Tags: Baking with Julia, Candied Bacon, Chocolate, Croissants, Esther McManus, Julia Child, Pain au Chocolat, Pepper Jack Cheese, Pistachio, Sea Salt, white chocolate
The croissant has evolved…into a crescent roll. Let me explain. From the time I was in college until about 10 years ago, croissants were flaky, layered, buttery rolls of heaven. No matter where I bought them, they were all of the above, even the supermarket bakeries. I remember stopping at some a few mornings a week before work, and opening the plexiglass case, crumpled tissue in hand like a baseball mitt, ready to grab the freshest ones before anyone else could. Even the BK ‘croissandwich’ was flaky, with buttery layers!
Then something happened..and I don’t know if some of these places got tired of making them the right way, and/or they decided to skimp on the butter, (cutting costs was obvious) because outside of the fancy patisseries, the croissants I was buying were slowly morphing into crescent rolls. Limp crusts, no flake, and ‘gasp’ soft white bread like innards with maybe two layers, if you were lucky. These were not the croissants that used to flake all over my lap with each bite. These were not the croissants I could eat layer by layer, slowly unrolling, unraveling, deconstructing – holding thin, buttery, window panes of baked dough up to the light, trying to make it last as long as possible.
I finally bid a sad adieu to any croissants made outside french patisseries. I wasn’t being a food snob, I just didn’t feel like paying 2 bucks for a crescent roll when I could easily whip up a batch of those with lots of butter, right?
Then this day came..
The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!
I was jubilant and a tad nervous at the same time. I had always wanted to recreate those awesome croissants of yore at home, but kept putting it off. Now I had a reason to. However, what if I turned out doughy, crescent rolls? I do very well with puff pastry, so how hard could it be? Same method as puff pastry, but using a yeasted dough. Piece of cake! Ha ha..NOT.
Stretching the triangle of dough to about 8-10 inches, then placing a ball of scrap dough in the middle of the wide end before rolling, gives you a fatter, multi-layered, higher croissant.
I decided to use the recipe from the challenge to make plain, rolled croissants, and a recipe by Esther McManus from my copy of Baking with Julia (one of my favorite baking books ever) I’d been planning on trying for some time, for some pain au chocolat (chocolate filled croissants) and other filled croissants. I even have this episode of Baking with Julia saved on my DVR, and I think I’ve watched it about 2 dozen times since this challenge was announced, not counting the two dozen times I’d watched it before.
This is why I couldn’t stop talking like her as I made the dough – ‘You make zee butter sit here and start beating from zee middle, kindly, but firmly.’ I wasn’t kind, and this is probably why I ended up with gaping holes of butter in my dough during my turns. Sheeet, what to do?
Let’s backtrack a bit. Esther Mcmanus’ dough contains a lot of butter. OK, that’s an understatement – try 1 lb 2 ounces of butter. Ummmmmm..alright, maybe I shouldn’t have pounded it so hard to flatten the mountain of ice-cold butter. No neat square in this recipe, just a big lump that you pound into the dough. Then again, since I was already taking my aggressions out on this dough, I forced it to roll further than it was ready to go. Esther says in the episode..
I’m not going to go any further than dees, cuz I feel it doesn’t want me to’ after the first vertical roll of the butter into the dough.
I’m the boss, and I want to get the first turn out of the way, so I don’t care what it wants or doesn’t want. I don’t want to wait 2 hours for a first turn. I knew I was screwing up, but my dough was so strong, I thought the gluten could take a little beating. I let it sit for 15 minutes, then started to roll. All went beautifully. I folded it (like a letter, of course), wrapped it, stuck it in the fridge and went about my day, deciding to let the dough rest overnight to recuperate.
ROUND, errr..Turn Two. This is when all
hell, butter broke loose. This was supposed to be a single and double turn at once, and then after another overnight rest, it would be ready for croissants! As I rolled away to get it to the proper length and width for the second turn, I started to run into little bits of butter oozing here and there. I’d patch these minor caveats up with flour and continue rolling.
As I kept lifting the dough after several rolls, adding flour beneath to keep it from sticking, I noticed butter on the marble slab. Those tiny, little nuisances were now turning into gaping holes of Paula Deen. With every crater of butter in my dough, I heard a ‘Hi Y’all!’. I was up the creek without a paddle, I had completely ruined this dough. Again, Esther’s voice echoed through my head…
If you tear eet, eeet’s no good - or something to that effect. Little holes were fine, according to Esther, but torn, gaping holes, were death. OH.NO. There was no way I was wasting 1 lb 2 ounces of Plugra. I had to think quick. I folded up my half turned mess of dough, wrapped it tight in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge, which was going to become its new home for a few days, because that’s how long it took me to come up with a solution.
Julia to the rescue! I decided to make Julia’s dough from the challenge recipe, no longer for plain croissants, but to save my bruised, battered and buttered dough. I was basically starting over.., my block of butter (beurrage) now a block of butter in dough, which in turn was wrapped in another dough, then all the turns all over again. To my delight, it worked. I had a beautiful, silky dough with not one peep from Paula. One small problem, though. The original butter battered dough had now sat for a little over a week in the fridge. The yeast had certainly weakened considerably, and the amount of yeast in Julia’s dough would not be enough to carry the load.
I formed the croissants, egg-washed them, and sprinkled them with some sea salt (I read it makes a really pretty bubbly effect on the flaky crust). I knew deep down I wasn’t going to get much oven spring, and I didn’t..but they were cute and tasty, albeit too dense. How can anything with all that butter not taste good, regardless of the texture? These are them below. ‘Feh’ comes to mind every time I look at this photo.
Naturally, I wasn’t satisfied, I wanted those big, flaky croissants I loved so much! I made another batch of Esther’s dough, this time using only 3 sticks of butter. As you can see, success. Beautiful, big, flaky seven rolled croissants, (See photo collage of croissant rolling, above - I numbered a rolled croissant to show you what I mean). Tight rolls of each 8-10 inch pulled and stretched triangle gets you 7 ‘sections’ which equals more layers and prettier croissants.
WAIT, this has all got to sound so confusing, and my collages certainly aren’t clear and easy to understand. You can see the full episode of Esther’s croissant making, with the lovely and wonderful Julia, HERE (part one) and HERE (part two). You can also see a full episode of vintage Julia making croissants, HERE.
So, here’s what I made;
- Accidental mini sea salt croissants
- Plain, rolled, croissants, although I didn’t pull the ends long enough to curve them into a classic croissant shape.
- Plain pain au chocolat
- White and dark pain au chocolat
- White chocolate – pistachio and Dark chocolate pistachio croissants (I used the almond filling recipe provided by Esther in Baking with Julia, substituting pistachios for the almonds)
- Candied bacon - Pepper Jack cheese croissants.
Candied bacon – pepper jack?? Yes, and they were amazing. Remember a while back when I told you about being a member of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker’s program? They sent me and others a $25.00 gift card to purchase a variety of Sargento cheeses, American processed cheese singles, and any other fruits, crackers and whatnot to host a ‘tasting’, comparing Sargento cheeses, such as Havarti, Provolone, and the aforementioned Pepper Jack etc..to processed American cheese singles.
Umm..are you kidding? It’s a no brainer – of course Sargento won out. I keep American cheese singles on hand for one purpose only – childhood comfort grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. I paired several of Sargento’s cheeses (they come in sticks…perfect for croissants, like the chocolate batons shown above) with candied bacon, deciding pepper jack was a phenomenal match. And there you have it..candied bacon – pepper jack croissants!
Loved this challenge, loved how my croissants turned out (especially the second batch), but I think it’s going to be a while before I make croissants again. I’m still wiping the flour off my face, the frustration off my frontal lobes, and the butter from my arteries.
Tags: Baking with Julia, blackberries, blueberries, brown sugar, chiffon cake, chocolate sauce, granola, nuts, phyllo, raspberries, raspberry coulis, sorbet, streusel, sundae, Upside down cake, whipped cream
It’s been extremely hot and humid here in NYC, on and off for the past couple weeks, so I haven’t done much baking, much less cooking in general. I had a million ideas I wanted to try, but even though the Central Air was on full blast, the humidity just seeps through the walls..no matter how thick they are. Due to that, baked goods never seem to turn out as they should, especially anything containing beaten egg whites!
When the humidity finally broke, I was out perusing the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, and came across an abundance of gorgeous berries. The raspberries, blueberries and blackberries were spectacular, so I couldn’t resist getting several pints of each. Imagine my surprise when I checked to see what the Sugar High Friday’s, run by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess, and hosted by Susan of Foodblogga this month, theme was. It was BERRIES! Talk about perfect timing! With my plump and juicy berries just waiting to be used, I toggled some different ideas through my head, and finally decided on an old standby I’ve been baking for years. It’s an Upside Down Nectarine Cake with an amazing nutty, ‘granola like’ streusel baked into the center of the cake, created by Mary Bergin, for the PBS series and book ‘Baking with Julia’ by Dorie Greenspan. However, being one to ‘rarely’ follow a recipe to a T, I always changed certain flavors and fruits, and added or subtracted to the original recipe, depending on what was in season, and what I, or others close to me, were craving or in the mood for. In this case it would be, yep..you guessed it, berries.
This recipe calls for a chiffon cake, which as most know, contains no butter, but a whole lot of beaten egg whites which are folded into a base of egg yolks, sugar, oil, flour, leavens, salt, and whatever extract or extracts the recipe calls for. Lo and Behold, as I was arranging the berries over the gooey and luscious amalgamation of brown sugar and butter in the pan, even going as far as pushing a blueberry into each raspberry to enhance the topping aesthetically, the HUMIDITY returned in full force. Due to the this, I couldn’t get the egg whites to the perfect soft peak stage to fold into the cake batter. After many unsuccessful and pointless attempts to remedy this (Weather-1 Lisa-0), I ended up folding them in as is, with liquid seeping out from what meager peaks I’d produced. I poured it off, but knew deep down it wasn’t going to cut it, and unless the humidity suddenly subsided, there was no point in starting over.
Obviously, this resulted in a far from perfect, somewhat dense and flat cake, instead of the light and fluffy cake I usually get, the lovely strip of streusel just about disappearing beneath the mess of berries, since there was not enough height in the cake to showcase it. To add insult to injury, my perfect wheel of berries, blue in red, surrounded by circles of juicy blackberries, turned into a mess of purple-blue goo as it sat out on the counter to cool. Not to mention, I accidentally used too much butter on the bottom of the pan, so I also ended up with some lovely globules of solidified fat in between the bluish goo. Oh YUM!
That said, don’t let my struggle with the weather turn you off to trying this recipe. As I mentioned above, I’ve been using it for years, with perfect results. If you buy the book, or know someone who has it, just substitute berries for the nectarines, and light brown sugar for the dark brown sugar. Serve it with creme fraiche or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
OK, ONLY due to the work I put into the cake..I must honor it a bit by posting a few photos.
OK..now I have to come up with something new for Sugar High Fridays. Wait a second, it’s hot and humid…what better than some ‘berrylicious’ ice cream or sorbet? The most humidity could do to ice cream or sorbet, is melt it, but when put together right before serving, the evil muggy monster CANNOT destroy my dessert! I decided to use some of the phyllo I had left from a chicken phyllo dish I made last week, to make berry sorbet sandwiches.
Well, it seems that evil muggy monster prevailed after all. When I opened the package of phyllo, some of the edges of the phyllo were practically glued together, making it absolutely impossible to get the amount of full sheets I needed, without tearing. YIKES..time to rethink this. Suddenly, I recalled a Gale Gand recipe where she sliced the roll of phyllo into fettuccine like strips, mounded them on a pan, spattered each mound with butter and sugar, then baked them…using them to sandwich vanilla ice cream and fruit. Thank goodness, I was saved! I rolled the phyllo back up in the paper, and started slicing away, any ‘gluey’ pieces, discarded. I ended up with a nice, fluffy bunch of separate phyllo strips aka fettuccine. I portioned the bunch of strips into 12 separate mounds, spattered with butter and sugar, but also added some ground almonds to each, for extra crunch and flavor.
For the filling..and the very berry part, I put together a luscious homemade triple berry sorbet, with a little Grand Marnier added, to keep it slightly soft and melt-in-your-mouth smooth, then lightly crushed and cut up some of the fresh berries and added those to the sorbet mixture, for texture, more flavor, and of course, it didn’t hurt aesthetically. The mixture was then chilled until it was ready to be churned and frozen in my ice cream maker. A drizzle of rich chocolate sauce, raspberry coulis, some dark brown sugar ‘softly’ whipped cream, and I had my SHF entry, Triple Berry Sorbet-Phyllo ‘Sundae’ Towers.
Phyllo ‘Fettuccine’ Nests adapted from Gale Gand in ‘Baking with Julia’ by Dorie Greenspan
- 1 half 16 oz box phyllo, thawed (1 8 oz roll)
- 1/2 cup melted butter, or clarified butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup finely ground almonds
Preheat oven to 400 F
1. Remove the phyllo from the box and bag (leave the paper around the roll). Place the roll on a cutting board and slice into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices.
2. Toss the cut phyllo to separate the strips and remove the paper. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and make nests of the strips about 3 inches in diameter. Spatter with the melted butter (if you brush it on, it flattens the fluffy ‘fettuccine’ strips into one uniform mound, which you don’t want) and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp ground almonds per nest. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. If not using immediately, let cool, then store in an airtight container, stacked between sheets of parchment or wax paper, for up to 2 days.
Makes 12 ‘nests’
Triple Berry Sorbet
- 1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries * **
- 1/2 pint fresh blackberries* **
- 1/2 pint fresh blueberries* **
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, or a berry liqueur such as Kirsch or Framboise (optional).
- Extra berries, whole, chopped or crushed to add to the sorbet prior to freezing, the amount depending on personal preference.
1. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar dissolves completely and is clear and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Do NOT overcook, as you don’t want caramel. Remove from heat, and let cool (I like to pour it into a glass measuring cup).
2. In a blender or food processor, puree the raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids with a spoon or spatula to remove as much liquid as possible (do not push the seeds through). Discard the seeds and solids.
3. Stir the cooled sugar syrup into the puree.. Add the lemon juice, and orange or berry liqueur (if using). Stir or crush in extra berries. Chill in the refrigerator until cold then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a container. Cover tightly and place in the freezer until ready to use, at least 5 hours.
You can also pour the cooled sorbet into a bowl or loaf pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze in the freezer, although I highly prefer and recommend using an ice cream maker, as the texture won’t be as soft and fluffy.
* You should have approximately 5-7 cups of mixed berries
**3 cups of fresh berries is about the equivalent to one 12-oz. bag frozen berries, thawed. Both fresh and frozen in those amounts, pureed and strained, yield 2 cups puree.
- 7 oz of good quality chocolate, chopped (milk, semisweet, or bittersweet – your preference)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl
2. Heat heavy cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan until it comes to a boil, then pour into bowl over chopped chocolate. Let sit for several minutes, then stir until uniform, smooth and silky. If you aren’t using it immediately, it will firm up a little. Just reheat over a low flame or in the microwave for a few seconds.
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon water
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 lb (8 oz) fresh raspberries, or half of one 12 ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
- 1 teaspoon Kirsch, Framboise, or Chambord (optional)
1. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes. Let cool.
2. Place the raspberries and the sugar syrup in a blender and puree. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the solids and seeds (discard those), then stir in the lemon juice, and the Kirsch, Framboise or Chambord, if using. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes about 3/4 cup of coulis.
Brown Sugar Whipped Cream (I like to place the bowl and beaters in the freezer prior to whipping the cream, so it whips up quicker).
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 to 3 Tablespoons lightly packed dark brown sugar
1. Pour heavy cream into the chilled bowl, along with the brown sugar.
2. Whip until you get soft peaks. Don’t go any further than that, as you want a soft, very slightly ‘flowing’ cream.
Berry Skewers loosely adapted from Gale Gand in Baking with Julia By Dorie Greenspan
- 4 wooden skewers, 10-12 inches in length
- 8 raspberries
- 8 blueberries
- 8 blackberries
- 1/4 cup of the raspberry coulis
Gently mix berries with the coulis, then slide two of each berry, alternating them, onto each skewer.
To serve, place a dollop of the whipped cream on four separate dessert plates. Place a phyllo nest on top of the whipped cream to secure it. Place another dollop of whipped cream on top of the phyllo nest, then a quenelle or scoop of the berry sorbet on top of the whipped cream. Top with another phyllo nest, then another dollop of whipped cream, the quenelle or scoop of berry sorbet, and finally one more phyllo nest (3 per tower). Take a berry skewer and spear it through the middle of the stack. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the whole stack, letting it fall wherever it may on the plate. Drizzle some of the raspberry coulis around the plate, and serve with the brown sugar whipped cream and extra chocolate sauce on the side.
Unfortunately, in conjunction with my lack of expertise in photography (only one photo showcased the tower as it should be, prior to morphing into the Leaning Tower of Lisa, and just my luck, it was dullest and least focused/sharp of them all, as you can see directly below this paragraph), the towers started to melt and sink into a massacre of sorbet and sauces as I was taking photos, which you can plainly see in the closeup photo, following the aforementioned blurry ones. Putting it in the freezer and trying to ‘fix’ it didn’t work out very well. However, when putting these together for service, they won’t sit around long enough to melt or keel over, and will look beautiful when presented to your guests or customers..the only melting and keeling over occurring when they dig in, and the sorbet melts on their palates.
Note -Sometimes it’s tough to get the towers to remain upright, even with the skewers through them, due to the weather and/or the smooth but icy, slippery/melty texture of the sorbet. If you have any problems, just make a berry sorbet sandwich using only two nests of phyllo, and one large scoop of sorbet, along with all the ‘fixins’. In this case, you’ll get 6 servings.
This recipe makes 4 individual sundae towers, although two people can share one, as there is more than enough on each plate for that. Not to mention, you can feel less guilty about splurging. Remember, the berry sorbet IS fat-free!