I’m not usually one for butter and sweets, but on Fridays I like to indulge. Usually my Friday treat comes from a bottle, but since it’s barely past noon, I figure it’s probably too early for St. Peter’s Organic Ale. On the other hand, it’s never too early for bread.
My bread baking attempts took on new levels of butter last week as I baked my first ever batch of croissants and brioche with the much-needed assistance of Helen Lawrence, Rachel Demuth’s partner in pastry at Chateau Ventenac. Admittedly, my contribution was sporadic at best, but I did discover that there’s something special about baking pastry versus bread. And a lot of that speciality has to do with butter.
Take brioche, for instance. You start with what seems like regular bread dough, then add an obscene amount of butter. Here, cold hands are an asset, and I admit that I blushed a little when Rachel told me I had “pastry making hands” because of my icy fingers. The trick is to incorporate the butter before it can melt, which is a bit daunting. But the process is delightful, and I parted the dough with silky soft hands that smelled good enough to spread on toast.
Croissants are a different process entirely. Not only do you get to roll out dough, but you even get to roll out butter. Rolling and folding: that’s a croissant in a nutshell. And you can use the same dough to make pan au chocolate.
Of course, there’s a reason why french grocery stores sell pre-mixed brioche and croissant dough (reminiscent of those Pillsbury Crescents you can buy in a cardboard tube): croissants and brioche are a labor of love. They involve lots of waiting, resting, mixing, rolling and shaping. But why bake if you don’t love the process?
For a few simpler, but equally delicious recipes, don’t forget to comment on this post for a chance to win Rachel Demuth’s Green Seasons cookbook. Today (Friday) is the last day to enter!
Makes 15 individual brioche
1 heaped tsp easy blend instant yeast
50g caster sugar
65ml warm water
4 eggs, beaten
450g strong white flour
pinch of salt
225g soft unsalted butter
melted butter to brush the brioche tins
1 egg, beaten
You will need brioche moulds.
In a large mixing bowl, sieve the flour and salt, add the easy blend instant yeast and mix together then add the sugar, warm water and beaten eggs and mix to a stiff dough by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook.
When the dough is smooth and silky, add the soft butter in small pieces and beat in. only add the next pieces of butter when the previous pieces have been absorbed, (if you are too hasty the dough will turn oily)
The dough is ready when it looks glossy and comes away from the edges of the bowl.
Place it in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and rest it overnight in the fridge.
Next day, butter your brioche moulds really well.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Its important to keep the dough cool, otherwise the butter will start to melt and the dough will become sticky.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and gently kneed the dough. Roll the dough into a sausage and divide up into 50g pieces, using scales to be precise.
Roll each piece into a teardrop shape. Put the big end into the buttered brioche mould and push the ‘drop’ or hat into the centre of the brioche. With a chopstick dipped in flour, push the chopstick through the top of the brioche almost to the bottom, this may sound strange, but it keeps the hat on.
Place the brioche in a warm place and let them rise for about 1-2 hours or until double in size. This will take time, as the dough has to warm up from cold, before it starts to rise.
While they are rising, preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Gently brush the top of each brioche with egg wash.
Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 20-25minutes until golden.
Eat warm with home-made jam.
Croissant (and pain au chocolat)
140ml warm water
50g castor sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fast action yeast
500g strong white flour
250g unsalted butter
egg wash = 1 egg beaten with a pinch a salt 1 hour before use.
Make a sponge: in a bowl whisk together the yeast, 100g of the flour and the warm water. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm place. Put the remaining flour, milk, salt, sugar in a bowl and add the sponge. Beat together with a dough hook until soft and sticky and coming away from the sides of the bowl. Cling film and leave to rise slowly overnight.
Take the dough out of the fridge, dust a surface with flour and roll out the dough into a large even square, 1 cm thick.
Take the butter out of the fridge (must be cold) and put into a food bag. Bash gently and roll with a rolling pin to flatten the butter into a thin square 2/3 the size of the dough. Peel off the plastic and place the butter into the middle of the dough.
Fold over the edges of the dough to meet over the butter enclosing it in a parcel like fashion.
Roll the dough into a long rectangle, rolling away from you to a long strip of 1 cm thickness. Fold one end in by 1/4 then the other end, fold over again so the edges meet then fold the ends together like closing up a book. Turn the dough 1/4 turn and roll out to a long strip. Fold one end by 1/3 then fold the other end over. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill for 30 minutes.
Take the dough out of the fridge. This time roll it out length-wise and width-wise to make a wider rectangle, 1/2 cm thick. Trim the edges and cut the pastry in half down the middle. Cut each strip into 7 triangles, making 14 small croissant in total.* Cut a small slit in the bottom side pull the corners away from each other and roll them up the length of the triangle.
Leave to rise slowly (not in a hot place) for 2-3 hours until doubled in size. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes before cooking then brush lightly with egg wash (don’t brush the edges with butter as this will impede the rising) and put into a hot oven at 200C for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 175C for 10 minutes or until the croissant are golden.
*Pain au chocolat – Cut the pastry into 14 small rectangles. Place 2 lines of dark chocolate across them and roll up. Use 100g melted dark chocolate firmed up in the fridge and moulded into strips for 14 pain au chocolat