Saturday, November 24, 2007

Shake and Flake

Okay, that photo isn't nearly as sharp as it should be and I do apologize. It's just that the croissant was as good as it should be and I was probably quivering in anticipation of ravishing it's flaky magic before too much more time passed me by. That's because this is a homemade croissant -- something I have never before even wanted to attempt -- and although it doesn't achieve the Fast in my F.E.D. requirements, it certainly manages Easy and Delicious quite handily.

This all began yesterday when I was contemplating what to do with the T-Day leftovers. I don't know about y'all but I've found it to be true that the leftovers are often tastier than the original dish. I have been known to make the original just so I could do the leftover part. And I was thinking a hot chicken sandwich with dressing and cheddar cheese sauce on a croissant would be really fine and wonderful. There are two problems with that. One: Lee doesn't carry croissants at the market and, two: croissants are terribly messy to eat.

Yes they are. Think about it. You have this wonderfully, incredibly flaky bit of bread nirvana to consume. And you do. And when you look around, you see at least 37% of it has flaked off in your plate, on the table and in your lap. Croissants, along with phyllo dough, are the dandruff factories of the bread world. They shed themselves everywhere. And you certainly don't want to waste a single rich and delicious flake so you lick your finger and dab at all those loose little tender-crispies and you lick them off your finger and dab some more. At some point in the process, you look up and everyone in the cafe is staring at you.

Maybe it was the frantic moaning as you were lickin' and dabbin'?

Anyway, just for winks and giggles, I cruised around checking different croissant recipes. All of them seemed to require a great deal of effort and a huge amount of butter. Recipes using the muscle of a stand mixer showed some promise that made me pay closer attention. Then I found a croissant recipe geared specifically to the mighty bread machine. That got my attention. The fact that it only required a stick and a half of butter made me really check it out. "By golly," I said to myself, "I think this is doable."

I wish, now, I'd taken pictures as I went along. In case y'all have never done this, either, pictures are helpful. I'll try to verbally visualize everything for you, okay?

In the bread machine, put 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1 1/2 teaspoons shortening, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3 cups flour and 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast. Put it on the dough setting for French bread, which will knead it for 25 minutes (awesome!) and let it rise for 75 minutes. At least, that's the drill on my Regal Kitchen Pro. I'm sure your bread machine is quite similar.

When the dough cycle is done, you'll want to dump it out onto a lightly floured surface. I have a small sifter I use for this sort of thing -- a little bit on the work surface and a little bit over the dough, just so we don't stick to each other. Pat out the dough in a rectangle shape and place it in a greased 9x13" (or similar) pan, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it in the freezer for one hour.

After the freezer treatment, I used a wide spatula to remove the dough from the pan, then flopped it onto the lightly floured surface and rolled it out in a rectangle that was maybe 1/2 an inch thick. The dough was surprisingly easy to roll, even after it had been in the freezer. But the rest periods throughout this process "relax" the dough so it's easier to work with.

Now you take your cold butter -- 1 1/2 sticks -- slice it into thin patties and lay the patties out in the center third of the rectangle. Leave a bit of a margin at the edges because you don't want butter squirting out when you're rolling the dough. Fold one side of the rectangle over the butter in the middle. Then fold the other side over that, like you're folding a letter to stuff in an envelope. Press and pat a bit with your hands, then take the rolling pin and gently roll out the rectangle shape again. Repeat the fold and roll-out process until you've done it three times.

Now you can put the folded loaf of dough into a covered container or a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for one hour. Be sure to leave room for expansion because the dough will rise a bit, even in the cold. The idea, of course, is to keep dough and butter chilled and to allow the dough to relax for easier handling.

When the hour is up, once again do the roll and fold routine for the three sets. Take your time. No need to hurry, nor is there any requirement for muscle. Just a gentle, persistent rolling pin attack. Then back into the plastic bag and the refrigerator for 2 hours this time. (I don't know why two instead of one. That's what the recipe says.)

When you bring the dough out this last time, you're supposed to roll out a rectangle that ends up only 1/8" thick. That's a thick that's mighty thin. I suppose I could have done it but there was an impressive sheet of dough when it was still -- I dunno -- at least 1/4" thick and I decided that was close enough for government work.

Okay. I could have gone two ways on cutting out the long triangles to make the croissants. I could have run a horizontal cut the length of the rectangle, dividing it in half, and then do the vertical and diagonal cuts. That would have given me 16 smaller croissants. I chose to go for the bigger dudes because, remember, I had a hot chicken sandwich in mind somewhere at the end of this adventure. So I pulled out my trusty pizza cutter -- which is the most efficient way I can think of to cut raw dough -- and I cut my rectangle (which had the length running from side-to-side) in half on the vertical. Then I cut each half in half, also on the vertical. That gave me four rectangles that have the long sides going bottom-to-top instead of side-to-side. Now I take the pizza cutter and run it diagonally from the lower right-hand corner of each rectangle to the upper left-hand corner. (Lefties will probably do it in the opposite direction.)

Cool. Now I have 8 long triangles. I also have some mozzarella cheese. It isn't called for in the recipe but I couldn't resist cutting 8 little bars of cheese that would fit comfortably at the base of each triangle, tucked into the beginning of the roll up to the tip. Hey! You know it is impossible for me to comfortably do a recipe exactly as given. I would go into some kind of trauma. Anyway, that's the explanation for what's oozing out of the croissant above. They didn't all ooze but some did. No problem.

Because I was so engrossed in rolling up the little mozza sticks in the dough, I completely forgot I was supposed to whisk up one egg and brush the dough with it before I even cut it into triangles. Oops. You can do that if you want. It's supposed to give the croissants that nice shiny brown glaze. If I remember next time, I'll probably give it a shot.

When you place the rolls on a greased cookie sheet, be sure to have the point of the triangle on the bottom or you will cook up some wildly phallic specimens. You're supposed to curve them into a horn shape at this point but I didn't cut the triangles wide enough so mine are more like crescent rolls. Not a problem. We're thinking sandwich, not horny. Cover the rolls with wax paper or a cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in size. Gently brush with the beaten egg mixture (which I didn't do) and bake at 375 degrees fairy height until golden brown. There was no time given in this recipe so I took a wild guess. Twenty minutes seemed to work fine.

The croissants? Oh my. They're not like what you'd get in the store and I'm sure they're not what you'd get at a sidewalk cafe in gay Paree. This version comes out like a cross between the ultra-flaky incarnation and the lightest dinner roll you can imagine. There were still lick and dab flakes to clean up but not nearly as many as with a full-bore croissant. I think I ended up with the best of both worlds -- light and fluffy and fragrant and flaky -- but not too much of any of it. As Goldilocks said, "Mmmm-mmmm. This is just right!"

Here's a close-up, so you can see it really is beautifully flaky. I still haven't done the sandwich, though. Got too full, doing my quality control testing. Not to worry. Sometime this afternoon or evening, it will be sandwich time. Oh yes indeedy!


The Old Guy said...

That wonderful phrase, "Close enough for government work" must go back a long way. My grandfather used it often in his butcher shop, I'm told, and passed it on down to my dad, who used it a LOT when putting together our prefabricated cottage in northern Ontario. I always wondered why the place was so drafty: know I know: he used too much butter between the shinges. Thanks for the remembrance, Dee.

Dee said...

That cracks me up, Bill! Strangely enough, I don't think I ever heard the phrase until -- I dunno -- sometime in the seventies? Eighties? It does fit a multitude of situations, doesn't it?

Kate said...

Oh YUM! And why don't I have a bread machine?!

bonnie said...

Tell Kate she can have my machine. Haven't used it in years. Everytime I read here I'm gonna drag it out then I remember...carbs!

(so nice of blogger to throw up two comment things again.)

Mage And George said...

You are amazing, Dee. If you stand quietly for a moment, you can hear me aplauding.