Today I am conquering a fear. You see, about a year ago, Walker’s sister Liz opened up a fabulous cafe up in Michigan, where, among many other things, she makes the most fabulous croissants. Liz told me that she’d originally gotten the recipe out of Tartine’s cookbook, and so I immediately went out and bought it.
I flipped to the page where the croissant recipe began and to my horror, it was a five page recipe. Five pages! I knew croissants were time consuming and Liz had said it was roughly a three day process, but it never occurred to me that a recipe might take five whole pages to explain!
Well I got all the way to day three, following the book’s directions all the way through, except I misread the directions for laminating the dough. Laminating is the process of smearing softened butter between layers of dough, in order to produce the flaky pastry. Because there is so much water in butter, as it bakes, the water will turn into steam, puffing up dough. It turns out I misread the directions (it’s moments like this that I am confused by the fact I ever obtained a college degree), and instead of laminating once with 5 sticks of butter, I laminated three times, each time using one third of the total amount of butter.
And really, that should have been not the biggest disaster in the world. That is, if I hadn’t been using our oven in Beijing. While it was a very good oven, it was also a very small oven. so small that a piece of the wax paper must have touched the sides and because the butter was oozing out due to my over-excited lamination, it dripped over onto the heating element of the electric oven, which in turn lit the wax paper on fire. On fire.
I mean flames, licking my beautiful (if over laminated) croissants. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was lucky that Walker was at home with me for this particular kitchen disaster. He ran over and threw a pot full of water on the flames.
So now I had charred, soggy croissants, and one disgusting mess of an oven.
Later we also learned that you weren’t supposed to throw water on a grease fire, but instead it was much safer to smother it with flour. Oh well. I guess you live and you learn. And if you’re me, you buy a fire extinguisher, stay very far away from making your own croissants, and stick to buying croissants from one of Beijing’s bajillion Starbucks.
But then I learned that Liz’s boyfriend was helping her make them at the cafe. Okay, I had a terrible experience that first time, but surely if he could do it, I could, right? Right? Oh, but I was still too nervous to try it. You laugh but you should have seen that fire! It certainly had me spooked.
When I went to Raleigh a few weeks ago, it also happened to overlap with a trip Liz was making to Raleigh. She had broken her foot and so had been out of the kitchen for a while, but I was dying for her to teach me the trick to her croissants. We met up in the morning and she taught me to make the dough. I took notes and pictures at every step of the way.
(The pictures in this post are my notes that I’m sharing with you, so that we can compare our croissants at every step of the way.) Then at night, I came back and she taught me to laminate the dough. Once. Just once, and not three times.
After completing the dough’s first turn, she went and rested her foot. Every 20 minutes or so we would change the frozen blueberries which had begun to thaw to frozen peas, and I would go do another turn for the dough. We finally had the plaque finished, with all three turns completed, and it was already 9 o’clock. Rolling out the dough was such a workout!
Though I didn’t go over the next morning to help roll out the croissants, I think I can follow the book’s directions there. So I will be trying to recreate Liz’s steps for the next two days, again taking pictures all the way.
Liz says the dough will keep in the fridge for a day or the freezer for a week, so I am going to try to make this recipe work for a few days, just by keeping unused triangles of croissant dough in the freezer until time to proof them.
I hope you’ll suspend your disbelief as I am suspending mine, and follow me through this three day trial-by-fire (ha!). Hopefully at the end we will have beautiful flaky croissants! We shall see!