In search of the perfect croissant…

29 Aug

(***Health Warning! The following recipes were cooked by trained professionals under strict safety conditions. Suppers From Scratch cannot take responsibility for any pastry induced cardiac arrests.  Do not attempt unless you plan to neutralize the copious amounts of butter with a strict exercise regime!***) 

So last week in my perfect French bliss I enrolled on a one day veinnoiserie course.  I was going to learn to make the perfect Croissants, Pain au Chocolat and Pain au Raisin.

I arrived with a gleam in my eye hopeful of what I would produce and learn, certain my linguistic skills would suffice (I had my mother – or as regular readers may know her, ‘The Oracle’ – as a guest translator so I wasn’t worried) and intrigued to watch the inner workings of a professional baker. It felt like it was the start of something even bigger than the project I have already embarked on this year.

Le Couvent, the bakery that runs this exquisite course, are considered to have the best bread in the area, and if you know the French and their bread you can understand why I was excited to be deep in the heart of this prestigious boulangerie, ready to learn.

However, my dreams were soon to be dashed as Henri Poch, the chief boulanger, announced it takes at least 10 attempts to make a good croissant. Now as you already know I have had my first try and as a result was expecting to produce some professional standard croissants. However it was not to be.

Nonetheless I was still in France, learning from the best on how to make veinnoiserie pastry and I wasn’t going to give in on my dream of the perfect croissant and so it began…..

We were welcomed into the kitchen, although it was more of a workshop, I felt once again like a kid in candy store, with mixers, flour, ovens and work surfaces all ready to prepare the good stuff – bread, pastry and other baked delights. It was truly inspiring, the joy of cooking in a kitchen I would akin to the Sistine Chapel of baking was indescribable.

The only problem so far… My linguistic skills. I knew that Henri was spouting forth golden secrets on how to achieve the perfect croissant but unfortunately most of this font of knowledge was going straight over my head. I 100% recommend this course, and if you are anywhere near Ille-sur-Têt go and do it… but brush up on your French before you do. I’m afraid your stereotypical “bonjours” and “voulez-vous” won’t get you far when an avalanche of bakery specific vocab comes your way in a harsh Catalan twang!

Thankfully The Oracle was keeping me firmly on track so we must credit her translation skills as key to my croissants looking any where near delicious.

Right, let’s jump in. This recipe differs from the ones I found online when I was making my first attempt so I will tell you now I think this is the definitive croissant recipe online in English. Now put that in your buttery filled pipe and smoke it!

Veinroissire pastry for Croissant, Pain Au Chocolat and Pain Aux Raisin

Ingredients

(This makes about 12-18 croissants)

500g of T45 Flour (I am still unsure about what type of flour this is in England but I will do some research and get back to you, for now I would go with plain white)

60g Sugar

10g salt

250-300g water

15g Yeast

And if you want up to 20g butter softened

Then 250g Butter for the rolling (yes, it really is 250g – see health disclaimer above!)

1 egg (for an egg wash)

Method

Two important things to note

  1. The best way to prepare this is to make it the afternoon or night before and leave it wrapped in the fridge overnight
  2. To get the best pastry, the flour + water + ambient temperature should = 60 C (so if it is 15 degrees then your flour and the air will add up to 30 so the water should 30 degrees)

With those tips in mind here is the method:

  1. Combine dry ingredients and softened butter in a bowl being careful to make sure the yeast is crumbled into a different section than the salt and sugar
  2. Slowly add the water and bring the mixture together
  3. Knead until smooth, then wrap this up in cling film making sure there are no gaps and refrigerate overnight
  4. Et voila, your pastry is done – go to sleep dreaming of the beautiful croissants you’re going to make tomorrow
  5. Wake up – and really wake up because the rolling takes some thought and physical exertion
  6. Get your pastry out with a bit of flour underneath it, and with a rolling pin bash your 250g of butter into a square
  7. Next roll out your pastry so the butter is the same width, place your butter in the middle and fold the two pieces either side over. This is your first fold
  8. Turn the pastry 45 degrees and roll out into a long strip
  9. Now depending on how cold your pastry is you can either turn it 45 degrees and do the fold, or pop it back in the fridge to cool down again – cold pastry is an absolute must!
  10.  Once out of the fridge roll out and fold again
  11. Then turn 45 degrees and do a special fold where one side is a small fold the other end comes to meet it and then its folded over again- the original small fold should now be in the centre of the pastry
  12. Now turn 45 degrees and rollout the pastry until its about 15-18 cms wide and about 4mms thick – this normally makes 18-20 croissants
  13. Now to cut your croissants take off the end at an angle and cut triangles along the sheet, for pain au chocolat simply cut rectangles and for pain au raisin you quite simply use the leftovers made into a slightly larger rectangle
  14. To roll your croissants make a small cut at the base of the triangle and simply roll up
  15. For pain au chocolat place 2 sticks of chocolate about 1cm apart near to the top of our rectangle and roll
  16. For pain au raisin you need to make crème patissiere cover the rectangle in this, scatter raisins, then roll it up and simply slice off wheels, slightly undo one corner and squash down
  17. And there you have it – your beautiful patisserie ready to rise
  18. Place them on a baking tray (make sure the point from the triangle is facing upwards as this is the part that will rise the most) with room between them, egg wash them (using a whole egg) and leave them to rise at room temperature for 1.30 to 2 hrs
  19. Give them a second coat of egg wash and pop them in a preheated oven at 180C for 12-15 mins  (watch them closely as you may have to turn your baking sheet to ensure they all cook evenly)

And that’s it, the only challenge left is to allow them to cool enough before you eat them so you don’t burn your tongue – with the aroma of freshly baked croissants in the air that’s quite difficult.

Due to the hot day and rapidly melting butter I only managed to get 6 croissants, 6 pain au chocolat, and 2 pain raisin out of my pastry but I was delighted.

They weren’t quite up to the standard of Henri Poch and Le Couvent but give me 8 more attempts and I will get there! Still, a few hours work and I’d concocted breakfast and elevenses for four people for a week! Buttery.

The master. The apprentice. And the finished article.

As I sat happily munching down a pain au chocolat in 30 degree heat, surrounded by mountains of flour in this truly idyllic workspace, I decided life couldn’t get much better, and I was definitely on the path to achieve the holy grail that is the perfect croissant – and what fun it’s going to be! 🙂

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One Response to “In search of the perfect croissant…”

  1. bigjulesandharry 30/08/2011 at 7:51 pm #

    This. Is. Amazing.

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