Archive for the ‘West Coast’ Category

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!


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Italian Bread

Over the weekend I made Italian bread from Bread Bakers Apprentice.  It started Saturday afternoon making the biga.  We were going to a party on Sunday night and I was going to make a lasagna  too, so I needed  to make sure I had enough time to make everything.  But inbetween..

I also made banana bread, Will!  We went to the farmers market earlier in the day and when we got to the check out the owner gave us a huge bag of bananas that needed to be used immediately.  I found a recipe on Cooks Illustrated that sounded good and started on that.  This recipe had a cool technique which called for microwaving the bananas then letting them drain of their liquid.  So after I put the bananas in the microwave for maybe 2 or 3 minutes I heard this loud pop noise.  I opened the microwave and didn’t see any banana explosion, so I figured I was all good.   When the bananas were done, i took the bowl out and then saw the damage.  The mixing bowl must have reacted or something with the microwave and it left a spider-like burnt crack in the top side.  I couldn’t believe it!  Thanks for nothing Williams-Sonoma!  Seriously, for such fancy, expensive mixing bowls, (that we got as a gift) theyre not microwave safe! Common!  But besides that, the recipe went well. The other interesting part called for making a thin shingled roof of banana slices on both sides of the loaf, which nicely browned and caramelized when it was done.

So on Sunday I started up on the dough for the Italian bread.  I incorporated in yesterday’s biga, after it came to room temperature, and then mixed in the flour, salt, sugar, olive oil, and malt barley syrup.  I usually use the malt syrup for making bagels, but the BBA said the malt would give the crust a deeper color.  After I let the dough ferment for 2 hours or so I formed the batards.


After the batards rested for about an hour, it was into the oven.  While I was heating up the oven and the baking stone, I put a heavy duty metal baking pan in the bottom of the oven too.  This metal pan is old school.  Our gram gave it to me about 5 years ago or so.  Just after I put the batards on the baking stone, I poured some near boiling water into the baking sheet to create a massive steam bath for the bread.  Then I sprayed the sides of the oven multiple times over the next 2 minutes.


After the loaves were done, they smelled and atleast one looked great.  On the first loaf I didnt do that good of a job scoring the loafs. They were too short and not at a severe enough angle.  But on the second loaf, it came out good.  The loaf developed huge ears and actually looked nice.  We brought the lasagna and bread to the party later that afternoon and the bread was a success.  The lasagna, not so much.  I was too worried about having too much liquid in the lasagna, and ending up with a soupy mess that I didnt use enough sauce.  It was totally edible, but it would have been much nicer with more sauce. Whatever, the host had two growlers of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery and it was really good. Super Oscar night!

Clockwise: Italian Bread, Sourdough, Ultimate Banana Bread

Next for me is Kaiser Rolls.  —Evan

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Cooks Illustrated sticky buns

My first post!  I just got settled back into my place in Aptos, Ca, just south of Santa Cruz where I go to school.  I’m really glad to be back and baking.

I finally got my copy of the Bread Bakers Apprentice in the mail yesterday, so let the cross country baking begin!  Italian bread will be my first foray into the book and I’m really excited to begin.  We are going to a friend’s house on sunday and we said we would make a lasagna.  Italian bread sure sounds good too.

Last weekend while I was waiting for my book to arrive, I made sticky buns from Cooks Illustrated.  I made them about a year ago, and I remembered they were delicious but time consuming.  My memory served me correctly on both counts.  They are a lot of fun to make but way too dish intensive.  I think I cleaned more dishes, pots and pans with that recipe than a full dinner.  These are totally worth making once and a while, otherwise I’ll have to visit the dentist more often.

This recipe calls for an enriched dough and uses a rapid rise yeast.  I let the dough retard over night in the fridge, but with the rapid rise yeast, the rolls did puff up a lot over night.  The next day I baked them and topped them with a caramel pecan sauce.

We’ll see if I used the website correctly, there are supposed to be pictures in here too.   That’s it for now.  Hopefully the Italian loafs will go well.–Evan

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