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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Croissant and Caramel Pudding

This week, as part of my short internship at Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo, I was put to serious work rolling croissants and pains au chocolat. Half-way through my first batch of croissants (of about 100 I think, although I soon lost count), I was grasped by a sudden fear…..what if they don’t work? Fortunately I was not alone; one of the senior bakers was soon struck by the same concern and promptly set aside six of my efforts to rise. About four hours later (by which point it felt as though I was venturing into the thousands), I was called into the bakery. Phew, they were croissants. Not lopsided or crooked, I could banish the visions of misshapen viennoiseries from my thoughts. I finished my shift on a high and bought six to take home.

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Since everyone in our temporary Japanese/English household had the next day off work, I figured I’d try a twist on a British classic: bread and butter pudding. I’m not ashamed in the slightest to declare my love for anything Nigella; I was once ridiculed for admitting this so freely in the ‘professional kitchen’, but her recipes never fail to please. And so, to celebrate my (now slightly stale) croissant-shaped successes, I turned to ‘Domestic Goddess’ Lawson once again.

I modified the recipe a little because I couldn’t find any rum (and we’re currently living very low-budget); I added some good quality sea salt to the caramel instead.

6 stale croissants
300g caster sugar
6 tablespoons of water
375ml double cream
375ml whole milk
Two generous pinches of sea salt
6 large eggs (beaten)
6 tablespoons of rum or bourbon (optional)

1. Tear up the croissants roughly and place the pieces into a brownie tin or ovenproof serving dish.
2. Put the sugar and water into a medium-sized saucepan and stir briefly to help dissolve the sugar.
3. Set the saucepan over a medium heat and swirl until all the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Leave the sugar to cook until caramelised (do not stir from this point onwards or it will crystallise) – leave until a deep amber colour.
5. Reduce the heat to low and add the cream and milk, standing back a little as it will splutter. Whisk the caramel until all the solid toffee has dissolved and it is completely smooth.
6. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before whisking into the beaten eggs. Add the sea salt and taste the mixture, seasoning a little more if necessary.
7. Pour the salted caramel custard over the croissant pieces and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Place into a pre-heated oven (180°C) and bake for approximately 20 minutes. The pudding should be golden and crispy on top.

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My ‘Piña Colada’ Escargots

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Pineapple and coconut is one of my favourite combinations. Last year we went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, where I practically lived off piña coladas for four days! I’ve wanted to attempt a Vasseur-style escargot ever since I first set foot in Du Pain et Des Idées – I’m proud to say that this version is my very own creation. Since I’ve never actually made an escargot or pain au raisin before, these were a little experimental to say the least.

I decided on a croissant dough – Philippe Conticini’s croissant dough to be precise. Most pain au raisins contain a hidden crème patissière, so I searched for a simple coconut custard recipe. As for the pineapple…..a compote made with fresh pineapple, desiccated coconut and a splash of rum. Then finally, to give them a shiny finish, a Malibu sugar syrup. All the recipes are in fact Conticini’s…..sorry to be predictable, but it just so happened that he had an answer for everything I was looking for. I cooked the pineapple compote for a little longer than his recipe suggested because I wanted it very dry (I was worried that a wet compote would lead to soggy pastries). What I was left with was stickier and sweeter than Conticini himself probably intended, but it worked perfectly with the buttery dough. As soon as the escargots came out the oven, I brushed them with the Malibu syrup to give them a lasting shine. The Malibu’s optional of course – you could just make a plain syrup with sugar and water.

If you fancy attempting these, then I’d suggest starting the day before you want to serve them. On the first day make the croissant dough, pineapple compote and coconut custard, then all you have to do on the following morning is assemble the escargots before leaving them to rise…..and remember, you’re using croissant dough so they’ll need at least 2.5 hours to rise. The following recipes work together almost perfectly, i.e. one quantity of each recipe below will make approximately 16-20 large escargots, with no leftovers (although I will confess to eating a few spoonfuls of pineapple compote whilst working)…..

Step 1 – the croissant dough:

340g plain flour
10g fresh yeast
335g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
8g fine salt
55g caster sugar
40ml water
40ml semi-skimmed milk

For the ‘poolisch’:
90g plain flour
20g fresh yeast
80ml semi-skimmed milk

Prepare the ‘poolisch’…..
– in a small bowl, mix the flour with the yeast
– add the milk then stir vigorously with a whisk to form a smooth paste
– cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1-1.5 hours (it will start to bubble)

Prepare the dough…..
– add the yeast to the bowl of an electric mixer, followed by the water and milk (at blood temperature). Cover with the flour, salt, sugar and 85g of the butter (softened slightly), then add the finished poolisch
– mix at low speed until the dough comes together, then at medium speed for a following 5 minutes (to start working the gluten). Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for 1.5 hours (or until it has doubled in size)
– knock back slightly before forming into a neat ball. Wrap the ball of dough in film and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours
– place the remaining 250g butter between two sheets of baking paper. Use a rolling pin to work the butter into an exact square measuring 15cm x 15cm x 1cm-thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use
– roll the chilled dough into a rectangle 60cm x 20cm. Place the butter-block in the centre, then fold the two edges towards the centre of the butter, overlapping the edges of dough just slightly
– roll the package into a rectangle 60cm x 20cm. Letter-fold the rectangle, then rotate by 90°. Place the dough onto a paper-lined tray, wrap tightly and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour
– REPEAT THE LETTER-FOLD STEP TWO MORE TIMES, leaving the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour between each roll and fold

…..once you’ve got to this point the hard part’s over, and you can safely leave your finished croissant dough (well wrapped up in film) in the fridge to rest while you tackle the compote and custard.

Step 2 – the pineapple compote:

370g fresh pineapple
270g coconut purée
40g desiccated coconut
100g caster sugar
15g lemon juice
25g rum

– peel the pineapple and remove the core, then cut into small dice (of about 0.5cm)
– in a saucepan, mix together the remaining ingredients with the diced pineapple. Cook over a medium-low heat for about 1.5 hours, stirring from time to time
– when the compote is just starting to catch the bottom of the saucepan (i.e. has become very dry), remove from the heat and leave to cool completely

Step 3 – the coconut custard:

100g semi-skimmed milk
100g coconut purée
1 level soup-spoon plain flour
1 level soup-spoon cornflour
30g demerara sugar
2 egg yolks
15g unsalted butter

– bring the milk to the boil with the coconut purée, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes
– whisk together the egg yolks and brown sugar, then add the flour and maizena – mix well until smooth and homogenous
– bring the milk to the boil again, then add half to the egg yolks and sugar – whisk well before adding to the remaining milk in the saucepan
– bring the custard to the boil, then cook for 2-3 minutes over a high heat, whisking continuously – remove from the heat when thick, then beat in the butter (cut into small pieces)
– pour the hot custard out onto a tray and cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming – leave to cool completely in the fridge, then transfer to a piping bag

Step 4 – assembling the escargots:

Important stuff you’ll need…..
– a rolling pin (obviously) and a little flour for dusting
– a palette knife (for spreading the compote)
– a blunt(ish) knife (for cutting the escargots from the roll)
– two large baking trays lined with parchment paper
– one lightly beaten egg for ‘glueing’ the edge of the escargot roll, and for glazing the risen pastries before baking

Before you start rolling, give the pineapple compote a quick soften in the microwave – this will make spreading it across the dough much easier. I’d also suggest cutting your rectangle of croissant dough in half – return one piece to the fridge whilst you work with the other.

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Dust the work surface very lightly with flour, and try to work as quickly as possible – remember that the warmer the dough gets, the more sticky (and therefore annoying) it will become. Roll the dough (the half batch) into a rectangle – 20cm x 25cm. Arrange the rectangle so that the shorter side (20cm) sits parallel to the edge of the work surface (you’re going to roll-up the escargot sausage starting at this side). Now to pile on the filling – start with two generous spoonfuls of compote and spread it around as evenly as possible, dragging it right to the edges so that every escargot gets a good portion. Follow suit with the coconut crème patissière, although go for a slightly lighter covering, otherwise it’ll ooze out all over the place later.

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Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough up into a pineapple/coconut sausage. If some of the filling oozes out at the end, just scrape it off and set aside for the next roll, then brush the final edge with a little beaten egg just to help seal the seam. When you’re happy that the sausage is as evenly shaped and as tight as possible, take a large knife and cut each escargot off at 2cm intervals (to keep the pastries neat and tidy, wipe your knife between each cut).

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Once you’ve successfully rolled, stuffed and cut both batches of dough, carefully transfer the finished escargots onto your prepared baking trays, leaving a good gap between each one. Very lightly cover them with cling film and leave them AT ROOM TEMPERATURE for at least 2.5 hours – the dough should rise by about 80% it’s original size. This part’s easy for me because there’s always something to do in a professional kitchen, but if you have an impatient nature, you may want to leave the house for a while. Do set a timer though, otherwise you might return to find pineapple compote on the ceiling.

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They start to look impressive once they’ve risen, as all the layers in the dough suddenly become visible. Once you’re confident they’re ready to go, gently remove the cling film and brush them with beaten egg (just to give the dough a golden colour in the oven). I cooked them at 200°C for about 8 minutes, but the oven I use at work is very powerful – if you’re using a domestic model they may need a little longer. I also put an empty tray into the oven whilst it was pre-heating, into which I tipped some cold water when the escargots went in. This trick creates some steam, which is useful during the first few minutes as it will help keep the dough soft, allowing the pastries to expand more freely.

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Whilst the escargots are baking, attack the Malibu syrup:

10g Malibu
20g water
30g caster sugar

…..simply tip all the ingredients into a small casserole and stir together over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for 2-3 minutes, then leave to cool slightly. Transfer the cooked escargots to a wire rack to cool, then paint them liberally with the syrup. If you can wait any longer, they’re better eaten when cold.

Doughnut Day!

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So I finally got around to making doughnuts! I think it was my recent trip to London that inspired me…..mum treated me to lunch at St. John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, where I spent too much time admiring the doughnut display. Last year whilst in NYC, Adam (my partner in crime) and I went on a doughnut hunt. Looking back I’m not really sure why…..we wanted to sample the best deep-fried dough the city had to offer, and we must have been hungry I guess. It was a well planned adventure…..we even installed the ‘Yelp’ app just to help us on our way. OK so we took it too far, but we did uncover some beauties. From sugar-coated jam and custard-filled fatties to traditional iced US ‘donuts’…..we even managed to find the holes on sale! My personal favourite…..the ‘crème brûlée’ – a rich yeasted doughnut stuffed with vanilla crème patissière and topped with brûléed sugar.

If you’re looking for a good doughnut in the UK, I’d recommend heading straight to Justin Gellatly’s doorstep at either St. John Bakery or St. John Bread and Wine (all addresses below). I took this doughnut recipe from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to Tail Eating”, in which you can also find several basic recipes for custard fillings.

So for 25 large doughnuts you’ll need…..

500g strong white flour
65g caster sugar (plus extra for coating afterwards)
10g salt
15g fresh yeast
4 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
155ml water
125g softened unsalted butter
A large pot of sunflower/vegetable oil for deep-frying

1. Place all the ingredients except the butter and oil into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – mix together on medium speed for 6 minutes, then scrape down the sides of the bowl
2. Start adding the butter (about 20g at a time) whilst mixing on medium speed again – once all the butter is incorporated, keep mixing for 6-8 minutes until the dough looks smooth, glossy and elastic (NOTE: the recipe states that at this point the dough should start to ‘come away from the sides of the bowl’…..mine did not, and was in fact very wet and sticky at this stage…..but have no fear and just plough on)
3. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film – leave to rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place until doubled in size, then knock back the dough (give it a few soft punches, then shape it back into a neat ball)
4. Re-film the bowl of dough and rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight
5. Once chilled, cut the dough into 25 pieces and roll them into smooth balls – place on floured baking sheets (or even better, trays lined with baking paper…..I’ll explain why later) leaving about 5cm between each one – cover very lightly with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature for 2-3 hours…..they should double in size
6. Heat the sunflower/vegetable oil to 190°C (too hot and the doughnuts will burn; too cool and they will absorb the oil, making them greasy)
7. Fry the doughnuts in batches of 3 or 4 at a time, until golden brown (about 2 minutes on each side) – drain the doughnuts one by one on kitchen paper before tossing in caster sugar (put a decent amount of caster sugar into a large mixing bowl then you can really roll them around in it)

NOTE: getting the doughnuts into the hot oil can be a tricky business, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – if you leave the doughnuts to prove on baking paper, you don’t even have to lift them off. Using scissors, cut around each doughnut and lift the baking paper (doughnut-attached) up and into the oil. As soon as the dough starts to cook the paper will slide away easily…..genius! I’ve included a photo of this step below just in case you’re confused.

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…..the proving stage

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…..the frying stage (notice the baking paper floating in the hot oil)

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So finally to the really messy stage…..the filling. If you’re making doughnuts in a rush and need something quick and easy, then I’d suggest buying a good quality jam and using that…..could be any flavour…..the traditionalist in you might lean towards strawberry, but why not blueberry or black currant?? However, if you’re not a fan of getting your hands sticky, and/or opening a jar of jam just doesn’t suit your ambitious side, then attempt one of the recipes I’ve included below. Once again these have been taken from “Nose to Tail Eating”…..a book I’d highly recommend if you’re into old fashioned English puddings. Both recipes make enough to fill 25 doughnuts.

Chocolate Custard:

1 litre full-fat milk
12 large egg yolks
130g caster sugar
65g plain flour
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
250ml lightly whipped cream

1. Bring the milk to the boil and whisk together the egg yolks and sugar
2. Sift the flour into the egg yolks and whisk well to combine
3. Pour the boiling milk over the egg mixture, whisking constantly
4. Tip the mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, whisking occasionally – once boiling, whisk continuously for about 5 minutes, until very thick and smooth
5. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl – add the chocolate and whisk it into the hot custard until fully incorporated
6. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming, leave to cool then chill
7. Once completely cold, gently fold in the whipped cream

Apple and Cinnamon:

8 large Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces
200g soft light brown sugar
50ml water
1 cinnamon stick
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Place the apples, sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and set it over a low heat
2. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest
3. Cook for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples have collapsed into a purée
4. If you’re using the mixture to fill doughnuts, add the ground cinnamon to the sugar for dusting the doughnuts after frying them

Once your filling’s finished, transfer it to a piping bag and make the holes in your doughnuts. Do this by inserting a small knife through the crust, then give it a slight wiggle until the hole is large enough to accommodate the tip of the piping bag. There’s no rule against overfilling…..the more you can get in there the better really, so load them up! You might find some of the custard oozes out a little…..just have a mouth on standby. And don’t forget, eat the doughnuts hole-first…..or perhaps wear a bib.

Our top NYC picks:

Dunkin’ Donuts (all over Manhattan)
You can’t pretend to know anything about the American donut if you’ve never sampled a ‘Dunkin’. Sticky, incredibly sweet yet satisfyingly soft, they’re almost impossible to resist. And the toppings, oh boy there are toppings…..glazed, frosted, powdered sugar, cinnamon, blueberry cake, jelly…..the list just keeps going! The really fun part is choosing the filling. How about ‘apple n spice’ or ‘cocoa coconut’ or even (my personal favourite) ‘dulce de leche’! The ‘reverse Boston kreme donut’ sounds really interesting…..I’ll be having that one next time. You can even wash all this American goodness down with a flavoured coffee, another of the chain’s specialties.

The Donut Pub, 203 West 14th street
Apparently there are several different ways of making a donut. Some bakers choose to roll the dough into a sheet, then simply stamp out rings ‘cookie-cutter-style’, whereas others prefer to roll the dough into balls and then make the holes by gently poking a finger through. I’m not sure which method is considered more traditional…..but I like the idea of putting the scraps to good use, especially if they taste just as good. They do exactly this at ‘The Donut Pub’ – not only were the donuts we sampled fantastic, the holes (available by the dozen) made a perfect, if slightly addictive afternoon snack. I guess they’re the closest American alternative to the French chouquette…..a little heavier maybe, but just as satisfying, especially when eaten straight from the greasy paper bag. They were even available in different flavours…..we tried cinnamon, plain sugared and ‘apple cake’.

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 West 47th street
So this is probably the trendiest of all three, not to mention the only proper bakery, i.e. they make good bread here too. Ever heard of bombolini? Well we were told this was the place to go for a good bombolone! Bombolini are Italian filled doughnuts, and the Sullivan Street’s signature dessert – they make them with vanilla and fresh lemon zest, then stuff them with either fresh jam or vanilla bean custard. They’re much like a traditional British doughnut, although they tend to be filled from the top rather than injected from the side. They were very light and fluffy in the middle, and the fillings were pretty good too. If you decide to visit, try out one of the ciabattas or flatbreads while you’re at it.

A British Easter in Paris

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So would you believe it, I finally won the Frenchies over! Even my Chef, who admits to having no sweet tooth, managed to put two of these away before Saturday night service. The recipe below is actually a combination of two, both Paul Hollywood – one directly from his book ‘100 Great Breads’, the other taken from the Radio Times (thanks for saving it mum). I think the only reason the latter caught her eye is because it suggests using fresh and tinned fruit as opposed to just dried. I still used candied orange and sultanas, but the addition of some fresh apple gave the buns a little extra life and softness. I have to admit I began to doubt the recipe a little when I started folding the fruit through the dough, as it seemed like far too much…..but I suppose that’s how they should be…..heaving with fruit! They certainly had a satisfactory bulge about them when I tucked them away to rise.

Tip: don’t leave too much of a gap between the buns on the baking tray – once the dough has risen they should have spread and joined together. Ideal for tearing and sharing!

500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
10g salt
75g caster sugar
50g fresh yeast
40g unsalted butter, softened
2 medium eggs, beaten
120ml warm full-fat milk
120ml cool water
150g sultanas
80g chopped mixed peel
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 dessert apple, cored and diced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
60g apricot jam, warmed

For the crosses:
200ml water
200g flour
2 medium eggs

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin. When the dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – at least 1 hour.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and scatter the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Cover and leave to rise for a further hour.

Fold the dough inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces and roll into balls – try to get them as tight and as smooth and possible. Place fairly close together on baking trays lined with parchment. Lightly cover each tray with cling film and leave to rest for 1 hour or until the dough has at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile heat your oven to 200°C.

For the crosses, mix the flour, water and eggs to a paste. Using a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Warm the apricot jam with a splash of water, sieve and brush over the tops of the warm buns to glaze. Cool on a wire rack.

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Even though they line the supermarket shelves at Easter, it’s definitely worth making your own I’d say, and as this particular recipe impressed even my French colleagues, I feel pretty confident in recommending it. I will warn you, this recipe (if you follow his instructions and divide the dough into 12) makes some BIG buns. You could probably stretch it to 20 smaller, more manageable buns if you prefer ‘petit’…..but I wouldn’t worry too much about having leftovers anyway….. Another note, piping the crosses was a little tricky (even for me, and I’m pretty proud of my piping skills) – the mixture was just too runny. I would suggest either reducing the quantity of water, or forgetting the egg whites and instead adding the yolks only. Happy Easter!