Thursday, January 2, 2014

Julia Child's Croissants from Scratch

I first wanted to make croissants from scratch about seven years ago when Martha Stewart had an article in her Living magazine.  It was pretty darn intimidating, though, and looked like it would take days upon days of intensive labor and no less then 100 lbs of butter.  Who had time for that?

Well, it turns out, croissants are not that hard.  They do take time, most of which is resting time in the fridge.  So while you do have to plan ahead to make them, they aren't going to make you sweat in your kitchen for hours on end.  And the result is definitely worth it!  If the only croissants you've had are from grocery stores or from a tube of refrigerated dough, you are in for a really, REALLY wonderful treat!  I don't think I can ever go back after having the real thing.

The night before I want these is when I do the first step, which is making the base of the dough.  You combine your flour, sugar, milk, and yeast (you don't have to proof it first-yay!) in a Kitchen Aid mixer, turn it on the highest speed, and let it go crazy for about four minutes.  The recipe says that you will likely need to add more milk a tablespoon at a time to make it come together.  The book says no more than 3 tablespoons, but I needed 4.  That could be because this is Colorado in winter and it's crazy dry here-just do what's right in your kitchen.  The dough will look lumpy and dry and tough like this picture.  This is exactly as it should be.

Take the dough, wrap it up in some plastic wrap AND in a large freezer bag, and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Then put it in your fridge for 8 hours.  (This is why it's good to do it right before bed.)

8 hours later, get out 4 1/2 sticks of cold butter.  Yes, that is a ton of butter.  But it will make your croissants super flaky and delicious.  I cut the sticks up, then put them in my Kitchen Aid.  It is weird to beat cold butter and somewhat unintuitive for someone who uses softened butter for cakes, but I think it is a little like pie crust where you need  it to be chilled in order to get flaky layers.  Turn your mixer on the highest setting, and let it beat the butter into oblivion for 2 minutes.  When it's done make sure there are no lumps.  Scrape all the butter out onto your counter, shape it into an oval disc 6-7 inches long and 1 inch thick.  Wrap it up in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge or freezer.  I did the freezer because I would be using it within a few minutes and wanted to make sure it had a chance to get cold again.  If you need to wait awhile to continue to the next step, just keep it in the fridge.

Take out your dough, and roll it out to a 10X17 rectangle.  This is pretty hard, because the dough was surprisingly tough!  Don't worry about that, it turns out perfectly.

Once the dough is rolled out, get out your butter disc, unwrap it, and place it right in the middle of the dough.

Wrap the edges of the dough around the butter like an envelope.  This is, in fact, called a Butter Envelope.

Once it's all wrapped up, take your rolling pin and beat the crap out of it.  Something I've noticed about Julia Child is that she's pretty rough with her cooking.  And it's awesome and fun.  So beat, beat, beat that dough.  (At this point in the process, my husband came running into the room, thinking one of our kids were playing basketball in the kitchen.  It was just me trying to flatten the butter.)  The butter might bust out, and that's OK.  Just press the dough back together with your hands.  Beat the dough until it's about 14X6 inches.  Wrap it back up and put in the fridge to chill to become manageable again.

An hour or so later, take out the dough and roll it into a rectangle that is 24X14 inches.  This goes pretty smoothly since the butter helps the dough spread out.

Then fold it into thirds like a letter.  Wrap it up, and chill it for two hours.

One thing that I think is important here is that you don't rush the resting/chilling periods.  If you have to leave and can't take the dough out exactly two hours later, it's fine to leave it in longer.  The thing you can't do, though, is take it out early.  It is really important that the dough gets that time to rest and mature.

Two hours later, take the dough out with the 14 inch side facing you (or going from left to right).  Do not unfold it.  Roll the folded dough out into a 24X14 inch rectangle.  This part is cool, because you can see the flakes of butter beginning to form in the layers of flour!  It's quite pretty.

When it's the correct size, fold it in thirds again and refrigerate for another two hours.  You'll do this step one more time.

Every time you roll out the dough and fold it, it is called a "turn".  You will need to do a total of three turns in the process.  Each time you turn the dough, you will roll it out in the opposite direction as the time before, and without unfolding it.  So always roll it out with the 14 inch side being horizontal (left to right) from you, and roll it to become the longer side of the rectangle, if that makes sense.  This is how you get layers and layers of flour and butter.

I seriously never knew that before making these.

On your third turn, after rolling the dough out into the 14X24 rectangle, fold it into thirds again like you did before.  Then fold it up again, like a book.  This is called a "wallet'.  Wrap it up and chill for another two hours.

When it's time to roll this out, Julia suggests cutting it in half to make it easier. Look at all of those layers!  Pretty cool.

I'm not going to lie-this part takes some muscle.  The dough is cold, and you are really going to have to use some elbow grease to get it rolled out.  Make sure you keep your counter well floured, and make sure you check periodically to ensure the dough isn't sticking. 

Now cut out some triangles.  I used my pizza cutter.  

Then stretch them out, thinning them a little at the edges.

And roll them up, starting with the long edge and in towards the point.

And voila, you have some lovely croissants!  

These need to rise for four hours.  She suggests keeping them in your cold oven with a pan of steamy water.  I did this and it worked like a charm.  I got big, fat, risen croissants and the smell of the yeast in the bread was heavenly.

Brush with an egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water), then bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes.  Let them get crusty and golden brown on the tops.  

And then enjoy every single bite!  See how light and well risen they are on the inside?  Perfect.  And while time consuming, totally worth it.


    1      ounce         fresh yeast
    3 1/2  cups          flour, unbleached all purpose
      1/3  cup           Sugar
    2      teaspoons     Salt
    1      cup           Milk 
    4 1/2  sticks        unsalted butter-1 lb 2 oz

Problems and Lessons Learned:

While I overall found the recipe easy to follow and simple (but time consuming), I did encounter some issues and learned a few things.

  • First is that in Baking With Julia, there is an illustration that shows how to fold up the croissants.  This occurs after the third turn.  Julia rolls out the dough into the 14X24 rectangle, then folds the dough in half, and then cuts the triangles into the folded dough.  Then she cuts all the triangles in half.  I did this, as you can see in these photos.  What happened is that I got a bunch of little croissants.  And while I guess that's OK, I really wanted large, bakery worthy ones.  So for my second batch, I did as I described above and just cut large, single triangles and didn't fold the dough in half before cutting.

  • The second issue I had was that she says you should make a small dough ball to "fluff" the croissants in the center before you roll them up.  This would make the center of the croissant nice and high.  I didn't like how these turned out in my first batch - the dough balls were noticeable to the point I could pick them out and they didn't bake as well either.  They were doughy and thick, not light and flaky.  On my second batch I left them out and it was a big improvement!
  • Third, during the rising, it's important to do it as Julia instructs - in your cold oven with a steamy pan of water in with it.  The first time my oven was otherwise occupied so I left them on the counter and covered them with cloth.  The croissants didn't rise and well and didn't get as flaky as my second batch.
  • Lastly, the recipe calls for 1 ounce of fresh yeast.  I don't have that, so I used the 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dried yeast and it worked just perfectly.

And I think that's about it.  Good luck, be patient, and enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Popovers on a rainy day

I have seen popover pans in Williams Sonoma since forever.  The picture on the front of them looked scrumptious and pillowy.  (In reality, they are hollow and almost crepe like on the outside.  They remind me a little of sopapillas, yet a little crunchier.)  I can't believe I have gone my whole life without eating them!

It's been a few years before I have thought about making them, but the other day a friend stopped by and asked me if I ever made them because hers were suddenly not rising.  We both blamed the altitude, and I suggested that maybe it was her oven temperature, and then she offered to lend me her pans to try them out myself.  Um, yes!  Of course that sounded like an excellent idea!

My favorite thing about these is their simplicity.  There is a beauty of something that only takes a handful of ingredients and hardly any steps yet turns out so perfectly.

From what I have read, room temperature ingredients are very important.  To bring your milk up to the right temperature, just microwave it for about 30 seconds.  For the eggs, soak them in a warm bowl of water for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425.

Take all of your ingredients-flour, eggs, milk, melted butter, and salt-and put them in a blender.  Blend briefly until everything is combined.

This is what mine looked like.  As you can see, there were some tiny lumps still in the batter.  

Don't try to mix or blend these out because it will make the batter tough.  Instead, pour the batter through a strainer.   

And then, just pour 1/3 cup of the batter into each cup in the popover pan.

Put the pan on the lowest rack in the oven and bake at 425 for 25 minutes.  Then lower the temperature down to 350 for an additional 15 minutes.  Now this is very important:  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR.  It messes with the circulation of air that makes the popovers airy and puffy.  Opening the door with make them deflate.

Follow these simple steps and this is what you will get.

Everywhere I have read says that you need to eat them immediately.

Which really shouldn't be a problem.  Crack one open, and see how all the steam escapes from their hollow insides.

And then let some butter melt on it,

or if you want, honey too.

The book says these need to be eaten immediately.  Or they can be wrapped and frozen, then reheated for 15 minutes.  But they will never taste as good as they do right out of the oven.

Problems with Leavening

Back to my friend's original problem of her popovers not rising.  This recipe turned out beautifully.  They rose just like they should and were tender and hollow and delicious.  

Out of curiosity, my husband tried a recipe out of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.  Beranbaum is THE reason I became a baker.  I have all her books, and she is who sparked my interested in baking almost ten years ago.  Her recipes are sometimes unbearably fussy and precise.   They are almost always worth it.

Anyway, my husband tried her recipe and it didn't work as well.  The popovers didn't rise as fully and were more dense.  There were a couple of differences:

1.  The ingredients are to be put together cold.
2.  There are only two eggs.  

Could that be the reason for the failure to rise?  I do think that without any other leavening ingredients in the recipe, that the three eggs do all the heavy lifting in that department.  I also suspect that the extra egg is why my popovers were light and airy while my husband's were more dense.

Regardless, they were both pretty tasty.  Nice experiment for a rainy day, in any case!

Popover Pan VS Muffin Tin

Does it really make a difference?  Yes, it does!  Popover pans have the cups farther apart from each other, which allows for more air circulation around each popover.  Muffin tins are all close and crowded together, so you won't get the same result.  I have read that if you need to you can fill a muffin tin, but only fill every other one for a total of six in each tin.  

Julia Child's Popovers
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk (room temperature)
3 large eggs (room temperature)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs melted butter

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pumpkin Bread

This week has been unseasonably (and historically) rainy here in Boulder.  Along with that, it has been pretty chilly with dark, looming skies.  A lot of us are stuck inside, and the schools are closed, which means my little ones are home for the foreseeable future.  So:  cold, rainy, flooding, school cancelled.  I think we need a little warmth and brightness, and this spicy pumpkin bread would help at least a little bit!  

This is not a Baking with Julia recipe, I should note.  Julia's pumpkin bread takes over 24 hours to make and we need comfort food now!  This recipe is one of my own that my lovely-about-to-be-married cousin shared with me several years ago and is a regular part of our autumn arsenal.  It's spicy and sweet, and I top it off with my cream cheese frosting that is always everyone's favorite.  It's hard to not let everyone eat both loaves at once.

Heat your oven to 350.

Take 1 cup of vegetable oil (I actually used olive oil because I don't usually have vegetable oil around.  And thinking about it, I'm sure that coconut oil would be awesome, too) and mix it with two cups of sugar in your mixer.  Mix well.

Next I just put in two cups of flour, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt and mix it lightly to just barely combine.  I don't sift them, or fuss with them, or anything.  I just put it in and it works great.  

The eggs should be room temperature when you use them.  When I don't plan in advance and have not left my eggs out, I bring their temperature up by soaking them in a warm bowl of water for 5-10 minutes.  It works like a charm!

I then put in the eggs one at a time, beating until combined, and follow with the 2 teaspoons of vanilla.  

I finish it off by putting in one can of pumpkin, which again I mixed just until combined well.  I like to also use a rubber spatula to go around the edges of the bowl to make sure no flour is sticking and not incorporating.  I give the spatula a few gentle turns.

Butter two loaf pans.  I have recently started doing this by hand instead of using the spray.   Personally, I don't want the chemicals and artificial things in my baked goods.  It usually only takes two or three minutes longer to butter and flour the pans yourself, and how much better will everything taste with melted butter on it, as opposed to soybean oil/silicone dioxide spray?

Pour in the batter and let these guys bake for about 50 minutes.  

Let them cool in their pans for 10 minutes before turned them out, then let them cook on wire racks.  It took mine a couple of hours to cool completely, but let them get to room temperature before putting on the frosting.

For the frosting, take one stick of room temperature butter, one container of cream cheese (also room temp) and beat well.  If you don't want to leave out your cream cheese to get to room temperature, soak it the same way as the eggs, keeping it in it's foil wrapper.  

Add about four cups of powdered sugar, and again, beat well.  Take your spatula and go around the inside of the bowl to get any sugar sticking to the sides.  Add about a tablespoon of vanilla, mix it in, and you're done!  This is the BEST frosting on the planet.

When the cakes are cooled, slice them in half and then spread with frosting.

Reassemble, and frost the tops, too.

This will keep for several days in the fridge, if your family doesn't get too tempted by them just waiting there for them.

Enjoy!  And enjoy the coming autumn!

Pumpkin Bread
2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves 
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil combine with electric mixer
4 eggs 
2 tsp vanilla 
1 15oz can of pumpkin 

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 Stick of butter
1 Container of Cream Cheese 
4 cups of Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fresh Fig and Raspberry Crostata

 The past couple of weeks I have seen little baskets full of fresh figs at Whole Foods.  For some reason, I have never in my life bought figs before.  Or even noticed them.  Maybe it's because I don't shop in stores that carry them?  Or maybe I just glaze over because I have no idea what I would do with them?  (Which is a lie, because I have totally been thinking about making a blue cheese, fig, and bacon pizza.)  Anyway, this year I have been wanting to use them in some kind of dessert when I came across this crostata.

Crostata apparently means "tart" in Italian.  Now you know.

The crust is made from sesame seeds and almonds, which sounded really unusual and is for sure something I have never made and maybe never tasted.  The book describes it as tasting like a Linzer cookie, and I have to say it is so incredibly good.  Nom nom nom.

Take 1/2 cup of sesame seeds and 3/4 cup of unblanched almonds and toast them.  I let mine get a little brown until they smelled deeply rich and nutty.  When brown, remove them from the pan so they don't continue cooking and let them cool.

While waiting for them to cool, mix two eggs with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

And mix the other dry ingredients.

When the almonds and sesame seeds are cooled, mix them in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Mix only until the almonds are coarsely chopped, but not enough that it starts to turn oily and into almond sesame butter (although admittedly that sounds kind of awesome).

With your Kitchen Aid mixer with a paddle attachment, add the flour mixture and the sesame seeds and mix the dry ingredients together.

Then add two sticks of butter and the eggs and vanilla.  Beat until the butter is in small pieces.  It's OK if there are still some small chunks in the dough because you will work them out when you knead it.

Turn out the dough and knead it.  Cut it into two uneven halves (the smaller half will be for the lattice crust).  Chill it until you need to use it-this doesn't seem to be a traditional crust where everything needs to be ice cold before baking it.

Now for the filling!  Wash and dry the fruit.

Cut off the stems of the figs and then cut figs into quarters.

Add half the figs and raspberries to a sauce pan along with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest and one tablespoon of butter and let simmer.  The fruit will release their juices and come to a boil ( it will probably splatter all over your stove top, just like it did on mine), making a very sweet jam.  You will need to counter balance the sweetness with some fresh squeezed lemon juice to add some dimension.  Just do this to your personal preference. 

Bring out the larger half of the dough.  When you unwrap it, it will smell sweet and buttery and nutty.  Yum!  Put it on a floured piece of wax paper.  Roll it out.  The dough is very soft and cookie like.  It will stick to the rolling pin, so go ahead and flour the pin as well.

And then gently drop it into the pie dish.  If it tears, just piece it back together with the warmth of your hands.  Also, as a side note, the recipe actually calls for a tart pan.  I'm not a huge fan of my tart pan and decided a pie dish would work perfectly fine.  Which it did.

Take out the smaller half of your pie crust, roll it out, and cut into strips for the lattice top. 

Weave the strips on the top of the pie. (FYI, I took all the left over scraps of the dough and cut them into squares, baked them at 350 for 10 minutes, and served them as cookies.  They tasted just like shortbread.)   Egg wash the lattice strips, and then sprinkle with sugar.

Take the assembled pie and chill in the fridge for at least thirty minutes.  You can leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours before baking, if you need to.  But who can wait that long?

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  The filling should be bubbling and the crust a pretty golden color.  I really love using my pie crust protector, because it keeps those mercurial outer edges from burning.  

We served the pie warm with a scoop of melty vanilla ice cream.  Because is there anything really better than that?

My almost ten year old was a big fan of this pie.  "Tastes like I'm in heaven," he said as he tucked in.  Agreed.  

Sesame Almond Dough
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup unblanched almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Raspberry Fig Crostata
3/4 pound fresh figs
3/4 pound fresh raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Lemon juice

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