Is this what your breakfast looked like? Because this is what my breakfast looked like. Freshly baked savory blue cheese croissants, raspberry jam and café au lait at the kitchen table sparkling with streams of late-morning sunlight. It was almost like I live in Paris instead of Jersey City, except in Paris the hobos engaged in fisticuffs on the street corner would presumably be yelling their expletives in French.*
*I would give you some examples, but I only know Italian expletives. If you know French expletives, please share!
You will note that this is the only photo with a caption, and it’s just to tell you that none of the other photos will have captions. Because we just came back from hiking, and I’m tired, and coming up with captions will take up valuable time I could spend finishing the post and taking a nap.
Speaking of hobos, have you ever read John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise? One, you should, because it’s very, very funny. Two, it includes a list of 700 hobo names. I have reviewed the list exhaustively and have decided that were I to become a hobo, my name would be “Parlor Pete the Sneak-Thief.” Or, since I would prefer to be a French hobo, “Parlor Pierre le Sneak-Thief.”
Let me just tell you the short version of the croissants before I launch into a whole post, so you can have an attack of the vapors if they’re too much for you and you’ll get the basics without having to read further. These croissants? Homemade*, using a compound butter of butter made from the milk of the cows used to make parmigiana-reggiano cheese and Neal’s Yard blue cheese. I KNOW, right?
We’d ventured into Park Slope, Brooklyn earlier in the day to visit Bierkraft, an amazing little shop with the most incredible beer selection I’ve ever seen; and they also specialize in cheese, chocolate and charcuterie. It’s almost like heaven, except for the whole being-in-Park Slope thing.*
**It’s not really that I dislike Park Slope, it’s just that I don’t have a toddler or a Bugaboo and I don’t knit or have lots of money to spend on hand-thrown decorative pottery for my home, so I never feel like I fit in. (And yes, I’m generalizing and making fun.) (Because it’s not like anyone ever does that about New Jersey.) (Not that I am bitter.)
While Brian was in beer reverie, I was trying to decide the third of the three cheeses I’d limited myself to buying (#1 was the blue for the croissants and #2 was an aged gouda, possibly my favorite kind of cheese.) FYI, I also got another Neal’s Yard cheese called “poacher” (which was great, unsurprisingly), but more importantly, while I was waiting for the cheesemonger to cut and wrap my cheeses I found the parm butter. Which I was morally obligated to buy despite the exorbitant price tag. You would have done it too, especially if Brian was buying.
BTW, any time I might have saved by forgoing captions? Gone. The Animal Planet Puppy Bowl is KILLING ME. All the cuteness centers of my brain are so highly overstimulated I can barely concentrated on basic motor skills, let alone spelling, grammar or wordsmithery.
ANYWAY, the dough was a basic flour-milk-yeast-butter deal; there was rising and punching and more rising. I got the dough recipe from the 1970’s Time-Life cooking series “Breads.” The Bon Appetit Foodist told me that the Time-Life Series is his most trusted, go-to cookbooks, and I found the WHOLE SET in a used bookstore for $1 a book Now I can do ANYTHING, aided by useful diagrams. There is NOTHING these books do not tell you what to do. I have become all-powerful, and all for the bargain price of $18.
While the dough was rising, I beat the softened butter with the cheese. Croissants and other puff-pastry style doughs are really just bajillions of thin layers of dough and butter, so why not compound butter? I mean, it could be gross and then we would know why not, but you never know until you try.
I rolled out the dough into an approximate rectangle. Do you know how hard it is to roll yeast dough into a half-inch thick rectangle? Dark Side of the Fridge does, and now I do too. Yet somehow, I’m also not supposed to unnecessarily work the dough, as it is apparently very high-strung. I felt like I had to pick one or the other, so I went with mashing the fuck out of the dough until it hit half an inch.
And then it was time for butter.
Lots and lots and lots of butter. I mean, a lot. And you know that if I’m telling you there’s a lot of butter? There’s a LOT of butter.
I used an offset spatula, which I never thought I would use on blue cheese, to spread the compound butter over two thirds of the dough, leaving a bit of an edge. I folded the unbuttered third over the middle third, and the the other third over that. Did that make sense? If it didn’t, look at the picture. The upside is that you end up with a rectangle that has two layers of butter sandwiched between three layers of dough. I sealed the edges, rolled it out lightly and wrapped it in plastic before leaving it to chill in the fridge so the butter could firm up before the next round of rolling.
It looked like this. I could have skipped this picture because it really doesn’t show anything interesting or educational, but I’ve already inserted it.
After an hour of chilling I rolled the rectangle out again and did the smearing-two thirds-with-butter thing again; it wasn’t in the directions, but I had all this leftover compound butter that I didn’t feel like saving. So now I had five layers of butter between six layers of dough. I think. It might be more than that, but the Puppy Bowl is severely affecting my mathematical and spatial relation skills.
Anyway, there was more chilling, folding into thirds, chilling, folding into thirds, and chilling and folding into thirds. Every time you do this, you multiply the number of butter layers by 5 (possibly – my math is still fuzzy OMG KITTY HALF-TIME SHOW) and have to let the dough chill for at least an hour before the next rolling, so make sure you have a week or two free before you try your hand at this.
Since I did the rolling sequence three more times, the final dough had, by my calculations, eighteen thousand layers of butter between eighteen thousand and one layers of dough. Or something. Any pretense of “not working the dough too hard” had been thrown by the wayside by hour thirty-six.
After the final roll, I cut my dough rectangle into triangles for shaping. I think I may have had too many butter layers (or else I’m just not very good at making croissants but that seems highly unlikely, does it not), because some of my butter was starting to ooze through the dough layers.
On the other hand, I bet that happens to everyone. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It happens to everyone.
One thing I can assure you: it had NOTHING to do with the beer I had consumed (which, because of my medications, felt like 7 beers*).
*I’m a cheap date.
I lined my rolled-up croissants on a buttered baking sheet – the fact that you have to butter the baking sheet is astonishing to me – covered them, and left them in the fridge overnight. Oh, in between, I took this picture from the angle wherein the rolls looked the most like actual croissants.
This morning, I left the tray out to sit while the oven-preheated, gave the proto-croissants an egg wash and baked them off. Higher heat for a few minutes to get “oven lift” and then another 20 minutes or so to finish cooking.
And they turned into actual croissants! They puffed! There were flaky layers! Okay, they were not the most bakery, professional looking croissants ever, but you would have been able to tell what they were had I not just spent this whole post describing them to you.
Do you need additional proof?
I’ll admit it, I was scared of the blue cheese the whole time. I need not have been: these things were fucking awesome. The parm cow butter had such a wonderful intense…well, buttery flavor; as soon as they started baking, the whole house smelled like we were living in a Land o’ Lakes box. The blue cheese had sweet, nutty and slightly funky notes, and there was just enough mixed into the butter to give the croissants a savory edge that was killer with some raspberry jam. The outer layers were crusty and flaky, the innards were moist, multi-layered and full of buttery nooks and crannies. THIS is how pastry and cheese should be combined. TAKE THAT, GOUGERES.
These were real croissants. I had to stop every couple bites to inspect what I was about to put in my mouth, because I kinda couldn’t believe that it had actually worked.
Now there’s a whole new world open: homemade puff pastry. Herb-infused puff pastry. Danish. Granted, I’d have to downgrade to part-time work to be able to make puff dough in the necessary quantities, but if it’s financially feasible, I WILL DO IT.
*Seriously, I’d even take a Nikon D60. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Compound Butter Cheese Croissants
1 1/4 c. room temperature whole milk
1 packet instant yeast
4 c. AP flour
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, 4 tbsp. chilled and cut into chunks, the other 12 tbsp. softened
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3-4 tbsp. blue cheese of your choice, depending on your love of the funk (or any other soft cheese that can easily blend into the butter)
Make the batter: Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a mixer.
Make a well in the flour, pour in the milk and add the butter. Mix on low speed until you have a very wet dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Put the dough ball into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch it down and let it rise for 2 more hours, the last hour in the fridge.
While the dough is on its final rise, blend the softened butter and cheese.
Shape and roll the croissants: Roll the dough out into a rectangle twice as long as it is wide and 1/2 an inch thick. Spread half the softened butter on 2/3 of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the dough as pictured above and seal the edges closed. Roll lightly to press everything together. Refrigerate for one hour.
Roll out again, same size, same thickness. Spread the other half of the butter, same dealio as above, fridge for an hour. Try to roll on a cold surface (like a marble board, or a cutting board you’ve put in the fridge/freezer) to keep the butter cold.
Roll the dough out again, fold into thirds, refrigerate. Repeat three more times.
Roll out one last time, same rectangle shape and proportions. Slice the dough down the middle lengthwise, then cut into triangles. Roll out each triangle just a little more, then shape the croissants, starting from one of the wide ends and rolling toward the point. Put the croissants on a buttered baking sheet.
Let them rise again, either at room temp for an hour or in the fridge overnight.
Bake: Preheat the over to 425. Brush the croissants with an egg wash (1 yolk diluted with a little water). Bake the croissants for 3 minutes, then lower the heat to 375. Bake for another 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden.
I highly recommend you consume them with raspberry jam.