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Baking as Therapy
“Lee sighed. He had worked so hard, so tenderly, and his work seemed to have succeeded.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Baking as therapy. I mistakenly thought the therapy was the indulgence. Rich, if just for that moment. The sweet buttery tenderness we crave. Each lush bite eases the unexpected sharp curves in the road we travel. The intoxication of satiety cushions the bumps on the long ride home. Instant gratification is a constant companion on any road trip. Are we there yet? When will we arrive? The drive is for results. The process of driving just gets us where we want to go. Baking gets us to the sweet spot where the traffic lights are all green. But the therapy is in the doing. Creating when the hands and mind connect and work in unison is when the frenzy of a busy mind disappears. This is the therapy. When restless, sad or filled with anxiety get busy. Just the act of starting will coax the mind to tag along for the sweet ride.
Croissants are sublime. When made correctly croissants have a crisp golden exterior that shatters into pieces of buttery goodness, revealing a plush velvety interior with feather light layers of tender dough. Croissants are a combination of yeasted bread and a buttery pastry dough. I wanted to master the technique I learned at Monterey Peninsula College’s Culinary Program. Perfect for a day of intense baking therapy. I made croissants two days in a row. Yes, we had homemade croissants two days in a row. And therefore there were leftovers; which I couldn’t throw away. The third day I made Pumpkin Bread Pudding with homemade croissants. I’m not usually fond of bread pudding but my goodness this was marvelous! So terribly scrumptious I had to include them in this post about croissants. I assume a base of homemade croissants baked in a creamy custard silky with pumpkin and fall spices had a part in my attitude change. Then I made a deep, dark intense caramel to pour on top. But you don’t need homemade croissants; any type leftover bread can be used in the Pumpkin Bread Pudding. I adapted a recipe from Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occasions for the custard in the bread pudding.
The croissant recipe I’m sharing is from Chef Andre Adams, the pastry chef for Monterey Peninsula College’s Culinary Program. I’ve added my comments and additional instructions that make the recipe easier to prepare. Making croissants is not difficult but requires patience and time. It is difficult to judge how much time. If the butter becomes soft, additional chilling time is needed. I found my experience working with yeast dough and and pie dough “pate brisee” to be helpful.
Keep the dough in a rectangle during the laminating, shaping and cutting. If possible use a cold surface such as marble, granite, or stainless steel when working with the dough. It will help keep the butter cold and the dough will be easier to work with. If the butter becomes too soft it will stick to the rolling pin and rolling surface. If that happens, stop and chill the dough for 30 minutes before proceeding.
|300grams||full fat milk|
|10grams||active dry yeast|
|300grams||butter, to be laminated into the dough|
- Scald the milk, by heating to 180°, do not boil. Cool to at least 110°, but no lower than 90°, then add the yeast. Stir to dissolve. Set the mixture aside to rest for ten minutes while measuring the dry ingredients.
- Pour the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast milk mixture and the 50 grams of softened butter. With the dough hook, mix until the ingredients are combined, become smooth and pull away from the sides of the mixer. Do not over mix. Place the dough in a buttered bowl. Cover with a damp towel and place in a draft free spot for one hour or until doubled in volume.
- While the dough is rising flatten the 300 grams of butter into a square about 1/2” thick and about 6 inches square. The butter is easiest to flatten if it is only slightly softened. Fresh from the refrigerator it is too hard to shape; softened it is a too creamy. Cut a large sheet of parchment, place the butter in the center and flatten by pounding with a flour dusted rolling pin. If the butter becomes too soft, chill for 30 minutes and then proceed. After flattening the butter, fold the parchment around the block of butter and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The butter needs to be chilled before incorporating or laminating into the dough.
- When the dough has doubled, punch down to deflate and roll into a long rectangle that just fits into your sheet pan and is 8 inches wide. Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill for thirty minutes.
- Place the chilled dough on a floured surface. If needed roll the dough into a longer rectangle, at least 20 inches in length and 8 inches wide. Place the chilled butter in the center of the dough and fold the long ends of dough over the butter, in a square shape. Press the edges of the dough together so the butter stays inside the folds of the dough. Press down with the rolling pin to slightly flatten and push the butter down inside the dough. Then roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 8 inches wide and 24 inches long. Flour your surface and rolling pin as needed. Keep the long rectangle shape as you are rolling the dough. (If the dough becomes soft and buttery, stop and chill and rest the dough for thirty minutes before proceeding.) Lightly fold the dough into thirds, long ends toward each other, making a square. Lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes.
- Remove the chilled dough from the sheet pan, place on the floured surface. Turn the square of dough and roll in the opposite direction (of the first roll). The short side of the dough should be facing you. Repeat chilling, rotating and then rolling the dough again, for a total of three times. Chill the dough for thirty minutes before shaping into croissants. (At this point the dough can be held in the refrigerator to finish the following day.)
- Line baking sheets with parchment. To cut and then shape the croissants roll the dough on a floured surface keeping the edges square: fifteen inches wide and twenty five inches long. Using a ruler cut the dough in half lengthwise: making two strips seven and a half inches wide. Next mark and cut the lengths of dough in five inch increments. Then cut the 5 inch by 7 inch rectangles in half, making two triangles, for a total of twenty triangles.
- On the shortest side triangle make a 1/2 inch cut in the center of each piece of dough. Gently pull the dough lengthwise before shaping. Open up the notched area of the rectangle and roll into a crescent shape. Place the crescent on a prepared baking sheet with the center point tucked underneath and inward. Bring the outer tips of the dough together into the crescent shape by pinching the edges together. After all the croissants are shaped place in a draft free spot for one hour or until doubled in volume.
- Heat the oven to 400°. Prepare egg wash by whisking 1 egg and 1T water together. Just before baking gently brush each croissant with egg wash. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until a deep golden brown.
|Pumpkin Bread Pudding|
|4C||leftover croissants or bread, without crusts, cut 1/2inch pieces|
|1T||very finely chopped crystallized ginger|
- Heat the oven to 350°.
- Butter six 1 cup ramekins or glass canning jars. Lightly fill them with the bread. Like puzzle pieces, piece the bread together in layers. But not tightly or over the top of the container as there must be room for the custard to cover and soak into the bread and expand slightly during baking.
- Wisk together the eggs and egg yolks in large bowl, set aside.
- In a saucepan combine the milk, pumpkin puree, brown sugar, molasses, orange zest, salt and all the spices EXCEPT the crystallized ginger. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the milk is steaming (do not boil). Then temper the eggs by quickly whisking half the hot milk mixture into the eggs. Then pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and mix thoroughly.
- Working quickly strain the custard (discard the star anise). Then stir in the cream and crystallized ginger. Fill each container with custard; include some crystallized ginger in each scoop. Make sure the custard soaks into all the bread by gently pushing down on the tops on the individual puddings. Top off with more custard. I did this twice.
- Place the individual puddings on a sheet pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. The tops of the bread puddings will be a burnished golden brown.
- Serving with caramel sauce or sweetened whipped cream is optional but recommended.