Croissants and Petits Pains au Chocolat

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After months of drought here in San Diego we are finally getting some much-needed rain.  Rain was predicted all weekend which is exactly what happened.  I don’t know what it is but rainy days always make me want to bake.  I was feeling adventurous and since outdoor activity was pretty much not going to happen I decided to use the time to indulge myself and make croissants.  There is nothing difficult or at all daunting about making these but they are time-consuming so plan your time in advance.  With that being said the hands on time with this is actually quite minimal.  Most of the time is spent waiting on the dough while it chills between rollings.  This dough and the procedure for making it is very similar to that for puff pastry.  The exceptions here being that the “trope” or top dough for croissants is yeasted and made with milk as opposed to puff pastry which has no yeast at all.  My only warnings or tricks here would be to work quickly, keep everything cold and don’t force anything.

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The top dough and butter need to rest in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to overnight before they are combined so I began on Friday after work.  This process takes only about 30 minutes for both so it is easy to fit it in while making dinner.

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The dough is easy,   It is simply 3 3/4 cups flour, 1 ounce of cake yeast (1 tablespoon active dry yeast), 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup milk.  Put everything in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low-speed with a dough hook for about 2 minutes just to get the flour moistened and the dough started, then turn the mixer to its highest speed and mix for about 3 minutes constantly checking the dough.  It should be moist and should pick up all the flour from the bottom of the bowl.  If it doesn’t add a little milk a tablespoon at a time and check to see that all the flour is moistened.  Once the dough has formed and is smooth and supple, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in a plastic bag and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to ferment.  Meanwhile, work on the butter.  Take 1 pound 2 ounces of chilled unsweetened butter and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer, to this add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and mix using the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes.  The flour will ensure that any water in the butter will be absorbed which makes the dough flaky.  Remove the butter from the bowl and pound it a few times on the counter to remove any air pockets.  For it into block about 5 inches wide and i inch high.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Once the dough has rested, refrigerate it with the butter for a minimum of 8 hours.

After the dough and butter have chilled overnight, roll the dough out to a rectangle about 17 inches long and 10 inches wide.  Keep the dough floured while working.  Place the dough with the short side facing you.  Brush off excess flour and place the butter block in the center of the dough.  Fold the bottom up over the butter and brush off the flour.  Fold the top down and again brush off excess flour.  Turn the dough sideways so the open ends are on the left and right.  If the dough fells too soft, chill it for about an hour, otherwise, using a rolling-pin, begin lightly beating the butter from the center to the outside edge while holding the other end steady.  You want to coax the butter out the edge of the dough.  Hold the flattened end and lightly beat the butter from the center to the other edge.  Once you have the butter uniformly even you can make the first turn.  This dough will get three turns, 2 single turns and 1 double turn.Once again, keep everything cold so if the dough feels too soft, chill it for an hour before continuing.  Brush off excess flour and fold the left side into the center, brush off flour and fold the right side over to the edge, like a brochure fold.  Dust off all excess flour, wrap in plastic wrap and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Mark the parchment with 1 turn so you will remember what you have done and chill for 2 hours.

Once the dough has rested and chilled repeat the above process and mark the parchment as having had 2 turns and again wrap and chill for 2 hours.  Once the dough has chilled again you are ready for the final turn which is the double turn.  Again, roll the dough out to a rectangle about 23 inches long by 15 inches wide.  Dust off excess flour and fold the left side into the center.  Fold the right side into the center leaving about a half in gap in the center of the dough.  Fold the left side over the right and match the edges.  Wrap in plastic and allow to chill for 2 hours.

At this point the dough is ready to be formed or it can be tightly wrapped and frozen for about a month.

 

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To form the croissants:

Place the dough with the seam side on the left and cut it in half horizontally.  Wrap one half and refrigerate while working with the other half.  Roll the dough into a rectangle about 20 inches long and 15 inches wide.  Remember the dough is chilled and yeasted so it will want to resist.  Don’t force it, just work quickly and allow the dough to rest a few minutes if it seems to resist.  Once fully rolled, dust off excess flour, with the long edge toward you, fold the dough in half lengthwise, folding the top down to the bottom edge, dust off flour and using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut triangles about 3 inches wide.  There will be excess dough cut from each end which will be used later.  Unfold the dough and you will be left with diamond shape pieces.  Cut these in half to form triangles.

Take one triangle and gently stretch the wide end to widen it slightly.  Holding the wide end in one hand with fingers in back and thumb on top of the dough, gently use the other hand to stretch the dough from wide end to point to lengthen it.  Take a small piece of scrap dough and place it in the center of the wide end of the triangle.  Fold the dough over the scrape and then with one hand on each side of the wide end with the point facing you, keep the heel of your hand flat on the counter and with the fingertips roll the dough toward you.  Place the formed croissant on a parchment lined baking sheet with the point up and facing you.  Once they are all formed, brush with egg glaze and allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hours before baking.

To make the Petits Pains au Chocolat, roll the dough out in exactly the same manner but instead of cutting triangles, cut strips about 3-4 inches wide, unfold the dough and cut the strips in half.  Place about 1 ounce of chocolate on one end of the dough and rolled the dough up.  Place on parchment lined baking sheet and press down slightly.  Brush with egg glaze and allow to rest at room temperature for 3 hours.

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To bake, Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, place racks at even thirds in the oven.  Brush the croissants with another layer of egg glaze and bake them for about 12 minutes.  Rotate the pans, top to bottom and bake to front and bake for another 4 – 6 minutes until they are golden brown.  Cool on racks to room temperature.  The Petits Pains are baked exactly the same way.

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Time consuming yes, but worth every minute you spend on them.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Lemon Praline Cake

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I was talking to my friend Monica from the Gutsy Cooks Club about favorite chefs and cookbooks.  Since we were both members of the Heavenly Bakers, naturally our conversation came around to desserts and especially cakes.  Monica mentioned to me that she had gotten the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne and was anxious to try some of the cakes.  She asked me if I knew about Karen and I think I surprised her when I said that Karen was a local pastry chef here in San Diego and that I went to her shop very often.  She asked me if I wanted to join her in baking some of these incredible cakes.  Well, I am a huge fan of Monica’s cooking style and her kitchen wizardry so naturally I jumped at the chance to join her.  We each read through the book and comprised a list of cakes we wanted to try.  When we compared notes we laughed to see that we had both chosen almost the identical list.  This Lemon Praline cake appealed to us both right off the bat and we decided it would be the first cake we attempted.

On the first read through these recipes seem really complicated. They are assembled cakes from many components and Karen certainly doesn’t skim in this area.  This cake has 6 separate components.  Once you get over the shock of the task and reread the recipe you see that it is very manageable.  Many of the components can be made the day ahead and held.  The one difference that Karen does is that she assembles the cake in a cake ring or mold and then freezes the assembled cake overnight before the final decoration.  This is something that neither Monica or myself had ever done and after comparing notes with Monica I think we both agreed that it was a technique with would both adopt in our cake baking.  It certainly makes the final decoration and serving much easier.

I started by making the genoise, which is a pretty straight forward standard genoise.  It went together in a snap and before I knew it the baked cake was cooling on my counter.  The next day I tackled the French Meringue which is used as a crunchy center layer.  It all came together in about 20 minutes and has to bake for at least an hour.  While it was in the oven I made the lemon syrup, the lemon curd and the lemon buttercream and by the time the meringue was baked and cooled I was ready to assemble the cake.

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The genoise is leveled and sliced into two layers.  One layer goes into the cake ring, followed by the syrup, then a layer of  buttercream and a layer of lemon curd.  Next the meringue goes on followed by another layer of buttercream and another layer of lemon curd.  Finally the second cake layer in placed on top and drenched with the remaining lemon syrup.  The entire assembly is wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen over night.  As I told Monica, to me the hardest part of the entire process was finding the room in my overcrowded freezer to keep the cake overnight.  Karens instructions are clear and concise and her timing notes are spot on.

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The following morning I made the final component which is hazelnut-almond praline.  This was just caramelized sugar to which toasted nuts are added and then the mixture is spread onto a baking sheet to harden.  Karen specifies to make this just before you need it.  Once hardened the praline is broken into pieces and ground in the food processor into a fine powder.

The assembled cake is then frosted completely with the remaining lemon buttercream and then coated with the praline powder.  The final decor is a bouquet of fresh flowers and rose petal covered ribbon.  I didn’t really like the picture that is in the book and decided to take artistic license here.  I should have followed the book.  I ended up going crazy with the flowers and ended up covering the whole top of the cake.  My other half told me it looked like a cheap centerpiece and I certainly have to agree that it was not the most attractive thing I have ever turned out in the kitchen.  No matter, the decorations came off as soon as I got some photographs and the cake is so good that it hardly matters what it looks like.  I think next time I will just frost it and pipe some borders and then use the praline in shards as decoration.  Maybe I will just skip the decoration entirely and move straight to the eating part.

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All in all it was a great first cake from a really great cake book.  Can’t wait for the next installment of the Monica and Raymond Cake Club.

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Not Yet

Well, the book didn’t arrive again.  I called the book club this morning and they informed me that is shipped on Oct 8th as opposed to Oct 2 which is what their website indicated.  That means that it has only been 8 days and not the 14 days that I had thought.  With any luck it will be waiting for me when I get home from work today.  I thought that I might take a few minutes to talk about some of the pastry chefs/authors that I admire and the books that I collect/use.

First off there is Rose.  Her books are so enjoyable to read and her recipes so thorough and precise that you can’t help but turn out something good from each one of them.

Books by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Books by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Next there is Jim Dodge.  Jim has sort of fallen off the pastry chef radar as of  late but he remains one of my all time favorite pastry chefs.  I had the pleasure of taking several classes from Jim when he would come to San Diego several years ago and I never failed to walk away from his classes filled with new found knowledge.  He would offer his time and knowledge freely during those classes and I know everyone learn alot.  His two books remain some of my all time favorites.  They are out of print but well worth the effort of seeking out. 

Books by Jim Dodge

Books by Jim Dodge

Alice Medrich.  I am always in awe of Alice.  She is just such a master of her art and I love the attention to detail in all she does.  You just know that when you try one of her recipes they are going to taste spectacular.  I couldn’t live without all of her books on my shelf.

 

Books by Alice Medrich

Books by Alice Medrich

Carole Walter.   Carole has been a favorite of mine since I discovered her wonderful book “Great Cakes”  I use it extensively when I bake and always find something great to bake and eat in it.  I have since become a devotee of all of her “Great” books.

Books by Carole Walter

Books by Carole Walter

Nancy Silverton.  I can’t remember exactly when the first time I saw Nancy Silverton was but I know that I have been hooked ever since.  Her books are a total joy in the baking arts.  Never stuffy or complicated, they are filled with straight forward, no nonsense great recipes and practical advice.  I love them all.

Books by Nancy Silverton

Books by Nancy Silverton

Jacques Torres.  I remember seeing Jacques’ show Dessert Circus on PBS and was hooked.  Then he had his great show on Food Network and I was totally under his spell.  His books offer all of his great techniques and advice and make it accessible to us home bakers.

Books by Jacques Torres

Books by Jacques Torres

Maida Heatter.  She is known as the doienne of desserts and just one glance through any one of her books and you will now way.  Totally approachable and always just plain good fun to read.  Many of her recipes became standards around my house.

Books by Maida Heatter

Books by Maida Heatter

Gale Gand.  I fell under Gales spell after watching her Food Network show “Sweet Dreams”.  She has a totally infectious personality and she makes you just want to get into the kitchen and try her recipes.  I especially like her small bites because they allow you to indulge without making a big cake or pie.  Everyone should try these.

Books by Gale Gand

Books by Gale Gand

Collette Peters.  I am totally in awe of Collette.  I find myself buying her books just because they are by her.  I don’t think I would ever have the nerve to attempt one of her elaborate creations but I love reading the books and looking at the pictures and just knowing that it is possible to create art out of cake.  We can all dream.

Books by Collette Peters

Books by Collette Peters

Well, that is just a few of the bakers that I admire.  There is also Dorie Greenspan, Mary Bergin, Carole Bloome, Cindy Mushett.  The list goes on and on.  I hope that if you aren’t familiar with some of these great bakers that you will look into some of their work and find inspiration for your own home baking.