If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently. Specifically, croissants. Why? You may have asked, Why are you making so many croissants? Where are they all going? Are you just eating them all and getting really, really fat? How do you have time to keep making so many croissants?!
I’m a big believer in practice makes perfect and patience. I spent a week at the end of October working at Le Manoir in their pastry section. It was great experience and I learned loads but as I hadn’t worked for about a month and a half and this Stage came right at the tail-end of my radio-iodine treatment, I was a mess. My body felt slow and old and my brain was struggling to remember how to get my body to do what I wanted it to. At the end of my first day I drove back to the B&B I was staying in and collapsed onto my bed, still fully dressed, trying to remember why I was putting myself through this. On the second day I found myself sitting in my car during my break, on the phone to my boyfriend and crying with frustration, having spent around 2 hours that morning failing to segment grapefruit properly.
Such a small thing, right? But I wasted 9 grapefruit before anybody stopped me and it was the most awful feeling, a sense of sinking despair, right in the pit of my stomach. The excellent Chef Benoit Blin, the Head Pastry Chef, ended up giving me his knife and spending 10 minutes teaching me how to actually cut away the rind and segment properly, but even then I couldn’t do it. So when I finally went on my break, I ended up sobbing with frustration in my car – why couldn’t my brain kick into gear? Why was my body not doing what I wanted it to do? Time and time again I’ve been told that I need to give myself a break – I had just come off a month of convalescing at home by myself – and thankfully, from that point onwards I started to find my feet again as my body got back into the swing of things, remembered how to function and how it felt to work long hours and stand for most of the day – all I needed was a bit of time. It was another lesson in patience that needed to be learnt.
Needless to say, I wasn’t given the grapefruit again to segment whilst at Le Manoir, but when I came back home to London I went out, bought 20 grapefruit and spent around an hour practising until I could produce a perfect globe for segmenting. The first one looked like I had “cut it with a spoon”, according to one of my friends, but the last few? They were bloody beautiful.
So recently I found myself in limbo, waiting to hear back about jobs, jumping through HR hoops and killing time in-between interviews. I had mastered grapefruit… it was time to move on to shaping croissants. And so every day for the past couple of weeks I made a batch of croissant dough and left it to prove overnight, then, the following day, laminated it (lamination is the process of incorporating butter into dough, then rolling and folding to make layered pastries), rested, shaped, baked and put the results into a pastry box which I left outside our front door. It was a great experiment – I got to practice making pastries, the neighbours got to eat them and we even started to meet them as they popped over for a chat, or slipped a little thank you note through the door. Practice really does make perfect and a solid couple of weeks doing the same thing, over and over, just yielded better and better results.
And as for patience? Well, that’s paid off too because after waiting and holding out for a month, as of next Monday I’ll be starting my dream job, as a pastry chef at Claridge’s.
But let’s talk more about that another time, eh? I am equal parts excited/terrified/overjoyed/still in shock at the moment, but the one thing I definitely am is passionate and ready to go. Bring it on!
So here’s my croissant recipe – a few tips on making laminated pastries:
1. Everybody tells you to keep everything cold when working with laminated pastries – yes, true, but if you keep it too cold it’ll be too hard to work with and you could end up shattering your layers. Ideally you want it to be cold enough that it feels cold but still pliable, but not so cold that it’s a solid mass.
2. If your dough starts springing back when you’re rolling it out, fold it into thirds, cover it with clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for 15 – 20 mins. The gluten is getting overworked and needs to relax. Make sure you brush the excess flour off every time or you’ll end up with dry patches on your finished pastries.
3. Butter should be cold but pliable when you incorporate it – don’t let the butter go greasy or it’ll make your pastries greasy. I’ve seen a bunch of people freeze the butter and then grate to incorporate – you can do this but you need to work fast as it’ll defrost very quickly (smaller surface area, etc.). Personally I’ve never done it that way and I get great results.
4. When shaping croissants, if you let the dough rest for a while after you’ve rolled it out to the final thickness, and before you cut it into triangles, I find you get a much better shape and result. It’s much easier to shape when cold as when it starts to warm up the butter starts melting through the dough.
5. When you’ve rolled out your dough to the final thickness, trim the edges to cut away the compromised layers (make sure you don’t drag the knife or you’ll stick the layers together, lift and cut every time, or use a pizza cutter), stack them on top of each other, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate. The next day you can roll them out together and use them to make swirls for breakfast!
Finally, practice makes perfect and you need quite a bit of patience as this does take a couple of days – don’t expect them to turn out perfectly your first attempt but that’s okay, it’s just a good excuse to make them all over again.
LAMINATED PASTRY FOR CROISSANTS & SWIRLS
Adapted from Richard Bertinet/Leiths. Makes around 6 croissants and 2 – 3 swirls.
500 g strong plain flour
1 1/2 tsps salt
50 g caster sugar
20 g fresh yeast/10 g dried active yeast
125 ml full fat milk
125 ml cold water
200 g unsalted butter
FOR THE GLAZE
1 egg yolk + a dash of milk, beaten together
Make a triangle template which has a 5″ base and a 9″ point (this size will get you a much better shape)
1. Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and – if using – dried yeast. If using fresh, rub into the dry ingredients once sifted.
2. In a separate jug mix together the milk and water and beat in the egg.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry all at once and mix together quickly with a wooden spoon. When combined knead for about 6 mins or until smooth and even (ie. no dry patches, doesn’t have to be as smooth as a regular bread dough). The dough should be slightly tacky.
4. Put the dough into a lightly oiled bag, seal and leave out at room temperature for an hour to ensure the yeast is working, then put into the fridge overnight.
5. The next day, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, take the dough out and allow to come up to room temperature. Take the butter out of the fridge, place on a large piece of silicone paper, fold it over on top of the butter and use a rolling pin to bash it out to about an inch thick. Fold the butter over on itself and bash again (it should bend and not break). You want to end up with a square that’s cold but pliable and not greasy. If you need to, put the butter back into the fridge.
6. When your dough is no longer fridge cold, lightly flour a surface and quickly knock it back and shape into a tight ball, using your hands to kind of cup and tuck the dough under itself. Turn it over so that the bunched ends are facing up, then, using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the dough so that you have 4 flaps. Roll and stretch the flaps out a bit and put your cold butter square in the middle. You want the flaps to be long and wide enough to envelop the butter square, so start with one and pull it so that it completely covers over the butter, then repeat using the opposite flap and finally the last two – make sure to brush the excess flour off the surfaces as you tuck them over. You should have a little rectangular package at this point.
7. Ridge and roll your rectangular package into a long rectangle (with the short side towards you), making sure to roll in only one direction until the length is three times as long as the width, using a palette knife to keep the edges straight (tap against them with the flat side). Work quickly and lightly to make sure that you don’t tear the dough or overwork the butter. Try to keep the short ends straight and the corners at right angles – it’ll make folding and rolling much easier later.
8. When your pastry is the desired length, brush off the excess flour with a pastry brush and fold the bottom third up, then the top third over on top of it, as if you were folding a letter to fit in an envelope.
9. Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 20 – 30 mins.
10. Repeat steps 7 – 9 twice more, so that you have a total of 3 rolls and folds, then rest the pastry again.
11. The next step is to ridge and roll the pastry out to about A4 size – if the pastry won’t roll out without springing back, fold it in thirds, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for another 20 – 30 mins. Once you reach A4 size, rest for a further 20 – 30 mins in the fridge.
12. After the final rest, roll your pastry out again to about 3mm thick (be careful of going too thin, if the pastry starts to break and butter comes through you’ll be destroying your layers, which means you won’t get a good rise). When you’ve rolled the dough out, use a sharp knife to cut away all of the edges, then, using the triangle template, cut your pastry into triangles. Stack the triangles on top of each other to keep the pastry as cold as possible and cover with clingfilm to prevent it from drying out.
13. There are 2 different ways you can roll croissants up. First cut a 1 cm slit in the centre of the base, then either have the base facing towards you and, starting at the edges of the slit, use both your hands to roll away from you and out slightly until you’ve rolled the base edge up to the rest of the pastry, then roll up the centre of the triangle with one hand, lining up your point in the middle of the croissant roll; or have the base facing away from you and use both your hands to roll towards yourself and out slightly until you’ve rolled the base edge down to the rest of the pastry, then roll down the centre of the triangle with one hand, lining up your point in the middle of the croissant roll. If desired, curve the two croissant points down towards you and use your fingers to just twist them in the direction of the roll slightly (so twisting away from you) to help finish off the look. If you want to make flavoured croissants, put about a teaspoon of filling on the triangle and spread it around before you roll it up – try not to spread it to the corners of the base of the triangle or it’ll ooze out on baking.
14. To make swirls, cut the pastry into a rectangle, then spread with your desired filling and roll up like a swiss roll, starting at the short end. Cut across into roughly 1″ slices, place on baking sheet (if they got a little squished when you cut them you can sort of cup them a little with your hands to make them a bit more circular) and press down on the top with your hand lightly, then cover with clingfilm and prove.
14. Put your rolled croissants on a large baking sheet, leaving adequate space between them to rise, cover gently with clingfilm (they need to be protected to stop them from drying out, but not restricted or it’ll prevent them from rising) and allow to prove at room temperature until doubled in size. Be careful of proving them in a hot place as this will make the butter inside melt and result in greasy croissants. Depending on the room temperature your croissants could take anywhere from 30 mins – 1 1/2 hrs to prove.
15. When doubled in size, gently glaze only the non-cut sections of the croissant and the outside only of the swirls with the egg yolk glaze, being careful not to let it run down and drip onto the baking sheet (this will make the pastries stick to it during baking). Put into the preheated oven for 8 – 10 mins (do not open the oven during this time) then turn down to 180 degrees C and bake for a further 8 – 10 mins or until golden brown and baked through.
16. Remove to a wire baking tray and allow to cool, or eat warm from the oven. Enjoy!
And some fillings I’ve been using recently:
1. Pistachio frangipane and chopped pistachio
(135 g frangipane + 3 heaped tbsps of homemade pistachio paste; I spread the frangipane and sprinkle a little pistachio on top, then after glazing I sprinkle some pistachio on top and bake – this one is outrageously delicious)
2. Creme patissiere and rum soaked raisins and sultanas
3. Frangipane and flaked almonds
4. Matcha frangipane
(135 g fragipane + 1 1/2 tsps matcha powder; you can also sprinkle a little chopped pistachio on top of the frangipane if you want. I like to combine a little matcha, icing sugar and cornflour (cornflour stops the icing sugar from melting), then dust it over the top of the finished pastries for that extra matcha kick. Make sure they’re completely cool when you do this!)
So, there you go. Get practising and any questions, as always, get in touch.
Until next time, peace, love, practice & patience,