Pizza Party and Magical Croissants

I can think of few better ways to start off a day than what was on this board.

I can think of few better ways to start off a day than what was on this board.

The last two days of laminated dough week presented an abundance of delicious, interesting and exciting treats – most of which were completely brand-new to me as a baker (but not as an eater). First thing Thursday morning, Chef Liza returned for an all-school (culinary and pastry) pizza-making party. When the first pizzas started rolling out of the oven close to 9 am, no one cared that it was still the breakfast hour. Bring on the pies!

The ground sausage for pizza toppings was smushed into a cookie sheet and baked. We called it a

The ground sausage for pizza toppings was smushed into a cookie sheet and baked. We called it a “sausage brownie.”

Chef Liza shows how to form the crust.

Chef Liza shows how to form the crust.

Getting the pizza dough stretched to the proper size requires care and quick hands. No tossing...just stretching.

Getting the pizza dough stretched to the proper size requires care and quick hands. No tossing…just stretching.

Marni works on her first pizza of the day.

Marni works on her first pizza of the day.

My first pizza: red onions, black garlic, caramelized onions, feta cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce.

My first pizza: red onions, black garlic, caramelized onions, feta cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce.

Partway through cooking, I cracked an egg on top. Why not?

Partway through cooking, I cracked an egg on top. Why not?

Six minutes later, I had this.

Six minutes later, I had this.

With eighteen students and close to sixty balls of dough, the pizza-making didn’t stop. In the morning, I would guess every person made two. As the pizzas came out of the oven, they were quickly cut and placed on plates or cookie sheets for people to taste. Then more went into the oven. It was hard to stop eating the delicious concoctions!

IMG_5877

My final pizza of the day was made using the 00 flour and was a triumph. To me, at least.

My final pizza of the day was made using the 00 flour and was a triumph. To me, at least.

Despite the fact that the only difference in the first set of pizzas and the second was the type of flour used in the recipe, the 00 high-protein flour had a noticeably different and – to me – better taste and chew. If I make pizza at home, I’m locating some 00 flour!

With no need for lunch, we went right on into our continued croissant making. There was new dough to cut, and other recipes to work on for the following day. As Thursday wound down, we had more incredible treats coming out of the oven.

More croissants.

More croissants.

More pain au chocolat.

More pain au chocolat.

Most of the regular croissants were immediately wrapped up and saved for Friday. We’d be using them for pretzel croissants, ham and cheese croissants and almond croissants. I couldn’t wait!

On Friday morning, before digging into the croissant work, there were more baguettes and ciabatta to make. Chef continued to want us all to get very comfortable with these items, and I don’t think anyone objected (not that we would!). Marni and I hadn’t made ciabatta before, so we got to work on that. It’s a very wet, very sloppy dough that needs to be handled very gently to preserve the big air bubbles inside.

Once the dough was properly mixed and in its plastic tub for a two-and-a-half hour rest, it was time for croissants. In order to make the ham-and-cheese croissants and the almond croissants, we used day-old croissants. These are better for these purposes because they can hold onto the added ingredients in better fashion than trying to make either of these varieties from the start. To prepare for this, the croissants were split and toasted in the oven. The extra baking firms them up and prepares them to be loaded with goodness.

Almond croissants are first dipped in a vanilla sugar syrup and quickly drained. Then, the inside is smeared with an almond cream filling, the top is put on, and more almond cream and some sliced almonds are placed on top before baking.

Almond croissants are first dipped in a vanilla sugar syrup and quickly drained. Then, the inside is smeared with an almond cream filling, the top is put on, and more almond cream and some sliced almonds are placed on top before baking.

The ham-and-cheese croissants have their insides coated with a cheesy mornay sauce, then ham and swiss cheese were added. To the top was a little more mornay and some shredded cheese.

The ham-and-cheese croissants have their insides coated with a cheesy mornay sauce, then ham and swiss cheese were added. To the top was a little more mornay and some shredded cheese.

Ham-and-cheese croissants out of the oven.

Ham-and-cheese croissants out of the oven.

Almond croissants, also now ready to eat.

Almond croissants, also now ready to eat.

Originally, Chef had thought we’d make pizzas for lunch out of the remaining dough. But with the batches of pimped-out croissants coming hot out of the oven, that was all we needed. And let me tell you, they were delicious. We all made sure our plates had salad, but it was all about the croissants. The ham-and-cheese were amazing – cheesy, crunchy, buttery. Hard to believe this was from day-old croissants. I put away one-and-a-half. Or perhaps two.

Then came the almond croissants. Let me back up for a moment. I first had an almond croissant last July in Israel, at an amazing French bakery in Jerusalem. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. Since then, I’ve tried to find its equal (or something close to it). I have come up short nearly every time (close runners-up: my breakfast place in Prague and Vanille Patisserie in the Chicago French Market).

This did not come up short. This MIGHT have been better than the Jerusalem one. It was better because I made it. And wow oh wow. We were all floored. What took it to the next level was that some of them, before applying the almond cream in the middle, had a small layer of raspberry jam added. It was hard to stop myself from eating the entire tray. I would have to say that it is probably my favorite thing I’ve eaten in pastry school.

When we finally were stuffed, we would have all preferred naps to continuing to work, but there were more delights awaiting us. Marni and I needed to get our ciabatta shaped and ready to bake, and there were chilled and shaped croissant doughs to be dipped in lye (and, as an experiment, baking soda) for pretzeling. In addition, Marni and I had to get our Apple Tarte Tatin in the oven. So much to do!

Our tarte tatin may not have been the prettiest construction, but we were pretty happy with it.

Our tarte tatin may not have been the prettiest construction, but we were pretty happy with it.

Our tarte tatin's puff pastry topping puffed up beautifully. I was very proud!

Our tarte tatin’s puff pastry topping puffed up beautifully. I was very proud!

These pretzel croissants were nearly as amazing as the almond ones. Salty, more buttery, and incredibly flavorful. Yum yum!

These pretzel croissants were nearly as amazing as the almond ones. Salty, more buttery, and incredibly flavorful. Yum yum!

Our tarte satin is the paler one in the back, after being flipped out of the pan and onto its presentation side. The darker caramel in the foreground tarte was nice, but I liked our flavor.

Our tarte satin is the paler one in the back, after being flipped out of the pan and onto its presentation side. The darker caramel in the foreground tarte was nice, but I liked our flavor.

We also tried out tomato tarte tatins in mini-cups. These tasted fantastic too!

We also tried out tomato tarte tatins in mini-cups. These tasted fantastic too!

Ciabatta success!

Ciabatta success!

The ciabatta was the last thing to come out of the oven on a long, delicious, enjoyable and carb-loving day. I knew ahead of time I loved croissants and I figured when we made them I’d enjoy them. And I did. But I had no idea how amazing our almond croissants would be, nor the pretzel croissants. It’s going to be hard to top those two.

We also gobbled up any loose morsels, packed up the extras to enjoy on our weekends and wearily changed out of our chef uniforms. Despite a second straight Friday of bready overindulgence, I didn’t regret it for a second. It’s rare that you can make and eat fresh such wonderful pastries and I loved every morsel I consumed. And there were plenty. (However, if this continues, I will need to buy some new pants!)

Heading straight from school to spend the night with my buddy Matt and his family in Healdsburg, I prepared them a special gift box.

Heading straight from school to spend the night with my buddy Matt and his family in Healdsburg, I prepared them a special gift box.

I was excited to get out of town for part of the weekend, enjoy hanging out with Matt and his family, drinking some wine, eating good food and relaxing in the great outdoors. The only mystery was: Will the box of goodies for my hosts stay intact during the long ride to Sonoma County, or will I partake on the way. Stay tuned to find out. 🙂

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