A tale of Bohemian croissants
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
I know everyone is on the edge of their seats to discover what happens next in our journey to Gotland, but we are going to divert a little here and talk about Why and How Erik thought I would be a good restaurateur and partner in this expedition to the end of the universe, despite having no formal culinary training.
I learned how to make scramble eggs from my Nana (my mother's mom) when I was 7 years old. Being a child of the late 80s early 90s in a lower middle income household there was much emphasis on the lessons of self-sufficiency, repurposing of used items, and most famously what my family weekly engaged in which was called "fend for yourself night/day". These were times when my mom wouldn't cook and instead we had to put food together, if we wanted to eat of course, from whatever was in the fridge or pantry (usually left overs of boiled chicken, pinto beans and corn tortillas were staples). Not tending to be a creature of habit I would often come up with new dishes from the leftovers or create "poor man" creations (e.g. poor man’s pizza - bread with ketchup, garlic powder, oregano and cheese melted in the microwave). I was also obsessed with cookies and sweets and since the purchasing of these items wasn't very commonplace in my house I began reading the New Pillsbury cookbook and tried to make recipes from whatever was in the pantry, of which sometimes we didn't have something so I would have to improvise. I was 10 years old when I made a full fried chicken dinner completely by myself (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn) for my family. It wasn't perfect, but it was the catalyst for a lifetime of cooking and entertaining friends with food.
However, my dreams and aspirations as a little girl was not to be a professional cook. Or to work in a kitchen for that matter. I dreamt of being an OBGYN. I loved children, and babies especially. I thought that the best way to be close to them would to be in a field focused completely on them. Throughout my high school and into my freshman year in college I pursued this goal until second semester when my Chemistry 101 grades were not going to be good enough to pursue pre-med at Vanderbilt University. Devastated, I had to make a quick change of majors while losing no ground on the STEM classes I had already taken. It was in this period in my life where I began to realize that perhaps my initial goal of becoming an OBGYN may have been overshadowing other hidden passions and began to reflect on the things that I really enjoyed doing. When I finally decided on and selected my new major, Geology (which I completely loved) I had also begun to re-awaken my love of cooking, including making my first pumpkin pie on my own from a whole pumpkin in my college dorm my senior year. Consciously realizing my love of cooking and especially throwing dinner parties.
It was around my 30s that I started to think about a career change more focused around my passion of cooking and baking, but as I stated in my first post, the American model leaves little room or security for mid-life career changes. There is no safety net if you get off the hamster wheel of a good paying job with benefits. But it didn't stop me from dreaming. I had even come up with the name, full concept and menu before Erik and I had met. Which brings me to meeting Erik. Erik and I found each other pretty late in life, so to speak, I was 35 and had never been married, he was 41 and had already been married twice (yup third times a charm!). We both worked full time jobs in management positions. Strangely however, whenever I would make us food he would quiz me and ask me weird questions like "how much do you think this meal cost to make?" or "how much would you pay for this?" This would lead me to wonder, how much does a single egg cost or cheese or milk? Although I found this peccadillo strange, I found it to be an interesting challenge to calculate food cost of a particular dish. As a child my family was on a pretty fixed income so the cost of food was important. I even helped with meal planning and cooking when my grandfather passed away and my mom spent some time in California helping my grandma. However, after college I was single and had jobs that paid well and didn't think so much on how much I spent on food, which was usually a lot. Little did I understand that subconsciously he was impressed enough with my skill of cooking and coupled with my professed interest in a bakery that he believed there was the possibility at us making a business out of it (follow this journey in Restaurant at the End of the Universe Part 4 coming out soon).
What I enjoy the most about cooking is the challenge of taking simple on hand ingredients and making something tasty and unconventional, sometimes with or without a recipe. As my experience and repertoire grew I loved tackling dishes that were considered challenging and time consuming and then try to find shortcuts that would cut the complexity and or time significantly without sacrificing authenticity. In short, I wanted to be like Betty Crocker (more on that topic in the future). One of the traits that Erik will tell you is both a positive and negative about me is that I can sometimes be a "dog with a bone" when I get something into my head, whether it be a recipe or cooking process I will pursue it with a level of intensity that is rather consuming and obsessive. An idea will pop in my head and I will analyze, experiment and break it down to try and understand all the components and purposes and then use a base recipe and tweak it until I get the results I want (a perfect example is our Jalapeno queso at the Cantina, I used over 10kg of cheese and a year of time to come up with the recipe and our cheesy chicken nachos is 2nd behind the Baja Fish tacos as most ordered). One of these recent examples is croissants.
After having my first authentic croissant in Paris on a vacation with my grandma following my first year in college I was hooked. Crispy, buttery, and moist flakey layers this consists of the perfect croissant for me. However, this had been one of those pastries that seemed too complicated to tackle as a home cook and so thus reserved for purchase. But with business tanking pretty bad at the start of the pandemic in 2020 I decided to use that extra time to try making croissants. I followed a New York Times recipe which promised to yield the perfect croissant without too much work. While the recipe was fairly easy to follow I found the whole process with folding in the butter and then constantly putting it back in the fridge complicated and the final product ended up with lots of layers, but also super dense and not what I was hoping for. Evolution of one of my recipes can often be a bit meandering. I will try a recipe or process a couple of times and it won’t yield the results I want and so I step back, but the idea is always lingering until it’s perfected and I am ready to try the next tweak (examples include Nixtamal tortillas, and Krispy Kreme style donuts – which are still in progress). The next tweak came when one day I was planning to make a pie. It required a slightly different technique that I hadn't tried before, but which promised a lot of flakey layers. After working the dough and making the crust it was clear it did as promised and there were lots of tender but flakey layers, so similar to a croissant, but without the fluffy yeasty taste. And it made me start to think, what if I approached making croissants with a similar technique? So begins the two year croissant obsession. Now after about 20 batches of croissants over the past two years I believe I have developed the fastest croissant recipe and process (from mixing to eating in about 4 hours). So for my first recipe share here are my Bohemian Croissants. Bon provecho!
Yield 8-10 medium sized croissants
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Rest Time: 2 hours minimum (can also be overnight)
Rolling/Cutting Time: 10 min
Proof Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Bake Time: 12 min convection oven (24 min if using non-convection oven)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt (reduce salt by ½ tsp if using salted butter)
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoon yeast (dry package yeast)
1 cup room temp water (plus 4 tablespoons of water)
235-245g butter (this does not have to be precisely weighed and can be unsalted or salted – although unsalted does produce a more consistent result)
1 egg (mixed with 1 teaspoon water for basting before baking)
Preheat oven to 200C
1. Slice butter into thin (1-2mm) slices – place butter in freezer until ready to use
2. Mix dry ingredients (Flour, salt and 1 Tablespoon sugar)
3. Mix 1 cup water with 4 teaspoon yeast and 2 Tablespoons sugar – mix thoroughly
4. Quickly take out sliced butter and add to dry ingredients, making sure all butter slices are coated
5. Drizzle water/yeast mixture into dry ingredients while mixing (not too slowly as this needs to be done before the butter begins to soften) the dough will still have quite a bit of dry flour, add additional water 1 Tablespoon at a time not to exceed 4 tablespoons. It is ok if there is dry flour left, during the resting phase the water will hydrate most of the remaining dry flour. The butter will be chunky in the dough.
6. Place the dough on baking paper (large enough to wrap the whole dough in) and knead two times to incorporate some of the loose flour and then press down to a thick flat disk. Wrap dough in baking paper and then in plastic wrap. Put in fridge for at least 2 hours.
7. After two hours (or overnight if you prefer a breakfast treat) flour a smooth non-warm surface and use rolling pin to roll out into a large rectangle (20cm x 10cm). Now you will begin the folding process. NOTE: This takes only about 10 to 15 minutes and it is ok if butter squishes out, you will not need to put the dough back into the fridge.
a. Roll into large rectangle ½ cm thick
b. Fold dough into tri fold (like a pamphlet one edge folded to middle then over the other) – dust lightly with flour top and bottom
c. Roll into rectangle 1/2cm thick
d. Fold dough into book fold (one side over the other) – dust lightly with flour top and bottom
e. Roll into long rectangle 1/2cm thick– at this point the chunks of butter should be turning into long streaks within the dough
f. Fold dough into quad fold (like with a bath towel, first ends to the middle touching eachother and then folded over itself again like a book)
g. Roll into long rectangle 1/2cm thick
h. Using pizza cutter trim all four edges (keep them and roll them up together as another croissant)
i. Slice width wise into 4 to 5 smaller rectangles (about 5cm x 10cm) and then slice these diagonally into triangles (you can also make chocolate filled croissants by not cutting it into triangles and then placing the chocolate into the middle and rolling into a loaf shape). Put a small slice in the middle of the wide end of the triangle and then split and roll. You should start to see the thin layers in the dough.
j. Let rest 1 to 1.5 hours until dough has risen about twice the size
k. Brush mixed egg over the top of the dough and place in pre-heated
oven for 6 minutes. Reduce temp to 185C and continuing baking for another 5-6 minutes until golden brown.
l. Let cool 15 minutes on tray then savor with a delicious cup of coffee.