The Complexities of the Croissant

When my Great Aunt read my first posting she said to me “I couldn’t think of anything worse than eating warm pain-au-chocolat in bed” and I knew that she wasn’t saying this because she is either pastry or lie-in averse. ‘Croissant’, in my mind, is a title with onomatopoeic qualities and instantly induces thoughts of golden flakes; specifically the act of prodding a finger in remnants of butter and apricot jam and using it as glue to transport amber coloured pastry debris to my mouth. The flakiness is part of the virtue but over-flaking is a characteristic of ‘supermarket finest’ warmed-in-the-oven pastries that have long lost the texture they were designated at birth. I’ve eaten many an average croissant, made acceptable with plenty of butter and jam, and I haven’t complained. I’ve also had exceptional croissants; firm yet light to hold, a crackling outside with visible layers, a doughy interior aerated from laminations, a buttery residue on the hands. Making croissants intimidated me.

Every recipe seemed to emphasise how cold the butter must be. Let me just clarify, for those who may be unaware, just how much butter goes into a croissant; it’s almost half and half. I used 625g of flour and 500g of butter. It’s an entire block. I didn’t have an entire block and had to construct a Frankenstein version from frozen and fridge-cold pieces. My impatience meant that the butter complied only when whacked with a rolling pin. The dough itself was simple and I had the opportunity to use fresh yeast, which is a lovely, earthy product with the most primitive, damp, sour aroma. Croissants are not any more complicated than a mix of dough and butter but the chilling time required makes them a daylong pursuit. The dough had to be chilled and the butter had to be chilled and they were brought together as flat rectangles and folded and rolled and folded and rolled and chilled and folded. The frozen butter caused my feet to come off the ground as I leant into the rolling pin, blowing the hair out of my face.

The butter eventually mellowed and started to marble the dough, I’m not sure this was supposed to happen as the pictures showed neat, even layers but at this stage perseverance was the only option. Clumps of butter were still dangerously close to the surface whilst I completed the final fold and prepared the pastry for cutting. This was fun, rolling the dough bunting into little croissant shapes. They rose grand and puffy and baked to an airy, apricot brown. I ate two, straight off the baking tray, and had to wash the butter off my hands. These were a success and I’m still basking in it.

Open Croissant and Butter

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