Croissants; I could probably live on them everyday if I wasn't so concerned about my waistline or if I can even find one remotely close to good in Singapore. Even though I was trained in Paris, I wasn't in an intensive programme for boulangerie & viennoiserie. Of course we did have some hands on practice, once or twice in school and then for the rest of my time there, it was internship and I was in the "tour" department (everything that involved any kinds of dough and the laminator) for only 3 days (lol). From that, you'd know that Viennoiserie is clearly not my area of expertise because 2 lessons! How am I suppose to laminate, cut and roll croissant doughs to perfection?
That said, I've always wished I had more practiced hands for breads and anything that involves yeast. Those who've never had the opportunity of learning from the best bakers, you'll understand why when I say that we'll never be able to replicate or create breads half as good as those who've been in the industry for at least 20 years. It's not just the experience and love that's required anymore, it's the science and temperatures behind making a good bread dough. Knowledge that people outside this line don't know about simply because they don't reveal these trade secrets to you or even put it across the world wide web. So what trade secrets am I talking about exactly? Let me share some with you.
1. Ovens. The best breads and viennoiseries are baked in traditional ovens so we'll just never get that same effect from a home oven.
2. Temperature. It's no longer just about keeping the dough cool enough so as not to activate the yeast. Your base temperature, and temperature of your water, surrounding environment and flour determines how much you should knead your dough and on what speed, and for how long.
Pastry is everything to me and I always aim to be a well-rounded pastry chef. I still have a terribly long way to go to even get to achieving decent viennoiseries but I figured I'd start training and learning on my own. It's difficult because when you do have not much prior experience or training with them, I can only rely on books. I won't know what I did wrong but I guess I'll just keep doing it repeatedly and tweaking my method of execution every step of the way till I reach the point of mastering the base of all viennoiseries; the Pâte à Croissant.
Pâte à Croissant is the base dough to achieve a product of flakey and yeasty goodness. From Pain au Chocolat, to Pain aux Raisins and the many other various forms of danishes.
The recipe I got was from a MOF Bellouet Conseil Viennoiserie book. It was winter, we were cold, and we headed into Librarie Gourmand, seeking comfort in the books and warmth of the small and quaint bookshop specializing in just cookbooks. It was there that I picked up this amazingly detailed (loads of diagrams and explanations) dual-languaged recipe book. I knew I had to get it and it was made certain when I met the writer of the book himself at the shop and he told me it was a very good one. It cost me a whopping 76€ but I knew it would be worth every penny.
All good bread doughs are made using fresh yeast. In Paris, not once have we ever used instant or dry active ones. Fresh yeast lends beautiful flavour and a good body to the dough. The subtle fragrance of yeast is divine enough to make you feel like you're breathing in champagne as well. The cool feel of it crumbling through your fingers is just wonderful and I recall always sniffing my fingers after putting it into my flour mix.
Sadly for me, I don't even have the option of using fresh yeast in Singapore. There are probably bakeries or speciality shops that use or sell them which I have yet to discover but for now, I decided to do a test making Croissants using instant yeast.
Making Croissants in Singapore is hard. Period. And to do it from home? Frustrating really. The weather is disgusting, it's imperative that you work in an air-conditioned room and most importantly, you need speed. That can be a little tough at the point when you roll the dough out to 4mm thickness before cutting and shaping because it's a massive and crazy elastic piece of dough that keeps shrinking back every time you roll it. When that happens, it's not very good because every time it shrinks back and you roll it out some more, you're essentially over stretching the dough and it tears a little. That's why a good croissant is also made using a laminator.
As I was making the dough, I started to be aware of my areas of weakness.
Firstly, I might not have proofed the dough enough before buttering it.
Secondly, I didn't roll it out thin enough. I also took too long with the cutting and the shaping (because I couldn't find a ruler and my air-conditioner is not functioning properly, it's giving out hot air ugh.) That part I have to improve upon.
Thirdly, I rushed the proofing process a little. It really needs time at a temperature of 25C or the butter from the dough starts oozing out. The butter in my dough was alright but I didn't give it the time it needed. Lesson learnt: Be Patient.
Other than that, the turns were good I must say, and I know because I could distinctively see the layers in my dough after shaping and proofing.
Even though I executed the folds well because you can definitely see the flakey layers on the side, the centre wasn't as airy and hole-y as I had hoped it to be! Sorry, I've no photos because I was losing light!
It's possible that I might have pressed the layers too hard when I was folding but I'm quite sure it's not the case because I was rather gentle with them. I'm thinking it was the use of instant yeast and that I hadn't proofed the dough enough before buttering it. Perhaps it's because I didn't give it all the time it needed to fully proof at a gentle and slow rate as well.
I asked J about the possible reasons for my slightly dense centre and he told me the main factor would be because of the yeast used. He tested 3 times while he was in Kuwait using instant yeast and he could never yield the same results compared to when using fresh yeast. I heard of a shop that might possibly sell it and I might just head down tomorrow to see if I can find it! I will perfect the technique to make a good croissant dough if it's the last thing I do. Just takes a wee bit more time especially since I'm really learning all this all over again but by myself.
That said, there's no doubt that this recipe is genius. It makes the dough a lot easier to work with with the addition of butter into the dough to make it more supple. Once baked, the flavour of these mini croissants were spectacular. Since this was a trial, I won't be posting the recipe up. Let me do a second test using fresh yeast and if it makes a massive difference, only then will I post it.
Let me do the trials, and make all the errors so it'll be a breeze for you. ;)
On a side note, I've been working hard on the configurations and layout of my new blog template. How do you guys like it? Comment below to let me know your thoughts.
I was working on it into the wee hours of the morning yesterday. 6.30am to be exact, and then I got up again at 9am to fill all 4 assorted macaron shells and packed them nicely into their boxes for my upcoming private sale for friends. Surviving on only 2 1/2 hours of sleep, I am dead.
I made all the shells the day before and it was a frantic and busy production session because that Sunday morning, my dad dropped and broke my entire tray of green apple jelly.... I had to re-make it. (dommage #1)
I then did the dishes and by accident, I dropped my most precious candy thermometer which I bought in Paris last year and it shattered all over the floor. (dommage #2)
My heart broke at least 10 times over. Then I was wondering how in heck was I suppose to re-make the jelly and three batches of macaron shells when they all require my most trusted candy thermometer? Well, I guess I did it anyway and everything went rather smoothly, thank god for that.
It's been awhile since these #engnatalie macarons last appeared on my Instagram feed. I'm kinda glad it's back on because I miss seeing them there. However, no upcoming flash sales at the moment but always check back for updates!