A Napoleon, Danish and croissant walk into a bar. The croissant says to the Danish…okay, I’m kidding, there isn’t a joke, but I wish there was one. I bet it could be really funny somehow. Week 7 was not funny, though. It was all work despite Chef being out due to personal reasons. While many times having a substitute teacher means a class sits around and doodles, passes notes, throws spitwads, Chef Theresa kept us working the whole time.
But through this work and reviewing my notes, it occurred to me (again) that if I just keep a decently stocked kitchen, at any time I would be prepared for and could make almost all of the recipes I’ve learned to date. All that’s needed is milk, butter, eggs, salt, sugar, cornstarch, yeast, all-purpose flour, almond flour, cake flour and chocolate. And it was with these few ingredients (minus the almond flour even) and just a couple more (sliced almonds and lemons) that class made a Napoleon, dough for Danish and croissants. Three disparate items from basically the same ingredients. Think about this concept for a little while. Fascinating, I think.
Napoleon. Napoleon was the French general who subsequently had a complex named after him. A Napoleon or Napoleon pastry is a very delicious French dessert that does not have a complex (as far as I know). In fact, the food history consensus is that the dessert has nothing to do with the French general. Rather, it is believed that napoleon is a bastardization of the French word napolitain, which means of or relating to Naples (Italy, not Florida) where it is believed the dessert originated. This wasn’t discussed in class. I took the time to research this, to educate both you and me. I hope you appreciate this extra effort.
What we did discuss and learn in class is the contents and proper assembly of a Napoleon. According to Chef Theresa, a classic Napoleon consists of puff pastry, pastry cream and almond slices. Oh, and powdered sugar (10x sugar if you want to sound like you know what you’re doing). Strawberries may also be included, but they are optional. Nothing else – no chocolate drizzle or other such adornment as you may have seen before on (not classic) Napoleons. Remember, we are learning the fundamentals, not incorrect New World baking.
Assembling a Napoleon is a matter of taking puff pastry that’s been baked into a flat rectangle shape, slicing it into three equal sized pieces, layering pastry cream between the pieces and then adding almond slices along the edges. A quick dusting of 10x sugar and you officially have a Napoleon.
Danish, on the other hand, is not assembled as easily or quickly as a Napoleon. This is due mostly to the fact that Danish is (yet another) laminated dough. It has a détrempe and beurrage layer, the détrempe includes yeast, the dough is sticky when first made and it requires two single turns. In other words, very similar to croissant dough. Unlike croissant dough, though, building the book for Danish begins with the dough in a portrait position versus the landscape position for building croissant books. So, which came first: Danish or the croissant? I don’t know, and it wasn’t discussed in class. And I didn’t feel like researching it. Does it really matter anyway?
In what has become a pattern when learning a new laminated dough, the class only got part way through the process of making Danish. We made the dough, let it complete its first rest (which is both at room temperature and in the refrigerator) and then we began building the book, completing the first single turn.
Thinking back on this now, though, it seems like we could have completed the Danish dough during this class since it requires only two single turns with rests in between. Of course, we were working on other things, so there probably wasn’t enough time…I guess. But I’m not sure because a vexing personal pattern has developed: Class is moving quickly and I’m trying to multitask between taking notes, listening to Chef, watching Chef and so on, it’s only after the fact (or class as it were) that these ruminations and questions come to me, only for me to usually forget to follow up with Chef or Chef Theresa. And it isn’t helping that I’m slipping in some of my note taking. I’m realizing that if I want to achieve the most from this course, I need to get on the organizational ball – better notes, faster critical thinking and processing during class and practice, practice, practice. Starting tomorrow.
But today I must finish telling you about croissant dough. We completed the final double turn (remember croissant dough only needs three single turns or two double turns), let it rest and then it was time to shape the croissants. If you can’t decide if you would rather have a plain butter croissant or a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant), you’re in luck. As usual, those clever French have thought of everything: you can use the same rectangle of dough to create both types of croissants! Simply use the upper half of the rectangle to cut out the triangle shapes for the butter croissants and use the bottom half of the rectangle to cut out the rectangle shapes for the chocolate croissants. Brilliant.
One may create any size croissant as long as the dough is cut x inches wide and 2x inches long. We made our cuts three inches by six inches. The croissants may also be any shape, but we stuck to the traditional crescent shape for the butter croissant and the rectangle shape for the chocolate croissant.
Cutting the croissant dough into the required shapes takes minimal skill (come on, I’m talking about a triangle and a rectangle, people). And shaping the dough for the chocolate croissant is pretty straightforward, too. Shaping the dough for the butter croissant, however, is where things get a bit dicey. Once the triangle is cut, it needs to be stretched out along the top and bottom. The stretched out piece is then placed back on the work surface and then rolled over three to four times to create the basic crescent shape. Once rolled, take your hands on the ends, called the “arms,” and roll the ends back and forth to make them pointy (technical term). Make sure the top of the triangle, called the “nose” (I was getting a tad disturbed at this point thinking of some human croissant I was making), is pointed downward and then curl the arms toward the nose. Say what? It took several tries to even begin to get the hang of it all, between making sure the dough didn’t start shrinking back once it was pulled to making nice, well-proportioned arms all the while trying to remember to keep the noses tucked under.
Making a chocolate croissant is nothing after that. Take a rectangle of dough, lay a chocolate bar (one specifically for croissant) or a tablespoon of chocolate chips about one-third of the way up from the bottom of the rectangle, fold the dough over, repeat with a second chocolate bar or chocolate chips and then fold over again. For some reason, I always figured a chocolate croissant must be so much more involved than its plain ‘ol butter cousin. No more.
After shaping the croissants, they need to proof at room temperature or a little above (no more than 80 degrees) for approximately an hour and a half or until doubled in size. After proofing, bake. Total bake time until you are experiencing buttery or chocolate-y happiness? About 18 – 20 minutes.