September Daring Bakers–Julia’s Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

I must admit it–had I not been dared to make these wonderful croissants–I never would have.  Because I have a little secret.  I’ve never really been into French cuisine.  Mostly, because I generally dislike the taste of butter–a primary ingredient in much of French cooking.  But against my greater expectations—and need-more-practice-to-perfect my croissant-baking skills—the addition of butter (sometimes) really does add a little something special.  Mind this recipe is time and labor intensive–but if you love croissants, making your own will truly be a rewarding experience!

As you’re rolling out your croissants, feel free to add some tasty fillings.  A common variation is to add a square of chocolate.  I chose to go savory, however, and inserted a small log of cheddar cheese into a rectangular piece of extra croissant dough.

Ingredients
1¼ teaspoon of dry-active yeast
3 tablespoons warm water (less than 100°F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 cups of strong plain flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoon salt
½ cup  milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup (1 stick/¼ lb) chilled, unsalted butter
1 egg, for egg wash

Directions:

1. Mix the yeast, warm water, and first teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.
2. Measure out the other ingredients.
3. Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar.
4. Place the flour in a large bowl.
5. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour.
6. Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated.
7. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl.
8. Knead the dough eight to ten times only.
9. Place the dough back in the bowl, and place the bowl in the plastic bag.
10. Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.
11. After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips. 
12. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop, and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches.
13. Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up).
14. Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and the bowl back in the plastic bag.
15. Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge.
16. Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter.
17. Once the dough has doubled, it’s time to incorporate the butter.
18. Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board.
19. Using the rolling pin, beat the butter down a little, till it is quite flat. 
20. Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth. You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.
21. Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two.
22. Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches.
23. Remove the butter from the board, and place it on the top half of the dough rectangle.
24. Spread the butter all across the top two-thirds of the dough rectangle, but keep it ¼ inch across from all the edges.
25. Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third of the dough up.
26. Turn the dough package 90 degrees, so that the top flap is to your right (like a book).
27. Roll out the dough package (gently, so you don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14 by 8 inches.
28. Again, fold the top third down and the bottom third up.
29. Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 2 hours. 
30. After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter.
31. Tap the dough with the rolling pin, to deflate it a little.
32. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes.
33. Roll the dough package out till it is 14 by 8 inches.
34. Fold in three, as before.
35. Turn 90 degrees, and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches.
36. Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic, and return the dough package to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising).
37. It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants.
38. First, lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready.
39. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter.
40. Roll the dough out into a 20 by 5 inch rectangle.
41. Cut the dough into two rectangles (each 10 by 5 inches).
42. Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold.
43. Roll the second rectangle out until it is 15 by 5 inches.
44. Cut the rectangle into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches).
45. Place two of the squares in the fridge.
46. The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime. Roll it out again till it is nearly square.
47. Cut the square diagonally into two triangles.
48. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles.
49. Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.
50. Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet.
51. Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, creating 12 croissants in total.
52. Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 1 hour.
53. Preheat the oven to very hot 475°F.
54. Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water.
55. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants. 
56. Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are browned nicely
57. Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving. 
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Blackberry Buttermilk Cake—A Birthday

It was my birthday, so I made myself a cake.  Always an adventurer, I finessed a blackberry buttermilk concoction.  We had friends over, my close friends, and despite the joy that it brought me to see them all together with me, I couldn’t help to feel a touch of bittersweet afterwards, as I know this will probably be the last birthday, for now, with us all together.

Nevertheless, the combination of wine and pleasantly intellectual conversations, laughter, and painted watermelons, made for a lovely evening.  Never-mind the cake.  Oh yes, it was so good I had two slices.

 
Blackberry Buttermilk Cake, adapted from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 Tbs. baking powder
3/4 cups baker’s sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cup buttermilk
Zest of 2 large lemons
1 1/2 cups blackberries
 
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate container, whisk milk, eggs, and butter.  Whisk in the lemon.  Add the wet mixture to the flour and stir until combined.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Arrange the berries on top of the batter and gently press in.  
4. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
5. Cool and frost as desired.
 

Almost Spring Brown Bread Breakfast

I have been a fan of Irish Brown Bread since I moved away to college nearly six years ago, and wanting to make my own bread, but never having the time to knead and proof, fell back on a staple of the Old Country.  Brown Bread is wholemeal or wholegrain soda bread, and unlike the many American versions floating around this time of year, it’s truly the real deal.     Brown bread is always the best bread for a thick bowl of steaming vegetable soup, a quick yogurt and toast breakfast, and an open-faced sandwich with all the toppings.  In fact, I make it whenever the whim strikes or I have extra buttermilk hanging about in the kitchen, as was the case today.

Brown Bread is one of those national pastimes that arose out of necessity–due to the type of soft wheat grown in the cool Irish climate, which doesn’t yield an adequate rise for yeast bread, the abundance of buttermilk or sour milk left about in homes where there were always cows producing fresh milk, and the fact that it was filling and cheap during a time when the majority of residents were impoverished.

I’ve tried what seems like hundreds of brown bread recipes over the years in search of a perfectly moist loaf, as the bread can tend to be dry, all the while wanting a bread  that still has a sweet wholesome flavor, without sacrificing it’s simple nature.  After spending a Bank Holiday weekend last summer at Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork, I found it–Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread recipe.  It’s truly perfection.  I would expect nothing less from the famed woman who started the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Myrtle Allen’s Brown Soda Bread
4 cups wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal, oat bran, or thick-cut oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2-4 cups buttermilk
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease or oil a baking sheet or large loaf pan and set aside.
  • Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add the buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough is soft but not too wet, with no dry flour left.  (About 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk but more or less may be necessary).
  • Turn the dough out on a floured board and shape into a round about 3 inches thick.  Alternatively, pour the dough mixture from the bowl into an oiled loaf pan and spread evenly.  Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf with a wet or floured knife.  If making a round, transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the the bottom is nicely browned and the bottom of the load sounds hollow.

For a beautiful tasty breakfast that makes me think of spring with all it’s fresh colors and flavors, thinly slice bread and toast.  Top with plain yogurt, sliced mango, and fresh blueberries.  Delicious!