I have a problem when it comes to complicated, days-long baking projects. As you may have noticed, I can't seem to take on enough of them. I want to better understand ingredients. I want to master techniques. I want to be challenged in the kitchen. I want to be awestruck. So last week, when I found out that two of my classes wouldn't be in session that week, I decided, naturally, that I would use the free time to get ahead in my reading and make some croissants.
I'd wanted to tackle croissants for a while. You should know by now how I feel about buttery, flaky things, and croissants are pretty much the pinnacle of buttery and flaky. I'd just been putting it off because I knew that it would be an especially demanding project and that there was plenty that could go wrong. But with two days in a row clear of commitment, it was time. Hello, Tartine Bread croissants.
I ran into problems from the start, and these just compounded as the process went on. First, the sheer amounts of flour, milk, leaven (sourdough starter), and poolish (a similar mixture of flour, water, and commercial yeast) that went into the croissant dough made it really difficult to pull together. The biggest mixing bowl in my kitchen could barely contain it all (I should have foreseen this). And this led to a dough that wasn't evenly hydrated and rather lumpy (I should have mixed it more instead of rushing it). I tried fixing this by giving the dough a few more turns in the bowl during bulk fermentation, but that just overdeveloped the gluten in the dough. So when it came time to rolling it out and laminating in the butter, rolling was a huge struggle and led to tears in the dough.
So I was pretty sure that the croissants were doomed. Croissants, after all, are only as wonderful as they are because of their buttery, flaky layers. And to get those layers, what you do is pound cold butter into a pliable slab, encase that slab completely in the croissant dough, and then repeatedly fold the dough onto itself as you would a letter and roll it out again. When the butter hits the oven, it creates steam, and all of those lovely layers you made separate: buttery, flaky heaven. (How cool is that?) But, of course, if your dough tears repeatedly like mine did, the butter escapes, and you lose those layers. But I was already a day in at that point, so what could I do? I held my breath and hoped (and fretted and fretted some more).
It all turned out all right. My croissants had buttery, flaky layers aplenty. We ate the first few in a matter of seconds, leaning over the kitchen sink to catch all the buttery shards. They weren't perfect, mind you--not quite airy enough, a little too chewy--but they were satisfying, a good first attempt, anyway.
These croissants definitely won't be the last I make. I want croissants that will transport me to Paris. So, if you have a favourite formula or a tip or two for me, I'm listening. (Though I still love Tartine Bread for its country loaf, its croissant directions weren't always clear--some of them even conflicted with what was going on in the accompanying photographs.) Tell me what I should be doing or what else I might be doing wrong. Really, I want to know!
P.S. I really have to thank my friend, Freerk, for responding to my frantic messages about my poor torn croissant dough so promptly and with such kindness. Thank you for the reassurances!