How They Made It: Parisian Baking in Outlander
Welcome back to our occasional series, “How They Made It,” where we explore the food and drink of Outlander. This time, we’re exploring Parisian baking from Dragonfly in Amber. Bon Apétit!
Paris was not good to Jamie and Claire. They arrived with hope, but left without Faith. Dragonfly in Amber (and “the-Season-that-shall-not-be-named,” aka Season 2) was tough to get through, but the time there brought us Fergus, Master Raymond, and Mother Hildegarde (and let’s not forget Bouton!). What about Claire & Jamie’s wardrobe? Or the splendor of Jared’s apartment? Magnus, Jared’s head butler, ran a tight household to be sure, right down to the food…everything was perfectly presented and definitely delicious. Remember the dinner party with Prince Charles and the Duke of Sandringham? The scene looking down the table had me in a spell. I’m sure breakfast would have been lavish, with scrumptious pastries and perfectly baked croissants. Jared (and Magnus) would expect nothing less.
Have you ever tried to bake croissants? Pesky devils, they. In theory they shouldn’t be difficult, just time consuming. You prepare a rich yeasted dough and a butter layer, then meld them together in a process called laminating (more on that later). After letting the layered dough rest, the croissants are shaped, baked, and yummmm…the smell in the kitchen alone is worth the effort. One of the food blogs I follow, Sally’s Baking Addiction recently posted a challenge to make croissants, and she provided instructions with pictures and a video. Quite straightforward, really. I’ve even made croissants before in culinary school. I decided to give it a go (for the sake of this blog, of course).
So what’s the trouble? You had to ask! It’s just that those darn rolled-up-bundles-of-buttery-joy don’t stay rolled up in the oven! The butter steams the flaky layers apart as they bake (something you want), but also steams them open if they’re not rolled up tightly enough (something you don’t want). ** SIGH ** Let’s back up a few paces and I’ll explain.
The process of laminating means you roll out dough and seal a butter layer into it like you’re sealing an envelope. You roll the dough (with the butter inside) again, fold the dough in thirds like a letter (wow, you’ve really got this postal analogy going on!), then turn it 90”…you’ve made what is called a turn. Repeat the folding and rolling out steps two more times. Simple! Sally’s detailed photos and video on her post really show the process well (a picture is worth a thousand words after all, and this post is long enough!). By doing all this rolling out and folding, you’re creating alternating layers of dough and butter, and the dough is getting thinner and thinner. It’s important to keep the dough cold so the butter doesn’t melt and ooze out when rolling (hence the long prep time). Laminating dough is not difficult.
When it’s time to shape the dough, you roll it up tightly and keep the rolls cold while they’re proofing (the resting time after shaping and before baking). This step is where I went wrong…I didn’t realize just how tight the croissants had to be. I was too concerned with making sure the layers didn’t tear as I shaped the triangles and that they didn’t look too lopsided. Live and learn, I suppose.
Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe…I repeat it’s not hard, but you’ll want to set aside enough time to complete the process (I spread it over 2 days). My notes are in italics below. Side note: doesn’t the stretched out triangle above look like the Eiffel Tower? I wonder if that’s where the inspiration for the shape came from? Just sayin’…
yield: 16 CROISSANTS
prep time: 12 HOURS, 45 MINUTES
cook time: 20 MINUTES
total time: 13 HOURS, 10 MINUTES
- 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons; 60g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (I should have used unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter, which is closer to what Magnus would have stocked in the pantry (remember the Great Butter Bake-off Battle from my post about shortbread?), but all I had was unsalted Trader Joe’s butter in my house.)
- 4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling/shaping
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 Tablespoon active dry or instant yeast
- 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) cold whole milk (I used 1 c. 1% Milk and ½ cup of heavy cream because that’s what I had at hand)
- 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (again, Kerrygold would be great here)
- 2 Tablespoons (16g) all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) whole milk
- Preliminary notes: Read the recipe before beginning. Make room in the refrigerator for a baking sheet. In step 6 and again in step 13, you will need room for 2 baking sheets.
- Make the dough: Cut the butter in four 1-Tablespoon pieces and place in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or you can use a handheld mixer or no mixer, but a stand mixer is ideal). Add the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Turn the mixer on low-medium speed to gently combine the ingredients for 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk. Once all of the milk is added, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat the dough for at least 5 full minutes. (If you don’t have a mixer, knead by hand for 5 minutes.) The dough will be soft. It will (mostly) pull away from the sides of the bowl and if you poke it with your finger, it will bounce back. If after 5 minutes the dough is too sticky, keep the mixer running until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Remove dough from the bowl and, with floured hands, work it into a ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured silicone baking mat or lightly floured baking sheet. (I highly recommend a silicone baking mat because you can roll the dough out in the next step directly on top and it won’t slide all over the counter.) Gently flatten the dough out and cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place the entire baking sheet in the refrigerator and allow the covered dough to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Shape the dough: Remove the dough from the refrigerator. I like to keep the dough on the silicone baking mat when I’m rolling it in this step because the mat is nonstick and it’s a handy guide for the exact measurement. Begin flattening out the dough with your hands. You’re rolling it out into a rectangle in this step, so shaping it with your hands first helps the stretchy dough. Roll it into a 14×10-inch rectangle. The dough isn’t extremely cold after only 30 minutes in the refrigerator, so it will feel more like soft play-doh. Be precise with the measurement. The dough will want to be oval shaped, but keep working the edges with your hands and rolling pin until you have the correct size rectangle.
- Long rest: Place the rolled out dough back onto the baking sheet (this is why I prefer a silicone baking mat or parchment because you can easily transfer the dough). Cover the rolled out dough with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, place the entire baking sheet in the refrigerator and allow the covered dough to rest in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. (Up to 24 hours is ok.)
- Butter layer (begin this 35 minutes before the next step so the butter can chill for 30 minutes): In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and flour together until smooth and combined. Transfer the mixture to a silicone baking mat lined or parchment paper lined baking sheet. (Silicone baking mat is preferred because you can easily peel the butter off in the next step.) Using a spoon or small spatula, smooth out into a 7×10-inch rectangle. Be as precise as you can with this measurement. Place the entire baking sheet in the refrigerator and chill the butter layer for 30 minutes. (No need to cover it for only 30 minutes.) You want the butter layer firm, but still pliable. If it gets too firm, let it sit out on the counter for a few minutes to gently soften. The more firm the butter layer is the more difficult it will be to laminate the dough in the next step.
- Laminate the dough: In this next step, you will roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Do this on a lightly floured counter instead of rolling it out on your silicone baking mat. The counter is typically a little cooler (great for keeping the dough cold) and the silicone baking mat is smaller than the measurement you need. Remove both the dough and butter layers from the refrigerator. Place the butter layer in the center of the dough and fold each end of the dough over it. If the butter wasn’t an exact 7×10-inch rectangle, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to even out the edges. Seal the dough edges over the butter layer as best you can with your fingers. On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough into a 10×20-inch rectangle. It’s best to roll back and forth with the shorter end of the dough facing you. Use your fingers if you need to. The dough is very cold, so it will take a lot of arm muscle to roll. Again, the dough will want to be oval shaped, but keep working it with your hands and rolling pin until you have the correct size rectangle. Fold the dough lengthwise into thirds as if you were folding a letter. This was the 1st turn.
- If the dough is now too warm to work with, place folded dough on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before the 2nd turn. I usually don’t have to.
- 2nd turn: Turn the dough so the short end is facing you. Roll the dough out once again into a 10×20-inch rectangle, then fold the dough lengthwise into thirds as if you were folding a letter. The dough must be refrigerated between the 2nd and 3rd turn because it has been worked with a lot by this point. Place the folded dough on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before the 3rd turn.
- 3rd turn: Roll the dough out once again into a 10×20-inch rectangle. Fold the dough lengthwise into thirds as if you were folding a letter.
- Long rest: Place the folded dough on the lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. (Up to 24 hours is ok.)
- At the end of the next step, you’ll need 2 baking sheets lined with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. The dough is currently on a lined baking sheet in the refrigerator, so you already have 1 prepared!
- Shape the croissants: Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough out into an 8×20-inch rectangle. Use your fingers if you need to. Once again, the dough is very cold, so it will take a lot of arm muscle to roll. The dough will want to be oval shaped, but keep working it with your hands and rolling pin until you have the correct size rectangle. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, slice the dough in half vertically. Each skinny rectangle will be 4-inches wide. Then cut 3 even slices horizontally, yielding 8 4×5-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to make 2 triangles. You have 16 triangles now. Work with one triangle at a time. Using your fingers or a rolling pin, stretch the triangle to be about 8 inches long. Do this gently as you do not want to flatten the layers. Cut a small slit at the wide end of the triangle, then tightly roll up into a crescent shape making sure the tip is underneath. Slightly bend the ends in towards each other. Repeat with remaining dough, placing the shaped croissants on 2 lined baking sheets, 8 per sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and allow to rest at room temperature (no warmer! I suggest just keeping on the counter) for 30 minutes, then place it in the refrigerator to rest for 1 to 3 hours. I prefer the shaped croissants to be cold going into the oven. When you poke the dough with your finger, it will slowly bounce back. That means they are ready to be baked.
- Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
- Egg wash: Whisk the egg wash ingredients together. Remove the croissants from the refrigerator. Brush each lightly with egg wash.
- Bake the croissants: Bake until croissants are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking. If croissants show signs of darkening too quickly, reduce the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Remove croissants from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before serving. They will slightly deflate as they cool.
- Croissants taste best the same day they’re baked. Cover any leftover croissants and store at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. You can also freeze for up to 3 months, then thaw on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator. Warm up to your liking.
Make ahead tip: Croissants are perfect for getting started ahead of time. The dough can rest for 4 hours or overnight in step 5 and again in step 11. You can also freeze the dough after the 3rd turn in the lamination process (after step 10). Instead of the 4 hour rest in the refrigerator in step 11, wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, place in a freezer zipped-top bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and continue with step 12.
- Make sure the dough is ALWAYS cold. If it warms up too much, stop what you’re doing and place the dough back in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Lightly flour the work surface, your hands, the dough, and the rolling pin as you work.
- Are there air bubbles in your dough as you roll? That’s ok. Pop them with your fingers or a toothpick, then lightly flour where you popped the air bubble.
- Do you want these croissants for brunch? I recommend starting the recipe the day before in the early afternoon. Complete steps 1-10, then let the laminated dough have a long rest in the refrigerator overnight (step 11). Begin step 13 2-3 hours before brunch.
Sally also provided instructions for making Chocolate Croissants, so I tried those also. I used dark chocolate, and even riffed by using some almond paste as well. These rolled up easier than the plain croissants (no pesky triangles; they were more like doughy sleeping bags), but again I didn’t roll them up tight enough and they opened up also.
One last point…do you want to freeze the shaped croissants to bake later? I found these instructions on halfbakedharvest.com: “To freeze the croissants before baking, complete the steps through step. Once all the croissants have been rolled place them on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Cover the baking sheets and freeze for about 2 hours. Remove the pans and place the croissants in a freezer safe bag and seal. Immediately place back in the freezer and freeze for up to 6 months. To bake, allow the croissants to thaw overnight in the fridge and then bake as directed.” Since I’ve made Trader Joe’s frozen pre-made croissants with success (again, defrosting in the fridge overnight & baking in the morning), I think it’s safe to say this method will work.
I’m always really hard on myself, especially when things I thought would be easy don’t go right. Remember the sourdough bread I spoke of in Baking at Lallybroch? When I first started making sourdough bread, the loaves were more like sourdough doorstops. Slowly, and with lots of trial (and don’t forget error!), I got better so that now I can make sourdough successfully. I’ve made French Macarons using that same trial & error and trial & success pattern (you can read about that journey on my Scotch & Scones post We have feet!). Even Sally posted about her early attempts at croissants, showing us photos of the deformed pastries she first made. Not everything is picture perfect at first, but even the failures can taste divine. Magnus might not let me bake in his kitchen now, but after a few tries…who knows?
What is the toughest baking challenge you’ve taken on? How did you deal with it?