“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” ―Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Many years ago, I had the chance to visit Paris. I was young and idealistic. I had visited Amsterdam, Salzburg, Vienna, Berlin, Zurich, and Brussels. I had been to Prague and thought it was the greatest city I had seen in Europe. I didn’t expect to like Paris. I had heard that the people were rude, the city expensive and overrated. I knew that French food was rightly famous, but I thought it was all high brow and stylized. I thought french food was always precisely assembled by 4 chefs in tall hats. My first morning changed that belief.
We woke from our hotel and wandered down to the street to find something for breakfast. The first place we found was a fruit stall. It was mid-summer, and the fruits and vegetables were piled high in baskets, a rainbow of natural color. We bought a couple of peaches and some berries and kept moving. Next we ambled into a cheese shop, grabbing a bit of exotic fromage wrapped in paper. Then we hit the mother lode. We came to a halt in front of a quaint boulangerie, glass window stacked with mounds of breads, pastries, and croissants. This was the stuff of a breadophile’s dreams. There were dark ryes, long, crusty baguettes, a glass case filled with amazing creations of spiraled dough filled with all manner of sweet and savory fillings. I don’t speak French, but I wish I did so I could unravel the mystery of all the exquisite creations tucked safely behind the glass. We grabbed a bag of assorted breads and pastries and walked to the corner, where we found a little grass in the sun and reclined for our repast. With the morning sun warming us, coffee in hand, we feasted. Sweet peach nectar dribbled down our chins as we cut the soft cheese, spreading it on crusty bread. The berries stained our fingers, tart and perfect. But what stood out, and remains etched in my memory, were the croissants.
I had eaten croissants before. I knew a form of the product, from cardboard Pillsbury tubes, or slightly stale, stacked with ham and cheese, or even from the king of Burgers, with the “-wich” firmly attached, like a wink and a nod that we all knew this was no real croissant. These Parisian croissants were something different; buttery and rich, while somehow managing at the same time to be light and flaky. There was no comparison to the american version. It was like comparing Waffle House’s 3am steak and eggs to an inch think ribeye, cooked perfectly at a fine steak house. I realized that French food was much more than fru-fru towers of perfection. The cuisine of the streets was a highly elevated version of what I knew. The quality was just better. I looked at Paris in a different light after that. I began to see the beauty of the architecture, the gold Napoleonic lions. The Eiffel Tower was magnificent, as was the view from the top. The Louvre was an embarrassment of riches, with its ancient Greek artifacts, great paintings of the masters, and the Mona Lisa. In short, Paris captivated me, in spite of the rude people, expensive everything, and crazy drivers. I even bought a beret.
Still, the croissants stick with me. I knew they weren’t the easiest thing to make, but I was determined. What I learned is that croissants aren’t hard. In fact the main thing that keeps us from making them is the amount of patience required. The goal is to create those beautiful flaky layers, and the only way to do it is to painstakingly chill and roll, many times. I made them starting Friday night, and ate them, hand over fist, Saturday at 5 pm. I got the idea to make them after watching an old Julia Child video on Youtube. She had a french baker named Esther Mcmanus on and they made croissants. I will not spend as much time in the details of the recipe, because you should watch these videos.
The results are extraordinarily buttery, rich and yeasty with perfect flaky layers. I made both the croissants and the pan au chocolate, and they were both incredible. You really should make them both. Pour yourself some Cafe au Lait, turn on some Jacque Brel, and dream of your Parisian breakfast.
Croissants and Pan au Chocolate
from Julia Child and Esther Mcmanus
- 1lb 2 oz unsalted butter
- 3 1/4 C flour
- 1 C milk
- 2 1/2 tsp yeast or one packet
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/3 C sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp water
- 8 oz. semisweet chocolate
Put of flour in mixer (hook attachment), add yeast, add salt, add sugar. Then add milk and turn machine on to a low speed until ingredients are mixed. If too dry still, add a bit more of milk. When all ingredients are mixed, take out of the bowl, turn the mixer back on with empty bowl and tear off a piece at a time from the dough and add it back into the bowl. You can increase the speed of the mixer to medium-low at this point. Let it work a bit longer until you can tell it is unified. Miz for about 6 minutes until it is no longer very sticky. Wrap in plastic (be sure to cover well) and then put it in a large sealed plastic bag. Leave at room temperature for about a half an hour.
In the meantime, change Kitchen Aid attachment to the paddle. Add butter to the bowl, add 2 Tablespoons of flour and beat on high. Make sure you watch it as you do not want to let the butter get oily. Take the butter out of the bowl and pack it in your hands to get all the air pockets out. Plastic wrap butter and place both the butter ball and dough (in plastic wrap) in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours (you can leave overnight as this is what I did).
Take dough out of fridge and place on a floured surface for rolling. Roll out dough evenly. When rolled out, take butter out of fridge and unwrap. Place butter ball in the middle of the dough. Fold right side of dough over butter, followed by left side so butter is completely covered by dough. With your rolling pin, beat the dough/butter down until the butter is evenly spread inside the dough to all sides. Then gently roll with pin evenly. Place dough on cookie sheet (lightly floured) and let rest for 2 hours in the fridge (make sure to cover the entire cookie sheet with plastic wrap and seal dough in).
After 2 hours , take out of fridge, re-flour surface and roll dough out. Lightly flour top of dough so that the rolling pin does not stick. Roll dough again, trying to keep as even as possible. Then fold into 3 (left side in, then right side like you are folding a letter), brush some flour off and roll one last time (at this point it should measure about 15”x9”). Put on cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and back in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Do step above one last time from start to finish except this time after rolling out, fold another 3 times and roll for a 2nd time before placing on the cookie sheet, covering, and back in the fridge for at least 1 more hour.
Take out of fridge and cut lengthwise in half giving you 2 squares. Take one square at a time and roll out evenly to cut. Work fast because you do not want the dough to warm (a marble/granite top will help dough stay cooler longer). If you feel it is starting to get warm, you can always put back in fridge for 5 minutes at a time. Roll dough to about 20” x 15”. Fold in half long ways and brush flour off.
FOR CROISSANTS: Cut dough with pizza cutter in triangles with bases approximately 4” wide or larger if you want larger croissants. Then unfold them to have single layer triangles.
Take a triangle in hand and hold the base. Lengthen gently (be careful not to tear it) and pull the pointed side down over and over until it is longer. Tear a little piece of dough from any left over scraps from cutting and roll into ball and place on the base of the croissant (this will give the croissant a little extra “dough” in the middle for some fullness). Roll the base over that piece of dough and seal it in. Then continue with the palms of your hands to roll the base to the point. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper with point side up. If you would like, you can curl the ends towards you to make a “crescent” shape.
FOR PAIN AU CHOCOLATE: Cut rolled dough into long rectangles, approximately 4″ by 8″. Add 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate at one end of the rectangle, and roll tightly.
When all are rolled, take a egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon of water) and brush outside of each croissant with lightly. This will give it that nice glisten when cooked. Place in oven that is turned off, turn the light of the oven on, and place a pot of boiling water in the oven with it to proof for 3 hours. Do not cover the croissants at this time.
Take all out of oven, turn on to 350 degrees. When oven reaches temperature, bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, rotating halfway through. Allow to cool slightly, if you can stand it, to set the layers. These are best eaten the same day, but also great warmed in the oven for a few minutes.
With thanks to Goodie Girls for the recipe transcription.