After a week of somewhat standard breads, we moved into laminated doughs. Laminated refers to the process of creating thin layers in your dough through the repeated rolling and folding of the dough. What are the layers? Well, it’s dough and butter. That’s what makes these doughs – in croissants, in kouign amanns, in puff pastries – so flaky and delicious. Croissants in particular are a three-day process, so we had to exhibit some patience. As will you – unless you skip ahead.
Before I could even get to the joy that was croissant week, I capped off bread week #1 by hopping on the train and heading out of town briefly. One of my long-time friends from LA, Jen, was in Sunnyvale with her third-grade son for, of all things, a jump rope tournament! I didn’t know they had teams and competitions for this and thought it was awesome. I hadn’t seen Jen in years so I didn’t mind traveling south on Caltrain and meeting her and her son for dinner. We had a decent meal at a Mexican place in downtown Sunnyvale, walked around a bit, and then they headed back to their hotel and I returned to my house. The last time I’d seen Jen was when she was still dating Eric, her now-husband and the father of her two children, so it was amazing and fun to fast-forward to now and learned about all that I’d missed!
Saturday morning, I was back at school to TA for a class. Now, after my binge-eating on the last day of bread week, I swore to myself that I’d go bread/carb free over the course of the weekend. I had seen the recipes we were making during the class and didn’t count on any trouble. The class was being taught by Craig Stoll, the owner of Delfina restaurant and a few other restaurant properties. Despite the Italian focus in his restaurants, there was going to be no pasta. So that would be easy. What I didn’t count on is that because Delfina is located two doors down from Tartine Bakery, Craig would bring in an enormous box of treats for the people taking the class.
How could I resist this bounty? I couldn’t. And it was, of course, delicious. The class itself went very smoothly, despite the large number of ingredients in most of the recipes. Everything turned out awesome and people left with very full bellies of risotto and lamb and artichokes and more (and some of the extras were set aside for the pastry class’ lunch on Monday, so that was fantastic too.)
On Sunday morning, I was excited to meet up with my cousin Jennifer, her husband Ron, and their sons Max and Liam. They live south on the peninsula and I was so pleased that they were willing to come up my way so we could meet for brunch. We started at Home Plate, in the Marina district, and the food was delicious. Lots of talk about what I’m doing, what they’re up to (including Liam’s upcoming weeklong school trip to the Grand Canyon. Way too much sleeping outdoors for me!). They seem to think my future bakery might do quite well in their town, and I know I would enjoy being near family. So many options to consider!
We walked from the restaurant, down Lombard Street, and into Union Square. That’s where we parted ways, as they did some shopping and cable car riding and I took care of some of my own errands in that part of town. It was yet another gorgeous San Francisco day, so I enjoyed walking home in the sunshine and relaxing for the rest of the day. And I couldn’t wait for school to start on Monday, because I knew croissants were coming!
Chef started the day with a much briefer intro to laminated doughs, compared to our long lecture on breads the Monday before. We got all of our ingredients ready for both a whole wheat croissant dough we’d be making individually, as well as individual puff pastry doughs. Then Chef demonstrated the techniques necessary and we got to work.
Laminated doughs, such as croissants and puff, take a long time to make – but not a lot of actual work. For the three-day process of making croissants, a vast majority of that time is spent with the dough resting – usually in the fridge. There’s lots of rolling to do, and the dough can only handle so much at a time. The break allows the gluten strands in the dough to relax, enabling it to be stretched out again.
This is the key to laminated doughs. You need a nice, uniformly shaped butter block so that as you roll out the dough repeatedly, the layers of butter and dough are properly distributed.
It was a lot of fun to learn how to work with croissant and puff pastry dough, as they’d seemed so intimidating to me before. Because I love croissants so much, and would love to make them at home, it was such a relief to see that it’s not the bear I feared it was. Still a lot of work in terms of proper technique and appropriate timing, but nothing like I feared.
On Tuesday, we continued to work on our doughs from Monday – giving them turns and letting them rest – and also embarked on new projects. Chef Liza Shaw came in to teach both the pastry and culinary students how to make pizza dough. We learned about 00 flour (a high-protein flour good for pastas and pizza doughs due to its strong gluten forming abilities, which gives the dough plenty of pliability and the finished product a good chew), and how it compares to all-purpose. We even made batches of dough with each. Like croissants, this pizza dough is a three-day process, so Chef Liza left after the dough was first mixed and would return on Thursday to make the pizzas with us.
We also worked in teams on some other laminated doughs. Marni and I paired up and worked on a different croissant recipe – one with a poolish. A poolish is a type of pre-ferment, in which a portion of the recipe’s yeast and flour are mixed with water a day ahead of time to build flavor in the final dough. We also started on kouign amann, a sweet pastry that uses a croissant-style dough.
When Tuesday came to a close, we had plenty of doughs at or nearing completion. With the first two days of the week featuring no baking, I knew Wednesday was going to be a good day. My no-carb plan was able to stay intact as the week began, simply because there was nothing tempting me!
What did tempt me, however, was the attraction of a new restaurant near my house. Featuring Hawaiian-inspired food, Liholiho Yacht Club has only been open a month or two and is already very hard to get into. Luckily, I was able to dine on the early side and I loved what I got.
The whole menu looked amazing and I want to return with a large group so we can order everything and try everything! The space was gorgeous, too, with light wood and bright open areas.
After all of our work on the croissant doughs, they needed some time to properly rise before baking. We were looking for a very soft, spongy texture before putting them in the oven. During the waiting period, we pulled out our kouign amann dough and prepped that for the bake. While very similar to croissant dough in its formation, the final turn of kouign amann features copious amounts of sugar sprinkled onto, under, and inside the dough. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it certainly explains how this finished pastry gets its sweetness!
Everything we made was absolutely delicious, although I will say the regular croissants and the kouign amanns were my favorite. When they are hot and fresh out of the oven, I don’t think there’s anything like them. It’ll be hard to have any croissant again – no matter how good – without comparing it to these fresh ones we made and ate.
My buddy Ken picked the right night for dinner, as he got to take home a bunch of treats. If my other friends Gemma and CJ hadn’t cancelled last minute, they would have had an identical box. Instead, I actually loaded up Ken’s box for more treats for him and Josh.
Our dinner at Nopa was wonderful. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to try since arriving in San Francisco and is a favorite of a lot of my friends. I could see why – beautiful setting, great food, excellent service. All around wonderful. I knew they had a great brunch, as well, and as weird timing would have it, I was scheduled to return the following Sunday.
After this delicious meal, it was off to bed. More laminated dough surprises awaited on Thursday and Friday!