Friday, June 21, 2013

Classic French Croissants

I'm not gonna pull any punches here.

I'm just gonna go straight to what matters in making good quality pastry.


Not pastry margarine, not shortening, not anything so chemically altered to taste like butter.

If you happen to live in Jakarta, I can honestly tell you that 95% of croissants you’ve ever encountered and, sadly, bought did not and never would contain 100% butter. Then how about the 5%? That would be if you make it by yourself or your best friend is a pattisier. Well, I never receive any formal training in cooking let alone pastry making.  I’m just a woman with a penchant for good food and who hates everything banal. So it’s making my own croissant then.

A general rule of thumb is, I also have learnt my lesson the hard way, the harder the fat is, the higher its level of trans fat. A long time ago, I purchased a piece of pastry margarine because the owner of the store said that it’s what the five stars hotels and bakeries use in their pastries. Despite my doubts, I bought it and also bought a good stick of butter. The morning after, I was about to make my butter slab so I took out the pastry margarine and my butter out of the freezer thinking it was a good time to test them both in pastry making.

Out of the blue, my friend asked to grab a quick breakfast and coffee. I went out thinking it would be a 30 minutes trip. I should have known better. We spent almost two hours at ACE Hardware after breakfast. When I got home, the butter was oozing out of its package for being left too long in the room temperature and the pastry margarine was still as solid as I took it out of the freezer. What in the name of everything holy? I did try to make a butter slab with it. Of course pounding is required. But when I pounded the pastry margarine, it was so hard it even left a dent in my wooden roller.

Now ask yourself this question; if it won’t even melt in room temperature, what chance does your body have in melting that horror when it gets in? And that’s only pastry margarine, the cousin of the real abomination called shortening. Fact is butter melts at a temperature a few degrees lower than body temperature and shortening melts a few degrees higher than body temperature. You do the math. While you do it, note that real butter won’t leave a bad aftertaste nor a waxy, weird feeling in your mouth.

So here it is. A recipe for croissants that will take you to heaven and back.

This is a Jeffrey Hammelman's recipe which I found at Weekend Bakery. I absolutely did not alter anything in the recipe. Alas I was 50 gr short of butter but the result was still absolutely stunning so the next time I want to bake these babies, I'd go for 230gr of butter only instead of the actual 280gr. Less butter, less guilt, but I can assure you, not less tasty.

For the dough:
500 g French Type 55 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour / plain flour (extra for dusting)
140 g cold water
140 g cold whole milk
55 g sugar
40 g soft unsalted butter
11 g instant yeast
12 g salt

For the butter slab:
230 g cold unsalted butter

For the egg wash:
1 egg + 1 tsp water

Note: if you live in Indonesia like me, you’d wanna turn on your air conditioner on. It’s best to work in a cool, if cold is not possible, room to keep the butter from melting when you laminate the dough.

Day 1
Combine the dough ingredients and knead just until the dough comes together and you reach the stage of low to moderate gluten development. Too much gluten development will make the dough fight back during laminating. Shape the dough like a disc, not a ball, before you refrigerate it, so it will be easier to roll it into a square shape the following day. Place the disc on a plate, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

Day 2
Make the butter slab:
Get two sheets of wax paper/ non-stick baking baking paper. Cut your cold butter and roll them between the sheets until you get a 17x17cm square. Refrigerate the butter until solid.

Take your croissant dough from refrigerator and roll it into a 26x26 square. Don't forget to dust your work table with flour. But not too much.

Put the butter slab just like in the picture. Make sure you've thoroughly chilled the butter slab so it'll be easier to work with.

Encase the butter slab by folding the dough just like an envelope. Seal the edges completely and make sure no air gets trapped inside.

Roll.. Roll.. Roll your dough. Roll it gently until it reaches 20x60cm long.

Do a letter style fold to your long dough. Cover you dough with cling film then refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you want to turn the dough 90 degrees like in picture 3 and roll it again until it measures 20x60cm and cover it with clingfilm. Refrigerate it again for 30 minutes until it again measures 20x60cm, cover it with clingfilm, and refrigerate over night. There are three rolls and folds in total.
To sum it up: 
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes
  • Rotate 90 degrees
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes
  • Rotate 90 degrees
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate until day 3
Day 3
The actual croissant baking day!

Take the dough out of the fridge. Remember to have the open 'end' face you. roll it until it measures 20x110cm.

Measure 12,5cm as the base of your triangle. For faster cutting, make a triangle pattern on a thick paper or carton. After you cut your dough into a triangle shape, pull it ever so gently until it elongates from 20cm to 25 cm. Make an approximately 1cm incision in the middle of the base of the triangle and just roll it until you get the shape of a croissant.

Brush the rolled croissant dough with the egg wash mixture and leave it to proof for 2 hours in a cool, draft free room so the butter won't melt and ooze out of the fine layers.

Brush the croissants for one more time with the egg wash mixture and bake in the preheated oven that has been set to 200C for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 175C and continue for another 5 minutes.

So? What do you think?

Okay let me put them near my windowsills so they can bask in the glorious morning sun while I brew some coffee.. 

Yes.. Yes I know I didn't tell you that it takes 3 days to complete the whole process. But believe me, by retarding the dough in the fridge, the butter that was incorporated in the croissant dough mellows and together with the yeast it creates a pleasant tangy taste. You'd think I put cheese in it but I did not. 

I can write a whole page of encouragement but it won't do a thing to make you brave enough to attempt this recipe. But I can promise you that even if you fail and make awful looking croissants, you would still be rewarded by a batch of the most heavenly tasting croissants in the world. Even if you don't wanna cut them into triangle, just lay them flat, let proof, and bake, you'd still be rewarded by a batch of the most heavenly tasting should-be croissants in the world.

It's the process that makes these croissants champions.

And the sense of accomplishment.

Happy baking,

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels

I have never met anyone who does not like pretzels.

Come to think of it, I don't know anyone who would refuse when offered a second pretzel.

The only pretzel store I went to when I was still an elementary school student was Aunty Anne. That was because there wasn’t any other store near my school that sold pretzel at that time. I loved the texture, the taste, and as I clearly recall it, their pretzels did make my little hands greasy and that would make mom annoyed because I would clean my hands using my skirt. Could the absence of pretzels in my late elementary school years be the effect of Aunty Anne’s policy of no selling to ill-mannered kids? Like all mom who enjoys the guilty look on their kids faces, that was what I believed. Only after I was in my 20s and completely forgot about Aunty Anne I found out that they were closed because the store moved to a mall in the western part of Jakarta. The area mom has always dreaded to go to because of the hellish traffic. That’s low, Mom.

Time passed without pretzels and voila, I got married and have my own little daughter. Then history repeats itself. A year ago, Aunty Anne opened a booth at our favorite mall, simply because the mall has many bookstores and isn’t too far from where we live, and since then Amiko would enjoy two pretzels every time we go to there.

Aunty Anne’s pretzels haven’t changed. They’re still yummy, though a whole lot more greasy than I remember. But it’s me who has changed. I’m not the little chubby, missing one front tooth, pony tailed girl who’d stuffed whatever taste and look good in her mouth anymore. I’m a very curious woman who needs to know how a certain food was made and what ingredients are in it before I even eat it. No, I’m not gonna do it to my friends’ cooking, if ever you wonder how freaky I am, I’m only doing it to the food I buy. A trust issue would perhaps be a more appropriate accusation.

So after about 6 month of occasional weekend mall visits and countless pretzels, I gave Amiko my usual money saving proposal which of course benefits all of us. No more store bought pretzel but I’d let her keep the money so she could buy an extra book or toy. Knowing the prospect of more books and toys for her collection, she would never say no.

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels is one of my favorite pretzel recipes from King Arthur Flour. Why didn’t I post it sooner? Because the pretzels disappear so fast I can’t even take a picture of a single one of them. I made them healthier, as usual, by adding wheat bran and skip the baking soda basking. The 2 minutes dough dipping in baking soda solution will give the pretzels their trademark caramelized look. Same goes for bagel. But since these are meant to be enjoyed, gulped down, and put smiles on my family and friends’ faces, not for aesthetic display, I'd never bother making the baking soda solution. You shouldn't, too.

Yield: 8 awesome pretzels
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
10 gr wheat bran
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm water*
*Your goal is a soft dough. You can skip the wheat bran but don't forget to use less water.

3 tbs melted unsalted butter
Cinnamon & brown sugar mix, optional but delicious
Coarse Sea Salt, optional but delicious

1) Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until it's soft, smooth, and quite slack. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes in a plastic covered bowl to retain its moisture

2) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into 8 equal pieces (about 70g each).

3) Preheat your oven to 245°C. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray, or lining it with parchment paper.

4) Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. 

---An army of pretzel wannabes!---

5) Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28" to 30" long), and twist each rope into a pretzel.

6) Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet.
In this stage, you can sprinkle them lightly with coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt, if you want salted pretzels. But if you want to top them with something else, no salting should be done. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

7) Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they're golden brown.

8) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you use it all up; It may seem like a lot, but that what gives these pretzels their ethereal taste. Then proceed with any topping you want, if you haven't salted them before.

I once read about a guy’s journey in finding a perfect pizza in American Pie: My Search For Perfect Pizza, one that reminds him of his childhood. That guy is Peter Reinhart who happens to be one of the world’s bread masters. As he gets older he craves for the pizza he used to have when he was still that kid from the block. His favorite pizza store is still in the same corner, but somehow it’s just not the same. The smell is still there, the atmosphere is still there, but the taste isn't.  So he tried to recreate the one like he remembered but eventually discover something worth remembering for the rest of his life.

The point of that story is that we will seek comfort in old memories. But if we try to go back, something will always be off and it will only mar the fondness we have towards that fragment of memory. After all, memories are merely a part of our life that is done. No one stays the same and why cling to the past if we can make a better future. Oh, sorry for being a little philosophical. Blame baking bread for giving me more time to contemplate.

Anyhow, I thank Aunty Anne for giving me wonderful pretzels and happy memories with my beloved mother, sister, and brother. Those were one of the jolliest times of my childhood. But now it's up to me to give Amiko even better pretzels so that she would remember my pretzels as she grows. As for my husband, so he would clean the house on weekends.


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Monday, June 10, 2013

How To Make A Starter From Scratch

At last, a post I owe so much to many people. Do you know that I'm writing this while eating a piece of great bread made with no commercial yeast? 

If you love bread, enjoy having a love affair though only now and then with science, and or feel like you should be going on a grand adventure along with Gandalf and you feel like you should be living in medieval times with all its magic and glory, then read on.

Before we make The Starter, we have to make sure that we are committed enough, at least for 7 days, to finish the process or it will only be a waste of ingredients.

Things you need to prepare:
-A glass jar big enough to contain up to 4 cups of liquid
-Whole wheat/rye flour
-All purpose flour
-Mineral water

Optional but handy:
-A marker, not the permanent one, to mark the growth of your starter.

Important: Sterilize your utensils!

Shall we start?

DAY #1
Mix 120gr whole wheat flour/rye flour with 1/2 cup water. Stir. Cover with plastic. Let it sit for 24 hours. Bacteria will easily grow in a warm environment, so placing it above the fridge or near the rice cooker is a good idea.

DAY #2
Stir the starter. Leave only 1/2 cup in the glass jar and throw the rest. Add 120gr of all purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water to the remaining concoction in the jar. Cover with plastic. Let it sit for 24 hours.

#DAY 3,4,5,6
Get ready okay, we’re gonna enter the 12 hour cycle.

Go on… Smell your starter, if you’re doing exactly as I wrote above, it’ll smell so sweet; like fermented fruit, mulled wine. You’d be surprise. In a good way.
In these four days, every 12 hours aka two times a day, all you have to do is leave 1/2 cup of the starter in the glass jar and throw the rest. Add 120gr of all purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water.

Do this till the 6th day. Remember, twice a day with 12 hours interval.
5, 6, or 7 o’clock in the morning and evening would be a bearable time so you can still go to the office and hopefully you’d be back around those times as well.
FAQ: What happens if I forget to do it at the precised time?
It’s ok. Just don’t let it be more than 2 hours late. You’d risk repeating the whole process from the beginning because at this stage, your pet bacteria need to be constantly stimulated.

DAY #7
If you stick to the schedule, your starter should be ripe, alive, and kicking.
How do you know that your starter is ripe, alive, and kicking?
Just 3 hours after you feed it, it would grow double or triple in size in size.

What to do after you’re sure your starter is good..
Feed the starter one more time. As usual, keep only 1/2 cup of starter in the jar, throw the rest, in with the 120gr of all purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water, then simply leave it for 6 hours. After 6 hours you should transfer it into a glass jar or a simple mason jar. Be sure that it isn’t airtight and it’s sterilized.
Keep your starter in your fridge.
There you go.. You have a pet bacteria in your fridge. Yay!

There are so many ways to make a starter, or madre, that involve fruit juices, raisins, grapes, or adding some sugar. Those would definitely work. But will the starter last years? Yes. With Zeus by your side.
With the heat and humidity here, a starter made by including sugary substances in form of fructose, no matter how natural it is, will make the bacteria drunk on sugar and eventually die. Sweet death that ain’t so sweet after all. So be confident with just flour and water.

Caring for your starter aka feeding:
Feed it at least a week for the first month or two. After that, when you guys have known each other better, you’d notice that your starter can go on like two or even three weeks without being fed.

If you happen to see a brown, rather murky liquid on your starter because you have left it for too long, don’t worry. It’s called hooch and it smells like alcohol simply because it is alcohol.
Just throw the hooch by pouring it and feed your starter.

How should I feed my starter? 
Pour 120 gr of flour and 1/2 cup of water, stir it, and then leave it for 6 hours in room temperature.
After that you can take what you need to be used in your bread making and keep the rest back in the fridge. If you’re not gonna bake, throw and leave at least 1/2 cup of starter in your jar.

I personally keep at least a cup because I bake often. So it's up to you actually to keep as many or as little as you want.

If you feel bad at throwing your starter, you can definitely give it to someone. It’ll make an awesome and inspiring gift considering the person you’re giving it to appreciates artistry and would willingly go the distance to have decent bread on the table.

If you can't even find a person to give it to and still feel bad about throwing or discarding your starter, you can use it in these recipes:

Tasty Tip:
Do you know that your starter can have a different flavor every now and then?
I sometimes feed it with only rye, sometimes a mix of rye and all purpose flour. The starter evolves and it has personality. To think that the smallest life form on earth can do that is just amazing. The bread you bake today will never taste the same like the bread you bake next week or some other times. 

I hope this post helps and not freaking you out in starting your ‘real’ bread journey.

If ever you have a question, you know how to contact me. I’d be glad to answer your questions and feed your curiosity.


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