Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Adventure of the Pastry Sleepover

 

This is the story of an epic baking adventure; a pastry endeavour  of monumental proportions. Proceed, gentle reader, to hear the tale of the Pastry Sleepover.
 
One of the goals to accomplish on my list of life ambitions is to make Danish pastries. This ambition came about from watching the Great British Bake Off and thinking that making Danishes seemed like awfully good fun as long as you don't have to do it in three hours in a warm tent.

Friend of the blog Liz pinged me shortly after I published the list to suggest we join forces and attempt to climb pastry mountain together and so one chilly weekend in January found me tripping merrily over to her flat to take over the big table and to get our patisserie on.

Never ones to do things by halves, or any other fraction for that matter, we decided to make not only Danish pastries but also croissants. So that was two batches of fiddly, buttery, laminated pastry without Mel and Sue to help us. But we had all day and all night as Liz had invited me to stay over. So we were more than ready to scale the lofty heights of peak pastry (and recline on the plump pillows of team #sleepover - hashtag or it didn't happen).


Liz is a pretty experienced baker and it was she that found the recipes we used. We were keen to have a good old whack of flavour in the little Danishes, and for the croissants, we wanted something traditional and properly French-tasting. Omnomnom. With whatsapps dinging backwards and forwards during the week regarding flavour, and general buttery excitement, we settled on the following two recipes, linked here:

Apple and Cinnamon Danish Pastries

Paul Hollywood's Croissants


We began before lunch, clearing an epic space and carefully rolling the rug to safety to avoid the inevitable dusting of flour and treading of dough into the weave. The windows drenched the room with that lovely golden winter sunlight that comes out at this time of year, making everything cheerful but reminding you that it’s nice to be indoors out of the cold.  It was a day full of promise.

And butter.


Both recipes had multiple stages, and both required the concoction of a dough enriched with yeast and sugar, and even eggs. We used Liz's kitchen gadget with attachable dough hook to complete the initial kneading stage (fancy!) and then popped our creation into the fridge to rest for an hour. Croissants we're underway.


We decided to divide and conquer to get the danishes underway. Liz was feeling in the mood for dough; she's a keen bread baker and has lots of experience in that arena. So she took on the Danish pastry and I set about creating the creme patissiere. (Patisserie? Patissiere?) I'm not really sure how to pronounce this, let alone make it, so I opted for the over-familiar confidence of the expression "creme pat" and read the instructions carefully three times. This convinced me that the inevitable product of my labours was sure to be scrambled eggs curdled unpleasantly with cream.

I eschewed throwing caution to the winds in exchange for holding on to caution very tightly with both hands and set about gently heating the milk and cream with oodles of vanilla.

And it worked. Introducing the egg yolks produced no scrambled malice. Heating the creme pat very slowly over a low heat produced no lumps, and I caught it at just the right moment, whisking frantically as it thickened into a custardy dream.

Ladies and gentleman: I CAN MAKE CREME PAT!

I felt like I could achieve anything. I could even learn how to say it.

It was pure bake-off wish fulfilment.

With the creme pat cooling and two doughs chilling, it was time to pound some butter into submission. Liz took on the butter for the danishes, and I faced off with the butter for the croissants. We flattened the life out of them and by the time chilling was over, we were both in possession of smooth buttery sheets.

Convincing the dough to roll out was an entirely different matter. The croissant dough in particular proved elastic, and disinclined to stretch into a rectangle 60cm long and 20 cm wide. Liz suggested letting it rest between bouts of wrestling however, and this seemed to do the trick. Plus the end stuck to the table a little bit.


Finally, we were able to lay our buttery sheets into our dough, fold it into three layers and begin the lamination.

Each dough needed repeatedly rolling out and folding up to exponentially increase the layers of butter. Apparently this is called a turn. The croissants called for an hour's chilling between each turn, whereas the danishes, being a tad more practical and interested in progress, were happy with 15 minutes in the freezer. This time it was the Danish dough that made a nuisance of itself, resisting being rolled out, but Liz put it in its place and it was forced to submit.

We knocked together the apple and cinnamon filling for the danishes, and soaked sultanas in orange juice and zest for the topping and everything was on track. The danishes had had all their turns and the dough was in the fridge doing a final, longer prove. The croissants had had one turn with two more to go, at hourly intervals. It was late afternoon and all there was to do was make like the pastry and chill.

This is where patisserie comes into its own. Those golden hours of winter afternoon where pale sunlight streams into the kitchen and everything is flour dusted; hands are clutched excitedly around tea and we talked and laughed  and talked and thought. We caught up of life, goals, aims, our triumphs and disasters and made more tea.

As the chilling progressed and the croissants had another turn, the light faded, and we settled on the sofa to watch Gilmore Girls, an old favourite from university days and still as comforting now.

If you ever want to spend really quality time with a close friend, I recommend a weekend of making pastry.

Eventually, it was time.


The danishes needed to be shaped. We doubled teamed them, Liz cutting out squares with a ruler and revealing the myriad layers encased in the pastry. Check out the lamination on those bad boys! It was exciting! We had to work quickly as even the warmth of our hands made the butter slick and pliable, and we hadn't invested all that effort getting the butter in there to have it all melt out again.


With the pastries pinched and folded, we lined them up on trays for a final prove. Another hour or so. Time for life chat and tea.


Finally, finally, the pastry was ready. We plied them with creme pat, fanned out apple slices slathered in a buttery sauce of sharp lemon and warming cinnamon, painted on a glaze of sticky almond liqueur and scattered over the sultanas, which were plump, soaked with orange.


So far, I was happy to declare that I would do this again.  With a whole day laid aside and a friend to bake with, it was no problem to labour over fiddly steps.  It was enjoyable, there was no pressure, and it was fun to learn a new skill.  So I would bake either of these recipes once more… as long as they turn out well. If they didn’t…

They went in to bake


My goodness they were tasty.

The pastry was crisp and flavoursome, golden underneath and flaky, clearly marked with layer upon layer of buttery goodness. The fillings really made it though: the combination of flavours totally worked and I loved the tang of the orange against the apple, and the sticky sweetness of almond and cinnamon. Inside, the pastry was cooked through but had become almost bread-like. Softer. I think Liz was less taken with this as it's non-traditional for a Danish, but it worked for me. The only thing we agreed we'd change is the raisins: perched on the top of the danishes, as per the recipe, they had caught and charred in the oven, and were occasionally a little bitter. We think they would have been great under the creme pat though.


We made twelve in total, six each and I cannot wait to tuck into the rest of the batch! I've frozen some too, so I'm interested to see if they defrost well.

Menawhile, the croissants had another turn, and were ready for their final prove. Of 8 hours.

Up until this point, we had pretty meticulously followed the recipe. A recipe by one Mr P Hollywood, no less. However, right now, we felt like he was going a little too far. It does not take 8 hours for pastry to chill. Liz's hypothesis was that it would allow the flavour of the pastry to develop and the yeast to do its thing, slowly in the fridge. So we compromised and decided that two hours is basically the same as 8 (or it is if you ask a physicist. If you ask a mathematician it's definitely not the same). With a mere two hours on the clock to go, we left the pastry to its own devices and watched a Royal Night Out, an appropriately amusing film requiring little effort to watch and maximum enjoyment of toffs being a tad awfully squiffy and putting on a jolly good show.

Marvellous.

Film over, and it was croissant rolling time. Hurrah! I rolled out the dough, measured it into careful squares and halved them to form triangles. We then stretched, rolled and curved then into the traditional shape. Classic croissant. It’s actually a bit fiddly to get a really tight twist on them, and we improved as we stretched them into submission, but it’s something to practise for next time.

With only two more hours of proving needed (how can there be two more hours?!!!) for the croissants to double in size (they categorically did not, maybe we didn't chill them long enough?) and a quick egg wash, they were. Finally. Ready. To bake.


After they’d been in about 5 minutes, we couldn’t resist doing a patented bake-off peak into the oven.  And peering cautiously through the glass, we were delighted to find that our little beauties had puffed up no end.  They really were going to be croissants!

Like, actual croissants!

Plus the scent of croissants baking is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of pretty much anyone.


Liz juggled the goods with a bit of shelf rotation magic and we really cooked those beauties.  One or two of them could perhaps have done with being whisked out a bit sooner, but overall, we had excellent croissant success.

However, the proof is in the omnomnom and so, weary and yet elated, excited and yet trepidatious, at eleven o’ clock at night some twelve hours after our epic baking adventure commenced… we cut into a croissant.

SUCCESS!


Glorious buttery steam billowed from the inside, revealing the pillowy softness that I think everyone longs for in a freshly baked croissant, straight from the oven.  The outside was a deep golden colour and crisp, flaking into little shards of goodness.  I could happily have eaten the whole batch right there and then.  So tasty!

We went to bed around midnight, happy. A day very well spent.



Once again, I have frozen some of our little treats for a rainy day and I look forward to pulling them out of the freezer when things seem a bit gloomy and reliving this lovely day, reminiscing about the effort and care and friendship that went into these little pastries, as pale winter sunshine streamed in the windows of a kitchen of the past.  I think that would cheer anyone up.


There was also initially an intention of making almond croissants too, but we never got round to it. So I’ll think about that another day.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Next time we're thinking #macaroonsleepover...

2 comments:

  1. Wow - they look fab! I love the official 'sitting on the floor peering in through the oven glass' bake off photo.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks 😊 That particular shot seemed very necessary!!

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