:
Time to rise. Plop the dough into a bowl and do a criss-cross scissors snip on its surface to help it rise. Then cover it with a plastic wrap, and let it rise until it becomes double in bulk:
Rising time depends on the room temperature. I found that if I do this in the summer, rising is faster than in winter. About 1 to 1-1/2 hours at say 75 degrees will suffice. Don’t keep it in temperatures higher than 85 degrees or longer that needed (over-rise) since that wll impart an unpleasant taste. At this point you can retard the rising by placing the bowl in the refrigerator:
Rolls, Turns and Chills
If the croissant recipe would be considered a somewhat complicated procedure, than this particular step would probably be the one that will need more attention. What makes this basic yeast dough (good for bread, etc.) become a croissant dough is a good old stick of chilled butter. It is butter that makes the world turn. And it is butter that will make the 82 dough layers for our croissants:
Time is now to beat the daylight out of this chilled butter with your rolling pin. The idea here, my friends, is to work the butter into a malleable consistency, free of lumps and very fast, to keep the butter cold – working with melted butter is just not fun:
Lovely, huh? Having fun yet? Now, press your dough (I roll it) into an approximate 9″ diameter circle, then form the butter into a 5″ square (square-ish in my case) and place it on the top of your dough (centered):
Voila! now you have a nice package of dough with a stick of butter inside, ready to be massaged into many layers. For that, flour your rolling pin and both sides of your dough, place it on your board with the seal side up and start gently rolling back and forth from the center towards the edges to form a rectangle of about 15″ long and 5″ wide. It doesn’t HAVE to be exact, but try to at least get close to that dimension. If there are butter bits that poke through, just pinch the dough over that spot to re-seal it. Also, if the dough became too rubbery (read warm), chill it again for about 20 minutes and continue from where you’ve left it. What you want here is to evenly spread the butter between the two dough layers (this gets you ready for your next step):
Turns #1 and #2
Okay. What’s a turn in culinary lingo? Julia Child defines it as having the dough folded like a business letter in 3 even layers. And really, that’s exactly what it is. Gently fold the bottom of your rectangle to the center of the dough then fold the top flap over it the same way. That’s defined as turn #1:
Then once again, roll out the dough to the initial 15″ long and 5″ wide rectangle to prepare it for turn #2 just as before. Keep the edges as straight as possible (I re-align them with the rolling pin). You will see that it will look more like a rectangle than before. Rinse and repeat – you got it right?
By this time (after turn#2) your dough needs some chilling to be able to roll it another 2 turns. Leave it folded as a business letter, flour it lightly, wrap it in wax-paper and place it in the fridge for about 1-2 hours:
Turns #3 and #4
After the time spent in the fridge (1 to 2 hours) the dough is relaxed and ready for turn #3 and turn #4. Really nothing special here. Just repeat the same process as for the previous two turns – two rollings into the 15″ long and 5″ wide rectangle and two business letter style folding. You will end up with 81 layers of butter between 82 layers of dough. Again, by this time the dough is probably getting to rubbery to work with, so back in the fridge it goes for a 2 hours chill.
After the 2 hour chill, out of the fridge the croissant dough comes and onto a lightly floured board. This time roll it into a 20″ long by 5″ wide rectangle. Try to keep the edges as straight as possible:
Now, roll the one half of the croissants dough into a 12″ long by 5″ wide rectangle and cut it in thirds and chill two of the thirds:
Roll the triangles out to extend to about 7″ long and shape it as much as you can into a isosceles triangle (where two sides are equal in length). Now starting at the base, roll up the dough towards the tip of the triangle, then bend it into a crescent moon form, and place it on a buttered 12″ x 14″ baking sheet (not too close to each other so they don’t fuse together while rising and baking) with the tip of the triangle on the bottom so that it wouldn’t unwrap during baking. Form the rest of the dough the same way into a total of 12 croissants, and let it rest for an hour covered with a plastic wrap. This might be a good time to get your oven going – set it to 475 degrees (mine takes about 45 minutes to heat up). You can freeze the risen croissants for later baking and pop them in the oven while frozen:
Glazing and Baking
Again, no rocket science here. Simple egg-wash. Paint the risen croissants with one egg beater mixed with 1/2 Tsp water:
Then pop them in the pre-heated 475 degree oven and really – keep an eye on them because they bake very fast. Usually something between 10 to 15 minutes depending on how dark brown you want them to look. Don’t do any other activities during this fast bake – you will forgot about the oven like I did so many times. I tend to leave them in until they turn dark-brown. Let them cool on a rack for about 10 minutes and resist the temptation of eating – the are HOT!:
Julia mentions in the episode that she could eat Croissants in the morning, for lunch, for dinner, mid-morning or mid-night snack and so on. And I don’t blame her. These evil Croissants are so wicked delicious that can be enjoyed throughout the day. I tend to like them in the morning and for lunch, as a sandwich, or simply with any sort of jam or marmalade. Too bad we don’t have Le Figaro, the French news paper that Julia grabs at the end of the show while sitting down and enjoying her caffé au lait, and freshly baked croissant.