Every Christmas without fail, my family enjoys croissants as part of the morning meal. We pop them into the oven after seeing what Santa left in our stockings (but before unwrapping anything under the tree). So last week, as I loaded our Easter ham into the garage frig, a tantalizing thought occurred to me: the leftover Christmas croissants are parked right next door in the freezer. Could they possibly be as light and flaky as they once were, four months after their initial rise-and-shine?
If you know anything about authentic croissants, “rise and shine” is a fitting description. Thanks to some seriously active yeast, croissants rise to a soft, pillow-y consistency. Thanks to a whole lot of butter (and a little egg yolk), croissants finish with a pleasing sheen on their delicate, crispy crust. If there’s a more decadent baked good on the planet, my crescent-shaped ears are open and listening.
Croissants have been around a long time. They got their start centuries ago in
France Austria as the more pedestrian kipferi yeast bread roll. Eventually the French stepped up the game using leavened laminated dough and butter, ending up as the light, flaky, many-layered version you know and love today.
Croissant means “crescent” of course (which is why I get hunger pangs whenever I gaze at the moon). Croissant also has an elegant pronunciation. Turn the “roi” into a “weh”, drop the final “t”, and keep the sound a little inside the nose. Cweh-saw. Congratulations! You speak French.
Even “crescent” has a dignified definition: a shape resembling a segment of a ring, tapering to points at the ends. Can you picture it? Sure you can, because now you’re thinking of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. They’re so “American”, aren’t they? We take a centuries-old, meticulously refined shoo-in for the Baked Goods Hall of Fame and reduce it to sticky, doughy, fast food; vacuum-packed into a can you open with a spoon.
[Speaking of Pillsbury, here’s something you didn’t know about the Dough Boy, otherwise known as “Poppin’ Fresh”. He has a family! His wife is Poppie Fresh, his kids are Popper and Bun-Bun, his grandparents Granpopper and Granmommer, and his Uncle Rollie. Don’t forget the dog (Flapjack) and the cat (Biscuit). In the 1970s you could purchase the entire clan as a set of dolls.]
Pillsbury isn’t the only crescent con artist out there. Burger King made a name for itself with its popular Croissan’wich breakfast entrees. And Galaxy, the Williams-Sonoma mail-order croissants my family and I enjoy at Christmas, start out as frozen minis, rise impressively overnight on the kitchen counter, and bake to an excellent knock-off of the bakery-made originals.
The preparation of authentic croissants requires time and attention we Americans don’t have the patience for. Watch the following video (which is thirteen minutes long so… maybe not) and you’ll learn what it takes. At the least, you’ll understand why I pay almost $4.50 for a single croissant from Galaxy/Williams-Sonoma.
Most of us wouldn’t make it past the initial “pre-dough” step in the video, let alone the labor-intensive lamination (folding/flattening), forming, fermentation, baking, cooling, and storage. We’re talking hours and hours in the kitchen here, and that’s assuming you have the right equipment. No wonder we’d rather just whack a Pillsbury tube on the counter edge and produce “crescent rolls” hot out of the oven 9-11 minutes later.
Still, I implore you to watch the cweh-saw video. The star of the show is Frédéric from Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, narrating the process in his beautiful native language. This man could be saying … and then we drag the smelly garbage out to the back alley for the cats to dig through and I’d still be glued the sound of his words. Or, listen to our lovely video host and her delightful French accent (with the occasional incorrect word sprinkled in).
I was so mesmerized by the French voices I really don’t remember much about the croissant-making itself. But it’s hard to forget the facts. Making an authentic batch takes three days. A croissant is 30% butter and can have as many as fifty layers. French bakeries have “bread laws” to protect their artisan products. Finally, you can “hear” the sound of an authentic croissant by pushing through the crispy crust to the softer layers inside.
To the matter of my Christmas… er, Easter croissants, I’m happy (and satisfied) to report they tasted just as good last week as their holly, jolly predecessors a while ago. Apparently four months isn’t too long to wait for good croissants. But three days is too long to make them from scratch so I’ll keep buying from con artists.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.