Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Laminator Returns; tips and tricks

Butter lock

Locking in the butter correctly is a key step in getting croissants to puff up just the way you like it. A previous post in the BreadLab showed you one way of going about business, but there are more ways that lead to Rome, (or rather Paris, in this case).

There is the "diamond butter block" for instance, demonstrated here by Andrew Meltzer on the Kneading Conference West 2011 in Mount Vernon. This method is also known as "the French method".

An alternative way of working in the butter is the English lock-in:

The French method is traditionally used for doughs with high amounts of butter. A typical croissant, at 50% butter, is more than happy with three half turns (27 layers) and the English way of locking in the butter will suffice. Achieving more layers using the English method is also possible. In general the rule is: the higher the butter-dough ratio, the more turns the dough will need to fully 'puff". The maximum amount of 6 half turns, for a pâte feuilletée fine, yields 729 layers.

One word of warning; try and keep your butter in one piece, regardless of what method you are using. This video shows both lock-in methods using slices of butter. Unless you are an experienced "laminator", try to avoid cutting up your butter; you will be able to distribute the butter more evenly.

Consistency is key

Any one who has made croissants knows the mantra "the dough and butter should be of the same consistency". But how on earth do you know if they really are!?

In general, in my experience at least, people tend to make the butter block way too hard in comparison to the dough. Afraid their butter will otherwise ooze out of the dough, they lock it in as solid as a rock. The result is an uneven balance in consistency. The butter will break rather than smooth out during rolling.

To get it right is a fickle business. One very important step that I advise any aspiring croissant baker to follow is to soften up your butter in this manner:

Think twice before you lock in the butter. Check, check and double check again! When your butter is locked in at the right consistency compared to the dough things will go so much smoother down the road; If properly done, every time you need to put the laminated dough in the fridge in between folds, it will by definition have the same consistency. If you have done something wrong at "lock in", that mistake will follow you all the way to the end of the bake, which can be quite frustrating.

Remember that and you will be doing great!

Shaping the Eiffel Tower

Another step in the process that can be tricky is the actual size and shape of your triangles of dough. Numerous recipes give different "ideal sizes". Ideal size is a personal preference though, paired with with some firm determination when it comes to stretching the triangles after the initial cutting.

If you like your croissant with a lot of "stands", you really need to stretch the triangle to its limit. 6 Stands are very acceptable for a typical French croissant. If you cut your triangles with "long sides" you can squeeze in 2 or 3 more stands and your croissant gets nice and bulky/flaky.

Think of the Eiffel tower. That is the shape you are looking for. Gently stretch the dough to it's limits, widening the base, and most of all lengthening the dough for optimum stands;

A tip for all you bakers who are wondering what to do with the left over bits of laminated dough after cutting your triangles; You can use them to make your croissants look even puffier than they are! Cut off a little piece of left over dough, put it right above the little cut you make in the middle of the base of the triangle and roll it in with the rest. Your croissant's "tummy will bulge even more after baking, and you will not have to throw away a single piece of dough!

Come back for more tips and tricks in the near future. I have been baking my way through a whole lot of recipes and formulas, but I'm not even halfway. My favorite recipe by far (up to this point of time in my research) are the sourdough croissants that are in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" His formula is based on Erick Kayser's croissants. The liquid levain used in this formula gives the croissants the "real Parisian taste" (as far as I am concerned). They are by no means "in your face sour" but rather subtly


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