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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