The French are fickle – or, at least, their food is fickle. Being a self-proclaimed francophile, I more often than not find myself yearning to turn my kitchen into a pâtisserie. Macarons and I have a long friendship. Those delectable, delicate cookies have never posed a great challenge to me. (True, on more than one occasion I have struggled to achieve the perfect foot, but the hollowed cast-offs are as delightful a snack as their more successful counterparts.) There are two French treats that have eluded me, though.
Those treats are buried away in the small compartment I keep in my mind for culinary failures, where they have quite little company. I pride myself on my aptitude in the kitchen, developed from years of preparing my own, ever more inventive after-school snacks and the occasional dinner. I do not take failure well. The marshmallow, so seemingly innocent with its fluffy white exterior, is one of the banes of my existence, mocking me since my (repeated) failed attempts this past summer. Egg whites, sugar, gelatin – I still do not comprehend how this could be such a difficult treat to construct. Yet, somewhere in a landfill there are garbage bags full of slimy, tofu-like squares with a faintly carbonated scent and texture.
The other snooty French treat? The croissant. So light, so delicate, so flaky – so time intensive and fickle. After spending a whole day constructing these little crescents, consulting Julia Child’s recipe with the care and reverence of one of the local evangelist mothers with her Bible. The final result was a crescent-shaped hunk of bread with the flavor of a croissant, but lacking the puffy, flaky goodness. Ashamed, I cast off my hopes of producing a passable croissant, focusing instead on my Italian ancestors’ focaccia and perfecting the gluten free chocolate chip cookie. This week, though, I finally mustered up the courage to tackle the classic French pastry yet again – with far better results.
Quite fortunately for me, since I last tried my hand at croissants, there have been two important developments on the Internet: the proliferation of food/lifestyle blogging and the popularization of GIFs. The latter is the true gem. These magical little moving pictures, as featured in this wonderfully informative post by Top with Cinnamon, simplified the many, seemingly complicated steps that had daunted me in my past attempt.
Now, I do not know precisely what magic she employed in making her croissants to get those beautiful, delicate layers of pastry, but I do know my – less picturesque – croissants were a smashing success thanks to her excellent GIF guidance. Look at these beauties.
The core of the recipe Top with Cinnamon provides is similar to the one I consulted in the past, with a few important changes. Top with Cinnamon introduces the brilliant variation of freezing and grating the butter, as opposed to “smashing” chilled butter into a cube. This work of brilliance has forever indebted me to her, solving my problem of uniformly distributing the butter throughout the layers. On a less ingenious note, the method Top with Cinnamon prescribes is far more time-intensive than the one I used previously. I remember making them in the course of one day, whereas this recipe takes at least two. Not that you will care when you try one. The results truly speak to the time and care put into the pastry.
If you should feel the inclination to try your hand at crafting your own croissants, I would highly recommend it. When executed properly, the enjoyment you will get from noshing on one of your own, perfectly flaky works of French pastry magic will be so much better than the pleasure of eating a store- or cafe-bought croissant. Plus, after making your own croissants, you will surely appreciate the work that went into any croissant you eat thereafter.
Should you accept the challenge, definitely be sure to refer to Top with Cinnamon’s lifesaving post. More importantly, use the time you will save not fretting over how exactly to produce a beautiful cresent-shaped croissant to think up all the delightful ways you can elevate the plain croissant. My personal favorite was ham and pecorino romano, though the chocolate was good in its own right. I am still sad I used all the pesto for dinner last night, as I am certain a spinach, pesto and cheese croissant would have been truly marvelous. Similarly, I wish my little sister had not eaten all the Nutella. Oh well, more options for next time! With Top with Cinnamon un-complicating this delicious pastry, I know I will be making them again.