Like many breads, the history of croissants are just legends and tales. Supposedly, croissants were first created in Vienna in 1683. The Ottoman troops had successfully invaded Vienna for the second time. The enemy came to attack stealthily at night, but the Viennese bakers warned the Ottoman troops about the pending attack. The Ottoman troops prevented the attack and there was tremendous celebration. The bakers created a horchen (small horn) which was in the shape of a crescent moon, like that on the Ottoman flag. If that’s too far-fetched, another tale is that Marie-Antionette made croissants (as well as brioche) popular in France in the late 1700s.

More likely, a cake in a crescent shape was created in the mid 1500s, and served at a royal banquet. They gained popularity from there, and are essential to every breakfast in France.

Croissants are a cross between pastry and bread. They use an enriched dough which is laminated, or folded, with butter. This creates layers of dough and butter, which creates a flaky, rich result. Croissant dough is very similar to puff pastry, except that it uses yeast.

For spring break I flew out to California to visit my brother, Evan. We both were excited to try out some new recipes. The choice came down to two: croissants and doughnuts. We decided that doing a laminated dough would be fun, and as a bonus, we actually had all the ingredients to make them.

We had three similar recipes- one Evan already tried, one from the San Francisco Baking Institute, and Cooks Illustrated. Being our normal selves, we chose Cooks Illustrated because their philosophy is to test recipes until they’ve created a perfect result.

We began the croissants the afternoon before we wanted to eat them for breakfast. We began by mixing the dough: flour, (a tablespoon!) of yeast, sugar, salt. Then, we added cold milk, and mixed until it formed a ball. The only problem was that it was extremely wet-we had to add at least a half cup of flour! I’m not sure if it was the recipe (many of their recipes tend to add too much liquid) or just that other variables were off.

Much like when I made brioche, I added room temperature butter until it incorporated to create a satiny dough. It was still very sticky, and the mixer wasn’t fully kneading it. Evan kneaded the dough by hand until it passed the windowpane test.

The dough portion of croissants was complete; we put it in the fridge to rise for the first time. Meanwhile, we would begin to make the butter package to laminate the dough with. Evan took out butter from the freezer, and I cut it into tablespoon pieces, as per Cooks Illustrated’s instructions. However, this proved counterproductive and made the process difficult and tedious. With a rolling pin, we unsuccessfully tried to smash the butter together with flour and into a square. Disheartened, we put the lopsided butter package back in the fridge. After a few minutes, I decided to put the butter package between layers of wax paper. The butter had softened, and it formed a square much easier than before.

After the first rise, Evan rolled the dough into a 11 inch square. He laid the butter package diagonally on the dough, and folded the edges to the center. Then, Evan hit the dough with the rolling pin to soften the butter and to force it into a square. Next, he rolled it into a 14 inch square, and folded this in thirds. Turning the dough the other way, he folded it again in thirds and let it rest in the fridge for two hours.

By folding the dough in thirds, we were creating the quintessential layers of a croissant, or any flaky pastry. After it rested in the fridge, we gave the dough another two folds, for a total of four folds. We let the laminated dough rest overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, Evan rolled the dough out into a 20 inch square. In the bakery, we use a croissant cutter, which cuts the dough into perfect triangles. Instead, we cut the dough in half lengthwise, and then into thirds widthwise. With each 6th of the dough, we cut it on a diagonal, to form triangles.

Evan and I stretched the dough to elongate the triangle. Then, we cut a slit in the top. Instead of how Cooks Illustrated forms their croissants, I showed Evan how we make them in the bakery. With the slit away from me, I used a pulling apart, rolling forwards motion towards myself. This forms a croissant with five rolls. Then, we pulled the two ends together to make them in the shape of crescents. For a few of the croissants, we shaved chocolate over the  dough before rolling them up.

We let the rise for the final time while we went out to the farmer’s market. After we arrived, we preheated the oven, and I brushed them with an egg wash.

We put them in a 400F oven, where they puffed up immediately. However, the croissants were beginning to become too dark before they were cooked in the middle. We turned down the oven, and baked them for about 20 minutes total. It was also a lot of fun baking with my brother-I can’t believe that we’re 3000 miles apart.

After they cooled, I ate my croissant with some homemade strawberry jam. I had never made a laminated dough besides at the bakery, and it was so satisfying to make croissants at home. I always was under the assumption that they would take up a ton of time, but honestly, it only took about 2 hours of hands on time.  I can’t wait to experiment more with croissants; maybe I’ll even try to make naturally leavened ones!



After I made my barm, I wanted to bake a few sourdough loaves, using only natural yeast. Sourdough is a pretty involved and time consuming process, although it’s not very labor intensive.

Reinhart uses a “3-build method,” meaning he converts the barm into a firm starter, and then into the final dough. Making one loaf of bread can take up to three days. Three days wouldn’t be such a hassle in a large bakery, because they are producing quantity and can organize a production schedule. However, at home, waiting three days for one loaf of bread is kind of ridiculous, but oh well.

Take One: For my first loaf, I decided to skip turning the barm into a firm starter. I thought this step was kind of unnecessary, because I can use the barm as a liquid starter. I only need to compromise the hydration content  to gain the final result.

First, I mixed the barm with water, flour, and salt. Since the starter contains natural, wild yeast, no added yeast is required. I let the dough ferment for the first rise. This takes longer than usual, because wild yeast is much weaker than commercial yeast. After it had bulk risen, I shaped the dough into a boule. I placed it in a banneton, or a willow basket, for the final proofing. The basket not only provides structure to the loaf, but it leaves a beautiful spiral pattern of flour on the crust.

I put it in the fridge to ferment overnight. Like Joe suggested, I took the dough out while I was preheating the oven to 500F. Then, I slid the dough onto the baking stone, covered it with a terra cotta pot, and added steam to the oven. It’s hard to recreate the results the bakery’s oven provides, but, using steam and stone is the best way to mimic the ovens. After the bread had baked almost completely, I removed the cover and browned the outside.


I wasn’t really thinking when I put the bread in the oven- I was so pleased with the pattern that I forgot to score the bread. When I took it out, I noticed that the side exploded so the steam could escape. The bread was super heavy-it must have weighed around 1.5 pounds. When I cut it open , the crumb was very dense and a little gummy. I think I put too much dough in the banneton. I’ll ask Joe for a diagnosis, but I believe that the yeast wasn’t strong enough and that the dough did not have enough hydration.

Take Two: I decided to follow Reinhart’s advice and make a firm starter from my barm. I mixed the barm with more flour and water, and let it ferment for a day in the fridge. I then mixed the starter with more water, flour, and salt for the final dough. I kneaded it in the mixer, but not until the windowpane stage. I thought that if I removed the dough at the short mix phase, I could use the stretch-and-fold technique to provide gluten structure and encourage a holier crumb.

After three stretches, I shaped the dough in a boule and put it in the banneton for its final rise. I let it ferment overnight in the fridge. I noticed that this bread had a higher hydration content, and it didn’t hold its shape as well as the previous loaf.

When I took it out the next day and placed it on the pizza peel, I noticed it spread out wider than it did vertically. When I slashed the bread, it spread out even further. It wasn’t looking good. I put it under a terracotta pot in the oven, and when I checked in on it after a few minute, the bread was still squat. After baking, it only had a little oven spring, but had a 12 inch diameter.


I was really disappointed with the outside appearance, and when I cut it open, I wasn’t that much happier with it. The crumb was less dense than the previous one, but it still didn’t have the air pockets like I wish it did. The flavor is mild; as the starter ages, the flavor of the bread will become more sour.

A lot of things could have went wrong, but I’m not entirely sure what I should do differently next time. I hope that Joe can help me figure out why my sourdoughs aren’t turning out so well.

Even though it doesn’t seem like it, WISE is ending in about a month. One of my goals was to create a sourdough starter, which I had yet to complete. I’m leaving for California in a few for Spring break; by the time I get back, I will be preparing for my presentation and APs. I thought that right now would be the best time to create my starter since I’m not stressing over important events.

Day One:  I started my seed culture tonight using Peter Reinhart’s recipe. I combined 4.25 oz. of rye flour with 4oz. of pineapple juice. I mixed the two together, to form a paste-like dough. It will ferment for 24 hours at room temperature in a glass container.

Day Two: The next day, I fed the culture with more pineapple juice and water. It was still a paste and didn’t smell like much of anything. I didn’t see any growth, but continued along with the recipe.

Day Three: I fed the dough again, except using just water and bread flour. When I mixed it, it became a much stickier, wetter consistency. By the end of the day when I checked up on the culture, it expanded tremendously. It was almost spilling over the measuring cup! I couldn’t believe the culture was developing so rapidly.

Day Four: I fed the dough for the final time using bread flour and water. I could begin to detect a mil fermenting smell. It had a very gooey consistency; it was almost like pancake batter, except even gloopier. Ta-da! The sourdough seed is complete! Now, I have to make the barm!

The next step of the process is to make what Peter Reinhart calls the barm. In the bread community, there is confusion over what this term actually means. Reinhart defines it as a wet sourdough starter. He feeds the dough with a 1:1 ratio of water to flour. It has the same consistency of poolish-very wet and pourable.

Day Five: I removed about half of the starter and discarded it. To the starter, I added water and flour, making a 2:2:1 ratio water to flour to starter.  I let the barm ferment for a day, until it was bubbly and fermented. I then refrigerated the barm, which was ready to be used in a recipe. The barm needs to be refreshed every few days if I want to use it to bake.


Fermentation is the process which occurs when yeast feeds on the simple sugars present in the flour. Fermentation is a pretty complicated biological occurrence, and it’s difficult for me to grasp the basic idea of it. Ciril Hitz, who is the department chair for Baking and Pastry at Johnson and Wales, sums the process up nicely (and understandably!).

Fermentation occurs when the starches in the flour break down into simple sugars. These sugars are then consumed by the yeast. When the yeast consume the sugar, they expel carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast continue to eat all of the sugars present in the flour (which continues until the bread is baked.)

When the bread is baking and reaches 138F, the yeast has consumed all of the sugars and dies. This is when the bread has risen to its fullest potential, and now begins to brown on the outside.

Scientfic Joe

 I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately-it’s really bothering me that I am so stressed out. I can’t even do something I enjoy without worrying about what I’m doing wrong. I’m so tense and nervous about everything, even though I love being at the bakery and working with Joe and Terrance.

I thought today was going to be a continuation of last week- a calmer, more outgoing day. I arrived feeling pretty good about the upcoming day, but I noticed things were a little different than usual. Joe wasn’t as warm as usual-maybe he was having a bad day, or maybe he was stressed about the Easter rush. I don’t blame him-we all have “off days.” (Trust me, I know…)

It was a lot quieter than normal, there wasn’t much talking or joking around. I feel like I’m a really slow learner or maybe it’s just my negativity-I’m not sure. Anyway, when Joe asked me to scale all the breads, I make the same mistakes like I always do. It’s so frustrating that I can’t get the hang of the math. It’s kind of pathetic too-I took calculus, but can’t do practical, everyday math. I feel so ashamed that I have to stop and think when Joe asks me how many .300g batards I can make from a 10kg piece .

I’m also really slow at forming loaves. Okay-I know, they’re professionals and I’m not. I feel like I’m fumbling around when I can shape one boule in the time it takes Joe to make three. He asked me to roll out the croissant dough and cut them into size. It just took me so long and Joe was waiting on me to finish because I was holding up production.

I tried to speed up, and pushed through the dough with the cutter. While I was doing thing, I knocked over Joe’s coffee all over the table. I ruined a bunch of parchment paper, and almost ruined Terrance’s brioche. As if the day wasn’t already weird enough…

Next, Joe and I made palmiers, apple turnovers, blueberry brioche. This time, my palmiers turned out much better- I cut them the proper thickness. We didn’t, however, make almond twists which we always do. I was kind of glad we didn’t have to-they’re so messy!

I felt like I was pushing Joe’s buttons all day and didn’t really want to bother him with my silliness. Usually, Joe invites me over to bake with him at the ovens, but he didn’t offer this time. Sure, I could have gone over to the ovens, but I felt like I’d be hassling him. Instead, I stayed with Terrance and Mary who were making pastry.

I tidied up the station countless times, sweeping and putting things away because I felt so awkward. When there was nothing left to clean, I asked Terrance what I could do because I was standing around. He had me begin the process of making tiramisu- I had to make moulds with a plastic sheeting. Then, I cut out circles of lady finger dough, dipped them in espresso, and filled the moulds.

Meanwhile, I had to separate egg whites. I was already on the brink of losing my patience, mental abilities, and sanity. I started cracking, and dripped the egg whites through my fingers. Terrance told me not to do this because my hands contain oil (which inhibit increasing their volume). I looked over to Joe, and he kind of rolled his eyes and told me that it doesn’t. He said that the amount of oil in my hands isn’t worth the time and tediousness of separating the eggs the correct way. Mary then made a meringue, and Terrance whipped the cream with gelatin. We always seem to do this-we always abandon Terrance when a project is almost completed because we have to leave.

Joe had clocked out for the day, but he hung around making a strudel. He found some old dough which needed to be used, and rolled it out until it was paper thin. Then, he brushed it with butter. Using my ladyfinger scraps, he diced them into small cubes, and layered the top with apples. When it came out of the oven, it was a beautiful, caramel colored crescent. Joe amazes me-he doesn’t need recipes; he just knows what to do and why it works.

He’s very scientific-I’m not. I try to understand him though when he gives explanations. They’re fascinating, and food chemistry explains so many foods we take for granted.  He explained natural yeast to me; I got so much more out of our talk than when I just read books.

Yeast eat the sugars in the flour and eat oxygen. They produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. When we punch down the dough, we expel the carbon dioxide and incorporate more oxygen- this encourages more growth. It went on and on…I’m so jealous of his science brain! Joe even arranges dough on proofing board in molecule-shaped patterns. To fit the most round doughs on a rectangle board, he makes a diamond pattern because, “ a diamond shaped molecule is the tightest and strongest shape.”

I was asking him for a bunch of baking advice for Ruthie’s . We want to start baking breads there but we’re unsure of a schedule. He told me to make the breads, and let the rise for the final time in the fridge. I can either then freeze the dough, or bake it for the next morning. I think I’m going to keep some of my starter at Ruthie’s so we can make sourdough.

Anyway, I’m kind of bummed out that today was not such a great day- I won’t be at the bakery next week on account I’m going to California. I need to email Joe about the following Saturday. They might be too busy for the Easter rush to watch over me. I hope  everything goes back to normal next time! (In retrospect, I’m not sure if it was the bakery’s dynamics or mine that were off…)

There are two different categories of yeast: wild and commercial. Not only is commercial yeast less temperamental to use, it is accessible and easy to use. Wild yeast needs to be created and maintained, and it provides a sour taste that may not be desirable in all types breads.

There are many different types of yeast, but the commercial one used by bakers is called Saccharomyces cerevisae. The San Francisco Baking Institute explains the Latin word as:

“Sacchar means sugar loving or feeding, myces means mold, and cerevisae is a word once used for beer.”

Yeast is a single-celled, living organism that thrives off of sugars present in the flour. When the yeast consumes these sugars, it begins a process called, fermentation. Although yeast is pretty easy to work with, it thrives in warm (75-78F) environments. When yeast is in cool (around 40F or below) environments, it retards, or slows, the process down significantly. On the other hand, in too hot of an environment (above 130F), the yeast dies.

There are three common commercial yeasts: active dry, instant, and fresh baker’s. Active dry and instant yeast have the longest shelf live, while fresh yeast has a shelf life of only about 2 weeks. Each type of yeast has its own advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately, it is the baker’s decision to choose which to use.

Active dry yeast is probably the most well-known yeast available to the baker and the consumer. Active dry yeast needs to be rehydrated before it can be used. The yeast is dissolved in warm water (around 100F), sometimes with a little sugar added to stimulate activation. Active dry yeast provides a yeastier flavor, relaxes the dough a little more, and creates a product with a longer shelf life.

Instant yeast has recently become the most popular type of yeast. Unlike active dry yeast which requires activation, instant yeast can be added directly to the dough. Not only does this reduce a step, but it also reduces the risk for human error in measuring or killing the yeast. Instant yeast is more concentrated than both active dry and fresh yeast. This means that less yeast is required if the recipe calls for different types of yeast.

Recently in the bakery, we’ve began to use a special type of instant yeast called “omsmopotent” yeast. This yeast works best with breads heavily enriched with sugar or acidity. We use this in the croissant and brioche dough because the sugar inhibits a quick rise.

Fresh yeast has the shortest shelf life of these three types of yeast. Fresh yeast comes in small cubes, which are made of around 70% water. It is tan in color, and crumbles when touched. Fresh yeast is difficult to purchase, and it’s hard to insure its freshness when bought in a grocery store. Most bakeries choose not to use it because it has a short shelf life and it more labor intensive to use than instant yeast.

Here are the conversions for substitutions:

100% Fresh Yeast= 40 to 50% Active Dry Yeast= 33% Instant Yeast


Kings of Pastry

I just watched this very cool documentary on Netflix, and I thought it was worth mentioning in my journals.  It documents the journey of bakers competing for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France). If they win the competition, they receive a red, white, and blue collar for their chef jacket. This prestigious award is the highest form of recognition for any French artisan.

Although these bakers were working with only pastry, chocolate, and sugar, I still took away a lot from the documentary. These bakers were so proud of their craft-it was so inspiring. They spent their whole life working, and years training for this competition which occurs every four years.

Although they looked perfect to me, the bakers and judges found the smallest technical errors which needed to be perfected. One of the pastry chefs, who works at the French Pastry School in Chicago, brought up the key element of any chef- organization.

While he was with students who were preparing macaroons, he scolded the students for being messy. One student had macaroon batter on his sleeves and on the side of the pastry bag, which was unacceptable. Other students were using their fingers to touch up their macaroons, which he also found unprofessional. Also, many of the students’ areas were unorganized and scattered with equipment. The chef had a fit because they were not organized.

I definitely need to work on this- starting from my mise-en-place to my uniform itself. I’m a little scatter-brained, and don’t always plan ahead. For example, when I was at the bakery, I took out a hot sheet tray with one hand, but realized that it was too heavy and hot for one hand. I was in an awkward position, and was about to drop the tray. If I had put on both gloves and cleared a spot before I took out the tray, I would have not had any problems. But- I risked burning myself or dropping pounds of melted chocolate on the floor.

Also, when I’m baking, I instinctively wipe my hands on my apron. When I look down hours later, I notice there are tons of hand prints of flour, chocolate, oil, pastry cream, etc. It’s pretty gross actually, and I don’t look presentable at all. I need to get in the habit of wiping my hand on a towel (or, better yet, not get messy at all). When I was making chocolate cookies, I had chocolate up my arm, on my apron, on my pants, on the floor. If I slow down, I wouldn’t be such a mess!

Another thing that fascinated and inspired me about these chefs was their patience. It’s probably evident by now, but I get pretty frustrated with myself when something unplanned occurs. When things don’t turn out (if they burn, if they over-proof, if they fall), I take it out on myself. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I swear or start to cry. Okay, I know- that sounds really lame. It’s just so frustrating when I put in so much effort and it’s ruined in an instant.

These bakers handled their misfortunes so professionally though. When they were making tedious and very fragile sugar sculptures, they experienced a lot of difficulties Some pieces took weeks to complete, but in a second, they were shattered on the floor. Also, the humidity was playing a huge factor in their sugar-work, and ruined piece after piece.  Rather than screaming or throwing a fit though, the baker collected himself and began again.  It’s not the end of the world to make a mistake…