Flaky Buttery Croissants

The sign of croissants well done: a huge flaky mess!

The sign of croissants well done: a huge flaky mess!

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!

A reunion way too long in coming!

A reunion way too long in coming!

My chocolate cinnamon babka was a donation to the part-time culinary students on Saturday morning, as they took their practical exam.

My chocolate cinnamon babka was a donation to the part-time culinary students on Saturday morning, as they took their practical exam.

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.

Morning buns, croissants, scones and more from Tartine.

Morning buns, croissants, scones and more from Tartine.

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.)

Craig Stoll cuts the roasted leg of lamb during the Delfina course.

Craig Stoll cuts the roasted leg of lamb during the Delfina course.

Delfina dessert - lemon buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry basil sauce.

Delfina dessert – lemon buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry basil sauce.

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!

The view from the top of famous landmark and tourist stop, Lombard Street.

The view from the top of famous landmark and tourist stop, Lombard Street.

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!

My personal batch of croissant dough comes together in the mixer.

My personal batch of croissant dough comes together in the mixer.

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.

My nicely rounded ball of dough sits for an hour at room temp (until 10:12) before heading into the fridge for two hours.

My nicely rounded ball of dough sits for an hour at room temp (until 10:12) before heading into the fridge for two hours.

In the meantime, I worked on my dough for puff pastry.

In the meantime, I worked on my dough for puff pastry.

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.

Chef demonstrates how to make a butter block - the key component for laminated doughs.

Chef demonstrates how to make a butter block – the key component for laminated doughs.

After rolling out the dough to match the measurements of the butter block, Chef places the block in the middle and prepares to "enclose" it.

After rolling out the dough to match the measurements of the butter block, Chef places the block in the middle and prepares to “enclose” it.

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.

My butter block. Not bad for a first attempt.

My butter block. Not bad for a first attempt.

My croissant dough has been enclosed with the butter block and been given one "single turn" of rolling out and folding together. The layers are starting to form.

My croissant dough has been enclosed with the butter block and been given one “single turn” of rolling out and folding together. The layers are starting to form.

My puff pastry dough has been enclosed and turned twice, and is ready for its overnight rest.

My puff pastry dough has been enclosed and turned twice, and is ready for its overnight rest.

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.

Tuna poke on nori crackers.

Tuna poke on nori crackers.

Fried game hen with flowering kale, brussels sprouts and cashews. One of the most delicious things ever.

Fried game hen with flowering kale, brussels sprouts and cashews. One of the most delicious things ever.

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.

On Wednesday morning, the big tub of pizza dough was gurgling and rising.

On Wednesday morning, the big tub of pizza dough was gurgling and rising.

The chilled and sheeted croissant dough is ready for cutting. Can you see those beautiful layers?

The chilled and sheeted croissant dough is ready for cutting. Can you see those beautiful layers?

I worked on cutting out triangles for traditional croissant shapes. The dough must be close to frozen for proper and effective cutting.

I worked on cutting out triangles for traditional croissant shapes. The dough must be close to frozen for proper and effective cutting.

Others worked on cutting squares and rectangles for pain au chocolat and our pain de parma.

Others worked on cutting squares and rectangles for pain au chocolat and our pain de parma.

Standard croissants have been shaped, chilled and then brushed with egg wash before placement in the proofing box for their rise.

Standard croissants have been shaped, chilled and then brushed with egg wash before placement in the proofing box for their rise.

We laid out chocolate batons for the pain au chocolat.

We laid out chocolate batons for the pain au chocolat.

The pain de parma dough was cut into strips on the side, then filled down the middle with prosciutto and grated parmesan cheese.

The pain de parma dough was cut into strips on the side, then filled down the middle with prosciutto and grated parmesan cheese.

After filling, the strips of the pain de parma are braided together to make a nice little package.

After filling, the strips of the pain de parma are braided together to make a nice little package.

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!

Marni rolls out our kouign amann dough during the final turn.

Marni rolls out our kouign amann dough during the final turn.

Sugar everywhere!

Sugar everywhere!

When the kouign amann is ready, we cut it into squares, shaped them into little flowers, and placed them inside heavily buttered tins for baking.

When the kouign amann is ready, we cut it into squares, shaped them into little flowers, and placed them inside heavily buttered tins for baking.

As if there wasn't enough going on, we continued to make baguettes. Chef wants us to have plenty of practice at this skill.

As if there wasn’t enough going on, we continued to make baguettes. Chef wants us to have plenty of practice at this skill.

I like cutting the rolled baguette dough into epi form.

I like cutting the rolled baguette dough into epi form.

With croissants starting to get ready, a second egg wash is applied right before baking.

With croissants starting to get ready, a second egg wash is applied right before baking.

And here come the goodies!

And here come the goodies!

Pain au chocolat.

Pain au chocolat.

Croissants, kouign amanns, and baguettes cool before tasting.

Croissants, kouign amanns, and baguettes cool before tasting.

Look at that beautiful honeycomb structure!

Look at that beautiful honeycomb structure!

Good work from the baguette team as there are plenty of big bubbly pockets in the dough.

Good work from the baguette team as there are plenty of big bubbly pockets in the dough.

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.

When you go out to dinner with me on Croissant Day, this is the box of treats you receive!

When you go out to dinner with me on Croissant Day, this is the box of treats you receive!

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.

Excellent Moroccan vegetable tagine at Nopa.

Excellent Moroccan vegetable tagine at Nopa.

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!

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