Slow Down--and Make Croissants!

JULY 23, 2014

This July, in honor of a different red, white, and blue, I chose to embrace French culture this weekend and . . . slow down. The French take leisurely meals and relaxation to levels unrealized in the States. With Bastille Day activities and Summer in full bloom, some of the French's laissez-faire attitude temporarily came to my neighborhood last weekend. Even if it's just now and then, it is important to embrace a 4-day work week. Wine was generously poured, crepes sizzled, and the musical French ambiance filled the air. The scene was an Americanized view of France, but still took me back to Paris and those 3-hour meals at outdoor bistros and the relaxing strolls along the Seine.

Although French cuisine is not known as traditional "comfort food," there are endless warm thoughts that enter my mind when I think of brie, baguettes, and that most delectable of all French food—the croissant. Deciding to tackle the ultimate French pastry is no small feat. You have to be ready to dedicate almost a full day to learn the art of proper croissant preparation. Be forewarned, it is not as easy as Julia Child (or Meryl Streep playing Julia Child) make it look on television. You have to commit to slowing down. That's the key to achieving the buttery goodness of the croissant. You are not making toast or a bagel. You are about to make the most buttery, flakiest baked good known to man and your oven. With a little practice, you might feel like you just left your kitchen for the Left Bank.

Taking an entire day to bake may not be a 21st century societal norm. We are used to running around and multitasking on our smartphones. How does one justify the time in the kitchen? Easy. A hot croissant fresh from the oven is all the reward you need. Your kitchen becomes a classroom. Your pastry pan becomes the pedestal for a work of art. There will be some frustration along the way. Resist the urge to surrender (ironic, I know), and keep baking and perfecting the croissant. If you follow my recipe, you will impress everyone in your family and, most importantly, your lips, taste buds, and stomach. Enjoy the end result. You've earned it.

C'est la vie!

Croissant recipe 

Makes 22 medium-size croissants

Ingredients

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm tap water
4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
1½ cups (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water

 

Preparation

Dissolve yeast in water. Mix dry ingredients, make well in center, add yeast mixture and milk, and stir until a dough forms. Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate.

Cut butter into cubes, sprinkle with flour, and sandwich between sheets of plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin or your hands to smoosh the butter together into a smooth mass. Shape butter into an 8-inch square, wrap in plastic and refrigerate. 

At least 1 hour later, get the dough out and roll it into about a 13-inch square. Set the butter on it diamond-style, and fold the dough corners up to make a neat package around the butter. Roll the dough into a long rectangle, patching if necessary to ensure that the butter remains enclosed. Fold the dough in thirds like a business letter, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. 

At least half an hour later, get the dough out and roll out again so that the open ends of the "business letter" are the short ends of the rectangle. Keep the edges as straight and the corners as square as possible. Fold dough in thirds again, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. 

Repeat 3 more times. (Some recipes say you can do 2 "turns" of the dough in 1 stint out of the fridge.)

Shaping: Roll the dough out into a bigger rectangle, about 16 inches by 24 inches. Cut into 2 long strips, then cut isosceles triangles, making each triangle base at least 4 inches. Cut a small notch in the base of each triangle. Cut the scraps from the ends of the rectangles into small pieces and roll up the triangles around them, starting at the base. Form into a crescent shape and make sure the point is on the bottom. 

Put rolled croissants on baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Brush tops of croissants with beaten egg and water. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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