Viennoiserie inhabits a murkey borderland between bread and pastry. It is a bit of both, and yet neither fully one or the other. Bread is about grain and the flavor that can be developed from essentially manipulating it. Pastry, on the other, is about adding ingredients to grain in such a way that the additions create an end product distinctly different from the starting point. Another way of distinguishing the two - one I once heard from a distinguished Master Baker, if I recall his words correctly - is that bakers are of two types: those who like to wrestle dough and those who have more artistic bents when confronting it. It was not a critical comment, but intended to draw attention to the fact that most bakers (in fact) tend to be drawn to one or the other side of baking and that few excel at both.
Fair enough, at least in my opinion.
I am a bread baker at heart and in practice. But there is a small spark that is drawn to pastrywork, and it finds its occasional expression in attempts at viennoiserie (so-called because its origins were in Vienna) - for the most part in making croissants and pains au chocolat.
It is winter where I live, and so my kitchen is cooler than usual. Good conditions for working with laminated dough. Today, on an off-day from work, I decided to take a baker's bus-man's holiday and make croissants.
Actually, I began the journey last night, when I mixed my dough and created a butter block to be incorporated into it.
Today was spent laminating the dough through a series of manipulations called 'turns' which involve rolling out the dough and butter block into a rectangle, folding it into thirds (much like a business letter) and then, after chilling it, re-rolling it out, so to increase the number of laminations. Eventually (the third fold), the rectangle is rolled out to an extent that both ends are folded towards the middle and then one over the other (called a 'book fold').
Here is what the lamination looks like after the book fold:
After the book fold the dough is then refrigerated again and then cut into two piece, each of which is rolled out to a rectangle of about 7 inches high by 18-22 inches long. At this point, the dough is cut and subsequently shaped into either pains au chocolat or croissants:
Here are some photos of the steps involved in each:
The shaped croissants and pains au chocolat are then proofed from 1 - 2 hours, eggwashed, and then baked for 15 - 18 minutes. I like to begin the bake at 425° F and then lower the temperature by 25° after each 5 minute increment.
And here is how the finished product turned out today:
A few lessons learned from my experience with viennoiserie:
- work in a cool kitchen and on a cool counter. The secret to laminated doughs is keeping the butter and dough laminations from melting into one another. A warm kitchen will defeat this.
- liberally sprinkle the counter top with flour. Once the dough sticks as you roll it out, you destroy the laminations.
- work quickly. Roll out the dough with confidence and vigor. Even chilled butter will melt if worked on for too long a period. Don't pussyfoot about handling the dough.
- respect the dough. If, after repeated rolling, it is not stretching, surrender to it and place it back into the refrigerator for 10 - 20 minutes. It will relax and once again bend to your will. If, on the other hand, you turn the exercise into a test of wills, you will lose - the dough will tear and all your elaborate preparations will be for naught.
Here then, with lessons in hand, and the frank admission that I am still a beginner in the world of viennoiserie, are the results of today's bake:
Not bad, though the laminations could be clearer and more distinct. I'd give myself a grade of a B.
But the flavor, ahhh, that is something altogether better!
And reason enough to keep working at crafting the perfect croissant.