Waste Not Want Not: croissant-dough

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Our friend the croissant has undergone too many transformations to count. Over the last couple of years alone, it’s been the subject of more press attention and structural modification than any other French celebrity. It has inspired pastry hybrids (and low-brids) the world over (although not, interestingly, in France), and caused trivialities for Mr. Kanye West when he inadvertently ruffled the Association of French Bakers’ feathers for abusing the much-loved pastry on one of his recent tracks (the complaint was later uncovered as a spoof, innocently poking fun at the French and their precious culinary heritage).

I’ve yet to experience one of Ansel’s cronuts (forgive me, Cronuts™) firsthand. I’ve got respect for the old school, and have most likely eaten enough croissants to sink a ship, but would never turn down a chance to try something new (especially the September ‘fig mascarpone’ edition). I’m silently refusing to settle for less than a Cronut™ however; biding my time, waiting patiently for that trip back to Spring Street, Soho. We’re spoilt for choice here in Melbourne, currently home of the ‘dossant’, the ‘cruffin’ and even the ‘zonut’, but since I’m limiting myself to one-per-lifetime (it IS deep-fried croissant dough after all), I’m saving myself for ‘the one-and-only’.

Momofuku Milk Bar’s ‘Thanksgiving’ croissant is less of a hybrid and more of a seasonal adaptation; it’s essentially a croissant that contains the full works: turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. They also prepare a kimchi and blue cheese version on a more regular basis. You may be surprised to learn that the French, with all their respect for tradition, have also been meddling. Although I never got around to trying one (I’ve put them on the Paris bucket list), Arnaud Delmontel’s honey-laminated rye croissants sound simply too good to be true. I don’t believe Gontran Cherrier sells his matcha/lemon croissants in his Parisian boutiques; as far as I know they’re strictly reserved for his Japanese clientele. I count myself lucky to have sampled one on my recent trip to Tokyo, and would almost go as far as saying that they’re better than their more traditional counterparts. Le Petit Mec in Kyoto is bravely experimenting with a mini anchovy croissant. So who knew laminated dough could be quite so versatile?

Those of you that have prepared and rolled croissant dough at home will know all too well that after the hard work is done, a handful of dough scraps and trimmings litter the table top, waiting to be transferred to the bin. I therefore present two ideas for your offcuts, both of which I witnessed in production at Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo branch. One we’ll call the ‘croissant croquant’, the other the ‘rock ‘n’ roll melon bun’. Before I begin, an apology – they’re both so tempting that it may be worth keeping a constant supply of laminated dough in the freezer. By all means use those tins of ready-to-roll stuff for either recipe too. Croissant dough takes time after all.

I’ll start with the ‘croquant’; essentially a messy pile of frozen cubes of dough offcuts, mixed with nuts and/or fruit and/or chocolate, risen and baked in either muffin tins or metal biscuit rings. You can be completely creative with these; anything goes. We’re at the height of apricot season in Melbourne at the moment (lucky us); my mind sprang to macadamia nuts next, but after seeing the price in the local store ($9.99/150g), I adapted! I roasted hazelnuts in butter until golden brown…see the full recipe below.

Apricot and Hazelnut Croissant Croquants

To make 6:

Croissant dough offcuts, cut into 1cm cubes and frozen
100g hazelnuts (skins removed)
4 small ripe apricots (3 if they’re large)
25g salted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten (for the egg wash)

1. Prepare your cooking moulds: if using a muffin tray, make sure the cups are deepish (a cupcake tray will not suffice), and choose an aluminium version as opposed to a silicone one, which will conduct the heat more evenly, giving you the best possible bake on all sides. I used a silicone mould and ended up with beautifully crunchy tops and slightly flabby sides, which are best avoided. You could also use biscuit rings, or crumpet rings I suppose, although something deeper and smaller, say 6-8cm in diameter x 4cm-deep is preferable. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange your rings, leaving a little space between each, remembering to butter them thoroughly first.
2. Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter. Wait until it has melted before adding the skinned hazelnuts. Reduce the heat to low then watch the butter foam up around the nuts – shake the pan gently, rolling the nuts around in the foaming butter to ensure an even colour. When the butter begins to smell nutty (the ‘noisette’ stage) and the hazelnuts are nicely brown, strain the contents of the pan through a sieve, catching the butter underneath in a heat-proof receptacle. The leftover ‘beurre noisette’ could be used in a salad dressing or madeleine/financier batter, so keep it if you have the time. Leave the nuts to cool before either chopping them or crushing them lightly – the chunkier the pieces the better.
3. In a mixing bowl, toss the frozen croissant cubes with the caster sugar and hazelnut chunks. Chop the apricots into small chunks (perhaps a little smaller than 1cm), then toss these through the mix. You’ll notice I added some mini marshmallows too – an experiment that worked surprisingly well.

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4. Start to pile the mixture into your prepared muffin cups/biscuit rings. For a rough guide I threw about 13 pieces of croissant dough into each, leaving plenty of nooks and crannies in which to stuff the apricot and hazelnut pieces. Fill the moulds almost to the top, allowing a little room for expansion. The dough will expand into the crevices as opposed to up and over the edges.
5. Once all your moulds are filled, cover the croquants loosely with cling film and leave to rise for roughly 2.5 hours. The dough will take longer to expand if it is especially cold in your kitchen. DO NOT leave the croissant dough anywhere too warm (next to a radiator for example) – the butter will only melt out of the dough. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when the layers have lifted apart (see the first photo).
6. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Gently peel back the cling film and lightly brush all exposed croissant dough with egg wash (use a soft brush and a ‘dabbing’ motion, taking care not to knock back or tear the dough). Bake in the centre of the preheated oven – they’ll need between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on your oven and style of muffin tray/moulds. I rotated the tray after 8 – at this point they were nowhere near the right colour. After another 6-8 they had developed a deep golden brown colour on top, though like I said earlier, remained a little soft around the sides. If not properly cooked and therefore ‘set’, the layers of pastry will collapse; ensure they are well browned and crispy (not burnt) before removing them and allowing the tray to cool. Don’t attempt to remove them from their moulds until they are completely cold.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Melon Buns

Traditionally known in Japan as the ‘melonpan’, and in Hong Kong as the ‘pineapple bun’, this sweet bun made with enriched dough is encased within crunchy cookie pastry. French pastry chefs often top their choux with a small disc of sweet pastry, just to give their profiteroles an extra ‘crunch’; the same theory applies to these. The sweet covering is also what gives these buns their unusual names; even though they don’t typically contain melon or pineapple, the rippled appearance on the surface (caused by the crack of the sweet pastry), resembles that of a fresh pineapple or rock melon.

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…fresh melon buns at a Japanese bakery in Tokyo.

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…and again at Gontran Cherrier, Shinjuku.

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…a pineapple bun in Hong Kong.

Since my imitations have been given the ‘fancy’ treatment (well, croissant dough isn’t just any old dough!), we’ll call them the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ cousins. I did come across one bakery in Tokyo that stuffed their buns with melon custard, so feel free to experiment at home…I guess if you can put it into a doughnut, then why not a melonpan too!

To make 6: (I made double the amount of sweet pastry, just so that I could try six buns with chocolate and six without)…

Enough croissant dough to roll into 6 x 60g balls
For the sweet pastry:
40g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
45g caster sugar
40g egg (lightly beaten)
100g soft flour
1g baking powder
A handful of dark/milk chocolate chips (optional)
Granulated or nib/pearl sugar (for the topping)

1. Roll your croissant dough into neat balls (of approximately 60g in weight, although you could make them larger) and freeze – make sure the dough is tightly packed and smooth.
2. Prepare the sweet pastry – rub the butter into the flour, sugar and baking powder before adding the beaten egg. Bring the dough together in your hands, but do not over-knead (overworking the pastry at this stage will make it chewy later). Add the chocolate chips to the dough if you have chosen to, then shape into a thick sausage before wrapping tightly in cling film and leaving to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

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3. Cut your chilled dough sausage into 6 pieces of equal size. Roll each piece into a ball, then remove your frozen croissant dough balls from the freezer. One by one, flatten a ball of sweet pastry in the palm of your hand and place a ball of croissant dough in the centre. Gradually push the croissant dough down into your hand, easing the pastry around it gently. Keep pushing and cupping your palm around the ball of pastry until it almost entirely covers the croissant dough. At this stage flip the ball over and simply roll it against your palm using your other free hand; this will smooth over the dough on the presentation side. Don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t entirely cover the croissant dough – as you can see, I ended up with a bit of a gap. This gap will allow the pastry to expand a little as the dough rises later on.

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4. Holding the base of each bun, dip in granulated or nib/pearl sugar before placing onto a tray lined with baking paper. Make sure each bun has a bit of room to expand on the tray (i.e. don’t sit them too close together). Cover the buns lightly with cling film before leaving them to expand.
5. Check the buns after an hour or so – croissant dough takes a fair bit of time to rise (because of all that butter weighing it down), but be warned that if left too long, the croissant dough will burst through the sweet pastry encasing it.
6. Once your oven has come up to 190°C, remove the cling film and bake the risen buns for at least 20 minutes. They should be golden brown and crunchy on top (it’s a little tricky to judge whether they’re fully baked in the middle, but I found that the level of colour on top gives a fairly good indication of ‘doneness’).

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Iced Fingers with Butterscotch and Lime

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This is a recipe I tried and tested several months ago during our stay in Japan. I wanted to introduce our Japanese hosts to something quintessentially British, and since I was heavily absorbed in the new Great British Bake Off episodes at the time (a huge thank-you goes out to whoever uploaded them all to YouTube), iced buns immediately sprang to mind. I’m not in the slightest bit ashamed to say I love that show, although I’ve since discovered the French version, ‘Le Meilleur Patissier’, which almost puts it to shame. Anyway I probably shouldn’t admit to having watched British TV whilst staying in Tokyo…..but I suppose everyone misses home sometimes.

I could have kept it simple and made traditional iced fingers, but instead spruced them up a little. The Japanese are notoriously difficult to impress, so I chose to stuff my buns with a butterscotch cream, and glaze them with a fresh lime icing; both components were straightforward enough to make, and complimented each other almost perfectly. I borrowed the butterscotch sauce recipe from the ‘Smitten Kitchen’ blog; to this I just added whipped cream.

Iced bun dough itself is usually pale, soft and only semi-sweet; it’s the filling, normally cream-based, and the white icing, which give the fingers their notorious sweetness. I seem to remember our local bakery adding glacé cherries to the cream filling too; avoid indulging in too many of these if you want to avoid actual ‘fat finger’ syndrome.

For the bun dough (enough to make 6):
250g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
20g unsalted butter, softened
1 medium egg
1 x 7g sachets instant yeast (or 15g fresh yeast)
1 tsp salt
75ml warm milk
70ml water

For the lime icing:
200g icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2-3 tbsp water

For the butterscotch cream:
4 tablespoons butter
109g dark or light brown sugar
118ml double cream
2g sea salt
1 1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract/paste, or 1 fresh pod, split
200ml double cream (approximately)

To prepare the butterscotch:

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan then add the sugar, cream (118ml) and sea salt. Whisk well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
2. Bring to a gently boil and cook for approximately 5 minutes, whisking from time to time.
3. Remove the caramel from the heat and add the vanilla. Taste the caramel (careful it will be extremely hot!) and adjust the seasoning – it may be necessary to add either more salt or more vanilla. Whisk well until completely smooth and glossy, then transfer to a clean bowl/container and leave to chill in the fridge.
4. Whisk up the 200ml double cream until it forms soft peaks. Pay attention not to over-whip, as it will be folded into the cold butterscotch sauce later.
5. When the sauce is completely cold, fold the whipped cream through it gently, little by little. If you desire a strong butterscotch flavour, you may want to hold back some of the whipped cream. The final consistency should be creamy and light, but still firm enough to pipe.

To prepare the fingers:

1. Start by making the bun dough – place all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, holding back 1/4 of the water for the moment. Stir the mixture with your hands until it resembles a rough dough, then slowly add the remaining water. Bring the dough together in the mixing bowl by kneading gently.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise for at least 1 hour.
3. Use this time to prepare the butterscotch sauce, then leave to chill.
4. The dough should have doubled in size. Turn it out gently onto the table top and divide into 6 pieces, each about 70g in weight. Roll each piece into a ball, then extend the balls into fingers about 13cm long by placing the palms of your hands flat against the work surface and rolling back and forth.
5. Place the dough fingers onto a greased baking tray, leaving a small gap of about 1cm between each. The dough will expand, filling the gaps and connecting the buns in a line. Cover the entire tray lightly with cling film to prevent the dough from drying out, then set aside for at least 40 minutes to allow the buns to rise.
6. Preheat the oven to 220°C. When the fingers are well risen transfer to the hot oven and bake for 10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Transfer the line of buns to a wire rack to cool, without separating them just yet. Leave them to cool completely before gently tearing them apart, then either cutting or breaking them down the middle.
7. Fold the whipped cream through the butterscotch sauce to finish the filling.
8. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the freshly grated lime zest. Gradually stir in the lime juice, followed by a small splash of water to form a thick paste. If it’s a little too thick, add a drop more water. You could even add more lime juice if you prefer the flavour really pronounced.
9. Pipe or spread the butterscotch cream evenly down the centre of each cooled finger. Be as generous as you like, according to your taste. Now spread the lime icing across the top of your buns, not worrying too much if it drips down the sides.

My fingers were met with complaints – according to Adam, an iced finger should be split in half directly across the top lengthways, as opposed to sandwich-style along the side. I’ll leave the decision up to you – who am I to tell you how your fingers should be stuffed and served! I suppose it depends on where you come from. Cutting them along the side however, definitely makes the icing easier.

Festive Fruity Buns

The following was an early attempt at embracing Christmas cheer, despite it fast approaching 35°C outside the kitchen window. These days see us living and working in Melbourne, Australia, where my system has not yet adapted to the backwards way of life. Spurred along by our new Parisian housemates (who are, coincidentally, making us feel very ‘at home’ in our new surroundings), I thought it high time to test out the oven with a British classic, spruced up a little by a festive twist. I of all people should know by now that the fastest way to win over a Frenchman is by feeding him. My aim was to kill two birds with one stone; enjoy some time in the kitchen with a new recipe, and woo our housemates with the fruity dough of my labour.

The following is a PH recipe (that’s Paul Hollywood, not Pierre Hermé) – he calls them Christmas buns. To be honest, the only thing mildly Christmassy about them is the inclusion of cinnamon in the filling, the smell of which always makes me feel festive, even if we do tend to use it year-round. I followed his recipe to the letter, but have made some changes, for the better in my humble opinion, to the one I include below. Firstly I would suggest adding some booze (if you can’t be extravagant at Christmas time then well, when can you?). I think the best way in which to do this subtlety would be to use a slosh to soak the fruits before making up the filling, thereby giving the buns a richer flavour and the dried fruit a moorish plumpness. I suggest using either Grand Marnier, Cointreau or perhaps Pedro Ximenez if you have a really sweet tooth.

Secondly, I think the quantity of filling could be much more generous; I’d even go as far as doubling the amount he suggests. Finally, I glazed my buns with egg-wash before baking them, just to give them a little added protection in the oven, and to ensure an even colour. I’m sure PH would not approve of my changes, and if you don’t fancy trusting them either, then you can find the original recipe in his book ‘How to Bake’. I won’t be offended. He might be though.

For the dough:
300ml whole milk
40g unsalted butter, softened
500g strong white flour
10g fine salt
10g instant yeast (I used 30g of fresh yeast)
1 egg, lightly beaten
A little extra beaten egg, for brushing the buns before baking

For the filling (double his suggested quantity, except for the butter):
25g unsalted butter, melted
150g soft brown sugar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
200g dried cranberries
200g dried apricots (chopped to roughly the size of the cranberries)
A generous glug of Cointreau/Grand Marnier/Pedro Ximenez (optional)

For the glaze:
75g apricot jam (use the cheap stuff, which melts down better and contains fewer lumps and chunks)

For the icing:
100g icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp water

Method:

1. Warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter melts. The mixture should not be hotter than lukewarm. If you are using fresh yeast, add this to the warm milk now and whisk gently to dissolve.
2. Add the salt and dried yeast (if using) to the flour. Add the egg to the warm milk mixture, then pour into the flour. Stir together, using either your hands or a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes together into a rough dough. It may be necessary to add a touch more flour, but don’t be too hasty; the dough should remain a little sticky during the kneading process.
3. Tip the rough dough onto a floured work surface and begin to knead. Keep working for 5-10 minutes, through the initial sticky stage until the dough starts to look glossy and smooth.
4. Transfer the silky dough to a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – this will take approximately 1 hour, perhaps longer.
5. Line a deep-sided baking tray or roasting dish with butter and baking parchment. I used a round Victoria sponge tin which is fine too.
6. To prepare the dried fruits (if you’ve decided to steep them), heat your chosen liqueur in a small saucepan. When hot, pour over the cranberries and apricot pieces, making sure that they are completely covered, before setting aside to cool. You may want to cover this mixture with cling film just to prevent all the precious liquid evaporating away.
7. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a rectangle about 5mm thick. Tack down the edge closest to you (this will allow you to pull and tighten the dough as you roll, giving a neat swirl). Brush the surface evenly with all the melted butter, then sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon. If you have soaked the dried fruits in alcohol, squeeze out any excess by hand, then sprinkle the juicy fruit pieces over the sugared dough. Reserve the drained liquid, which could even be used instead of water to thin down the apricot jam for the glaze later.
8. Roll the dough up into a tight cylinder, stuffing any fallen cranberries back into the ends with your fingers. If your cylinder is slightly uneven in shape fear not; fat sections can be stretched out gently. In the end it’s shape should resemble a Swiss roll.
9. Before cutting, make faint indentations with your knife along the surface of the dough, to help ensure that each piece is of an equal weight and thickness. Aim for 9 slices, discarding the extremities if they lack filling. Place the slices, cut side up, neatly into the prepared baking tray, leaving a little space between each piece. PH lines them up like hot cross buns, 3 x 3. I arranged my buns in a spiral pattern (see photo below).
10. Cover the dough with a tea towel and set aside to rise for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 190°C.
11. At this point the dough should have risen and expanded into the little gaps that were left between the buns. They will feel light to the touch, and so gently so as not to deflate or tear the dough, brush them with a little beaten egg using a soft pastry brush.
12. Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly risen and golden brown in colour. Warm the apricot jam with a splash of water, then push through a sieve for a really smooth consistency. Brush the jam over the hot buns, then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. Ensure the jam is super-hot and it will spill into all the crevices, giving the buns an even and thorough glaze.
13. When the buns are completely cool, mix together the lemon icing (you could of course flavour your icing with orange if you prefer). Make sure it’s free of lumps before piping/spreading/trickling generously across the top of your buns.

Unfortunately, however much you may fancy guarding them, these buns are ideal for sharing. Neatly cut or simply torn apart, they make a perfect afternoon treat. If I were in England right now, I’d scoff them by the fire with some mulled wine. For this year though, perhaps they’ll make a nice addition to a Christmas picnic basket or BBQ. I bet you feel really sorry for me having to cope with all this Australian sunshine.

The dough has just about expanded into all the little gaps…..

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Baked, glazed, iced and ready to share, if I can bear to…..

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