How I soothed my book release nerves by making croissants
Also, WHILE WE WERE DATING is a New York Times bestseller!
Friends! While We Were Dating is a New York Times bestseller and a USA Today bestseller, and I’m so thrilled and grateful! Thank you all for buying the book, asking your libraries to order it, talking about it online and in person, coming to my virtual book events, and everything else. A pandemic release is not the easiest, and even though this was my second pandemic release, that didn’t make it easier (though it did mean I was very familiar with Zoom for book events). But hearing from all of you about your excitement for the book was so so wonderful, and I appreciate it so very much. And I hope hope hope that vaccination rates will rise and Covid case rates will fall so that I get to do some in person events before this year is out, because I miss meeting and talking to readers in person so very much.
Okay so those of you who have been around this newsletter for a while, and/or who also follow me on social media, know that I do a good amount of procrasti-baking. Well, I also do my fair amount of stress baking, which I think of as related to, but not the same as, procrasti-baking. Stress baking is when I need to occupy myself during times of stress, and so I dive into a baking project, whether or not I actually want to eat whatever I’m baking. The more stressful the time, the more complicated the baking project. This is why I made croissants the weekend before While We Were Dating came out — when I told a friend I was planning to make croissants, she asked if it was really worth it to make them instead of buy them, because she tried it once and they only came out so so. I said “I do not care in the slightest how they come out, all I care about is that making them will take me many many steps.” And, indeed, making these croissants was a delightful project — making the dough itself takes first a sponge and then another step, you have to shape butter and refrigerate it, I had to use my rolling pin to bang butter into the dough, and then roll and fold and roll and fold, I had to measure the squares…all of this was just what I needed. And then all of last week, I woke up and let shaped croissants rise and put them in the oven and had them for breakfast, which was also fun. No, they did not taste nearly as good as if they were from a bakery, but that was just fine with me. So if you ever need a baking project, throw yourself into making croissants, and have fun with it. Below is the King Arthur Baking recipe, which is actually a relatively short croissant recipe; in the past I’ve used the Tartine recipe, which took days (and a lot more space for rolling the dough out) — I probably would have done the Tartine one again if this hadn’t been more of a last minute impulse, but I’m very pleased that King Arthur Baking had a recipe that took about four or so hours to get the dough ready (and then you have to refrigerate it for four hours or overnight, so I made the dough on Sunday and then made my first croissants Monday morning). Their blog post about the recipe is also super helpful for shaping the croissants and for making filled croissants — I made some regular croissants, some ham and cheese, and then a cinnamon sugar rolled up thing with the scraps, which was absolutely delicious. Also, I wrapped and froze half of the dough, so I’m excited to do something with that later this summer.
2 large eggs, plus enough warm water to make 2 cups (454 g) of liquid
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, divided
5 1/2 to 6 cups (659 g to 723 g) unbleached all purpose Flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (I used active dry, it was fine)
2 tablespoons (28 g) butter, melted
1/2 cup (56 g) nonfat dry milk, optional*
1 scant tablespoon (16 g) salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional, for sweet pastry) (I didn’t use this)
30 tablespoons (425 g) unsalted butter, cool to the touch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (60 g) unbleached all purpose flour
*Dry milk powder was one of my best panic purchases at the beginning of the pandemic — it’s an ingredient in a lot of baking recipes, but it also makes it super easy to bake stuff that calls for milk if I don’t happen to have milk in the house, and it lasts for a long time.
For the dough: Put the eggs and water in a large mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of the sugar, 3 cups (362 g) of the flour, and the yeast (because I was using active dry yeast, I added the yeast and sugar to the eggs and warm water first, let that sit for a minute or so, and then added the flour). Mix until well blended, set aside to let the sponge work.
For the butter: Cut the butter into 1 inch chunks and combine with the salt and flour at low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just smooth, with no lumps. You could also do this by hand — if you did, I would let the butter soften a bit more, then beat it by hand with a wooden spoon here until it’s smooth, and then refrigerate for longer. Don’t beat too much or at too high of a speed; you don’t want to incorporate any air. Spread the butter on a piece of plastic wrap and shape into an 8 inch square. Wrap well and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To finish the dough: (This is where I cleaned out the bowl to my stand mixer and then transferred the sponge into the stand mixer — you could also do the butter thing first, and then have the sponge be in the stand mixer from the beginning). Add the melted butter to the sponge. Whisk together the rest of the sugar, 2 1/2 cups (298 g) of the flour, the dry milk, and salt, and add to the sponge. Mix until the dough forms. Knead for five minutes, either by hand or in the mixer; touch the dough lightly with your finger — if it’s still sticky, add the remaining flour, 2 tablespoons at a time. I usually need to add all of the extra flour in recipes like this, because my kitchen is pretty humid, but for this one, I only needed to add a little, so go slow with adding the flour. Once the dough is smooth and elastic, pat it into a 9 inch square, then wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
NOTE: One of the many great things I’ve learned from following Eve Ewing on Instagram is to buy a plastic ruler to keep in my kitchen for baking recipes like this — it’s so helpful for measuring, and then you can just wash it along with everything else!
To laminate the dough: Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and gently roll it to a 12 inch square. Unwrap the butter square and place it in the middle of the dough at a 45 inch angle, so it looks like a diamond in a square. Pull the corners of the dough into the center of the butter, and dab a little water on the corners and pinch them all together well to completely enclose the butter. Dust flour on the top and turn the dough over, and then dust more flour on the top.
Bang the dough all over with a rolling pin, and roll it into a 20 inch by 10 inch rectangle — this will take a while, so turn over the dough a few times and keep rolling and banging without rushing it. This part is fun. Also, the recipe doesn’t say this, but I wish I’d done it — if your kitchen is on the warm side, once you get to the right size rectangle, take the whole rectangle of dough and slide it into the refrigerator for 15 or so minutes. My butter got a little too soft in the next step, and I wish I’d chilled my dough more before I got there.
Now, the folding: once your rectangle is the right size (and your dough is chilled, if necessary), brush off any excess flour, and fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter — keep the edges straight and lined up well. This is turn ONE.
Rotate the dough, roll it out again to 20 inches by 10 inches, and fold it into thirds again. This is turn TWO. Now wrap the dough well in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for thirty minutes. After the rest, roll it out again, fold it again for turn THREE, and then roll it out again and fold it again for turn FOUR. At this point, I cut the dough in half, wrapped one half up well in plastic and put it in the fridge, and wrapped the other half very well in plastic and put it in the freezer (but if you want to make all of the croissants at once, you don’t have to freeze it). But it’s easier to work with half of the dough at a time, so I’d still cut it in half here and wrap the halves separately.
For shaping the dough, head over to the King Arthur Baking blog post about this (shaping starts about halfway down), because their pictures and instructions are far better than I could type to you! I will say that when I made the ham and cheese croissants, I used far more ham and cheese than they called for, and I have no complaints about that. I have two notes, though about baking — first, mine took a bit longer for the rise than the recipe calls for (maybe because they were rising in my kitchen in the morning, and it was chilly in there) so go less by time than by how they look. But also, the baking time was a little too long for my oven; they call for 15 minutes at 425 and then 15 minutes at 350 — after doing my first batch, I reduced that to 10 minutes at 425 and 15 minutes at 350, and it worked better for me, but I think this might depend on your oven.
I’ll be on vacation next week, so no newsletter, but I hope you all read great books and eat delicious snacks in my absence!