Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let Them Eat ... Croissants!

OK, this is it! Brandi Dean (Jenni's sister) here for one last guest post! (Miss the first two? Find them here and here.) And while I wouldn’t necessarily say that I saved the best for last (I mean, did you see all the fun stuff I did?), I would say that I saved the most useful-to-you for last.
Here’s how you can have a little piece of Paris for yourself!
As I mentioned in the last post, Nicole and I took a cooking class from La Cuisine, a English-language cooking school in the heart of Paris, started by a woman from Chicago. We came across a recommendation for it early in our trip planning and signed up for it on the spot. Seriously, it’s the very first thing we committed to.
And it was definitely one of the highlights. If you’re going to Paris, get yourself signed up! Visit Of course, you won’t need the croissant class after reading this, but they offer lots of other classes on baguettes and macarons and French lunch foods and French diner foods and how to shop the Paris markets. And maybe, possibly, you might still learn a little something from taking the croissant class for yourself, so, really, that’s still an option, too.
But you’re not here for a commercial; you’re here for a croissant! So here we go.
Starting with the pastry itself …
10.5 ounces (or 300 grams) flour
1 teaspoon (or 5 grams) salt
1 ounce (or 28 grams) of sugar
½ tablespoon (or 5 grams) instant yeast
3.5 ounces (or 100 grams) cold milk
½ cup (4 ounces or 114 grams) cool water
1 tablespoon (or 14 grams) unsalted butter
And then another 7 ounces (200 grams) more of unsalted butter at room temperature.
Plus an egg white or two for brushing on before baking.
And for the fillings:
Chocolate bars – the school had bulk bars that I don’t think I’ve seen here, but I think any chocolate would do. You’ll just want to cut either it or your dough to size.
Almond cream:
4 ounces (112 grams) sugar
4 ounces (112 grams) butter
2 eggs
4 ounces (112 grams) almond flour (which is finely ground almonds)
1 ounce (28 grams) flour
And almond (or rhum or orange) extract for flavoring.
Plus shaved almonds for topping.
These measurements are probably a little different from what you’re used to seeing (at least they were for me). We measured everything out on a scale for accuracy.
I’ll admit that it was certainly much easier than trying to keep track of exactly how many cups of flour you’d already doled out and how many you had left to go.
Anyway, so first things first. Melt your 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and put it to the side. Then combine the flour and salt reaaaaal well. Chef Justin from Nacogdoches says that’s important because you don’t want your salt and your yeast to come into contact, because the salt will deactivate the yeast.
Then you pour the well-mixed flour and salt out onto your (clean) countertop and build a moat by swirling your fingers around the middle. Or maybe it's more of a pond. Whatever this looks like to you:
 Then separately, you take your yeast and pour it into the middle of the moat, like a little island, thusly:
And do the same with your sugar.
Then you combine your melted butter, the water and the milk, and pour them into the middle, like so:
And then you start mixing. With one hand behind your back (or in my case, on the camera) because your mixing hand is going to get goopy.
Interesting, right? You know how bread recipes are always saying, combine slowly, alternating wet and dry ingredients? Well this way, you don’t have to think about it. You automatically have to go slow, because if you don’t your wet ingredients will break through the dry ingredients and start dripping onto the floor.
Anyway. So that ball of dough in the mixing bowl in that last picture? That’s what you end up with. At this point the dough should be firm but springy.
And here is where some of the waiting comes in. You need to cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for at least six hours, and up to three days. (In case you’re wondering, we did our class backward, using the dough already made by the previous class to make our actual croissants, and then making the dough for the next class.)
When it comes out, it should look a little something like this:
OK, now, remember that big block of butter from the ingredients list? The 7 ounces? Here’s where it comes in.
Take the block of butter and take your rolling pin and beat it. Beat it until it’s nice and pliable, so that you can form it into a nice, neat square (about 6 inches), like this:
Then set it aside, take out your dough, and form it into a ball.
Then you’re going to start rolling out your dough for the first of many, many times. For this particular time, you’re aiming to make a kind of clover shape, which your nice square of butter can then fit into the middle of.
To get this, you really have to use the ball of your hands to work  the rolling pin and put pressure on the parts you want to roll out. Chef Justin from Nacogdoches recommended these kind of rolling pins, without the handles, because you have more control over them.
Now. Wrap the dough up around the butter, like you’re swaddling a baby:
Cute, huh?
Here’s the cool part – the part that gets you all those nice, flakey, buttery layers.
Roll it out into a rectangle. About 8x16 inches.
What you’ve got there is three layers – a layer of butter between two layers of dough.
Now fold it like a letter, and roll it out again.
Now you’ve got 9 layers. Fold it up like a letter and roll it out again.
Now you’ve got 27 layers of dough, butter, dough, butter.
Fold it up again, but this time, you want to do what’s called a complex fold. With the dough turned horizontal, fold the outside quarters in until they touch in the middle. Like one of those presentation posterboards. Know what I’m talking about?
And then fold the two halves in on each other.
Then roll it out and do it again, until you end up with a cute little book of dough. By then you'll have  more than 100 layers, but I’m not going to attempt any more math for fear of embarrassing myself (if I haven’t already!).

This is actually where we started the class. And before we go on, a few notes on the rolling and folding. When you roll it out, you want the dough to be in neat, even rectangles, to make the folding easier. Again, you can just use the rolling pin to put more pressure on the parts where the dough is thicker. But be careful around the edges – you want to keep the butter layers sealed in.
And as you fold it, always turn it so that the folds open like a book. This apparently helps you keep track of exactly where you are in the process. I didn’t really follow how, exactly, but Chef Justin from Nacogdoches seemed adamant that we must do this.
Anyway. So now you’ve got your dough all made.  We sometimes had to put ours in the fridge for a few minutes to let it get firm enough to work with. And you have to simultaneously keep adding flour to your work place so that the dough doesn’t stick to the counter or rolling pin, but also keep brushing it off (that’s what the little basting brushes were for) so that the dough will stick to the other layers of dough.
Now. Roll it out one more time, into a nice neat rectangle.
Here you have some choices to make
You can cut them into cute little triangles to roll into traditional croissants.
Or you can cut them into smaller rectangles and add bars of chocolate (we put one at the end and then another at the first turn), to make Pain au Chocolat – chocolate bread, or what we usually call chocolate croissants.
This was hands down the favorite as far as taste went, but it has chocolate in it, so who’s really surprised there?
But for the cute factor, the Croissant aux Amandes – croissants with almonds – won out.
We did this two different ways.
Cut your dough into little squares and then cut from each point of the square almost to the middle, like this:
Then you can add your filling (combine the butter and sugar and mix until creamy; add the eggs one at a time and mix until completely combined; add the almond flour and the regular flour and mix, and then the flavoring and mix), and fold in every other corner to make pinwheels:
Or you can take the square and almost cut out a smaller square – but only almost. Leave the dough connected at two of the corners. Then take the unconnected corners and crisscross them. You’ll end up with a little cradle in the middle where you can add your almond filling:
(And with this one, you can also add some extra almond shavings on top.)
Whichever you decide (and no reason you can’t choose them all!), put them on a baking sheet and then let them sit at room temperature for 1.5 hours or more, until they’re slightly puffy.  Brush them with egg white afterwards, to make them especially golden.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, but before you pop your croissants in reduce the heat to 375.
If you’re making small croissants or pastries, cook them for about 20 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through for evenness. If you’re making full-size croissants, bake them for 30 minutes, again, rotating halfway through.
And then … voila! You’ve got beautiful golden croissants that, trust me, you’re going to want to eat right away.
(And trust me, we did! But we also saved them and ate them for breakfast pretty much every other day of the trip. They weren’t as good as fresh from the oven, but they weren’t bad, either!)
So, in the words of another mistress of French cooking – Bon Appetit!

PS - Thanks, Jenni, for letting me take over your blog for a couple of days!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brandi's Parisian Adventure, Part II

Brandi Dean here again! Remember me from Part I? Jenni hasn’t kicked me off yet, so I’d better hurry. (Oh, and I should say up front that she neither condones nor endorses the stealing that goes on in this entry.)
Adventures in Paris, Part II!

Now, as you could certainly see, our first three days in Paris were fabulous. BUT – by the fourth day, we had the rhythm of the city down. We knew how long it would take to get somewhere (a moderate amount of riding and a lot of walking) and how long it would take to eat something (hours and hours) and how long it would take to go through the lines at the major tourists attractions (the rest of your life). By the fourth day, we KNEW Paris. So while the first three days were fabulous, days four through seven were sublime.
Day four, for instance:
Day four started with a croissant-baking lesson at La Cuisine, a cooking school we’d found online with English-language classes. Now I’m not going to go through all the steps of how to make a croissant here – that’s a whole post in itself, so that’s what I’m going to make it. But I will tell you three things about it:
1.       There are great masses of butter involved.
2.       Homemade croissants are amazing – homemade croissants with chocolate … there aren’t words.
Isn’t that crazy? I’m from just up the road from Nacogdoches, and Nicole went to SFA, so both of our jaws dropped when Justin introduced himself. Now, you might think “what a disappointment to travel halfway around the world to learn how to make croissants from a real French chef and instead get a Texan.” But you would be incorrect! Justin has been in France for years. He went to some hoity-toity cooking school there and interned at a super hoity-toity restaurant there (I can’t remember the name, but we looked it up and they offered NINE-course meals) and had his own restaurant (probably at least a little hoity-toity, being in Paris and all) and totally knew all about making croissants. So we weren’t disappointed at all. In fact, we're hoping to get him to show us how to make macarons when he visits in December, so you may be seeing his work on this blog again in a few months!
But like I said, more of that later. There’s still lots to get through, just on day four!
With our bellies all full of croissants, we decided to forego lunch and head for Marché aux Puces – literally, Market of Fleas. The original Flea Market.
Now, to get to the enormous Paris flea market, you have to ride the metro to a less-than-savory neighborhood. And when you get off, there are loads of street vendors hawking fake Chanel bags, wrists lined with fake Rolexes up to their elbows. Then you go through a little shanty town of tourists traps and cheap souvenirs. The faint of heart might turn around. But not us! We scurried on until we hit pay dirt: The Mother of All Flea Markets.
There are hundreds and hundreds of vendors. You can download iPhone aps to help you navigate or pay for guided shopping tours (I’m definitely putting that on my list for next time!). We started in the antiques section, and I’m not sure we ever got out of it. There were booths piled high with silver coffee services and booths crammed with linen slips from … I don’t even know when. We wandered and wandered until we didn’t really know how we would find our way out.
And then we came upon a vintage clothing shop. A sweet LBD drew us in, and then every time we turned around we found something to exclaim over. Including a silver ring from the 60s that just happened to be not only Jenni’s size, but also Jenni’s birthstone. I snapped it up (be sure to compliment her when you see it) and was turning to leave when Nicole gasped and turned my attention toward a handmade black lace and organza bolero from the 50s. “Very chic,” the shopkeeper assured us, “verrrry Parisian.” I now own it. And someday I'll pass it on to my daughter, and she'll nominate me for "My Mother the Style Icon" in Lucky Magazine.
So, with arms full, we headed out. It was almost dark, and there was lots left to do!
By this time, we were starting to get hungry again, so we decided to take Ina Garten (better known as The Barefoot Contessa) up on one of her recommendations: Café de Flore.
Specifically, Ina recommended that we enjoy an omelet and a glass of champagne. Not being fond of either omelets or champagne, I opted for another (very good) club sandwich (one thing about French restaurants – I never once had to ask for extra mayo!), but Nicole assures me that Ina was spot on in the rec. We decided to forego dessert for once in our lives, and instead got a coffee and a hot chocolate, and I really honestly think it was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
Besides that, the restaurant was adorable – and crowded. Most of the restaurants in France seem to pile guests in on top of each other, and Café de Flore was no exception. So we struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to us. She was the VP of marketing at a Ukrainian dairy in town for business, and she helpfully pointed out Karl Lagerfeld sitting in the next room! (Lucky for us, because neither Nicole nor I would have recognized him on our own, sad to say.)
From there we went back to the Eiffel Tower; we wanted photos of it all lit up. It was cold and rainy, but worth it – the Eiffel Tower is even better sparkly!
By the time we got back to the apartment, we were exhausted, but verrrry happy and even more excited about …
Day Five:
We split up for the very beginning of day five. Nicole wanted to watch the beginning of the Paris Marathon, which I thought was crazy. *I* on the other hand, wanted to go to the bookstore. Not crazy at all.
Not just any bookstore, though – The Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The very same English-language bookstore where Earnest Hemingway got reading material when he was too poor to buy his own (the top floor is reserved for lending, not buying). It was started by Sylvia Beach, who let struggling writers sleep on the floor in exchange for working in the shop. The tradition is still observed today.
So off I went to the bookstore. But I have to confess that I stopped on the way for quick photo op in the garden of the Palais Royal – I’d seen it during our walking tour on the first day and thought it was especially picturesque. Don’t laugh.
OK. So after the photo op and the bookstore, Nicole and I met back up for church. But not just any church. We decided that if we were going to go to church in Paris, we might as well go to the very top: Notre Dame. There’s an international service at 11 a.m. on Sundays, which means that one prayer and one scripture reading are in English. The rest was still in French, so I can’t say I got a lot out of the sermon, but the music was beautiful. I am not normally a big fan of organs, but I can see how they make sense in place like that.
(Since it was a church service, I didn’t get any photos of that. But all the other tourists pouring through did, so you might be able to find some of me and Nicole on their blogs.)
For lunch we made up our mind that it was time to try crepes, so we stopped at one of the little tourist restaurants in the area and ordered a mediocre lunch, with crepes for dessert – one Nuttella and one chocolate and Chantilly cream. Honestly, I wasn’t overly impressed. Too eggy. But I can choke down almost anything with chocolate, so I won’t even pretend that there was any left on my plate.
From there our plan had been to go to the Louvre. But we shopped along the way, and by the time we got there, we had two hours until it closed. After we spent an hour in line, we raced through to see the highlights. That was fine; I like the Impressionists better, anyway, and they’re not to be found there. But we enjoyed all the statues (including the Venus de Milo), and I found The Mona Lisa to be less of a disappointment than everyone had warned me about.
And if nothing else, the building was awfully pretty!
I wanted to go to the Musee de l’Orangerie next, but suspected it would be closed. Nicole was museumed out, so rather than race across the Tuileries with me to see if I might be able to catch it, she enjoyed a hot wine with cinnamon at one of the sidewalk cafes.
I was right about it being closed, though, so we left from there to check another to-do off our list: The Hemmingway Bar at the Paris Ritz.
Now, this was Daddy’s idea. I don’t know where he got it, but he was insistent that we needed to go to The Hemingway Bar and have a club sandwich.
Turns out The Hemingway Bar doesn’t actually serve club sandwiches. But we made do! Three 30-Euro cocktails and an order of sliders later, we were proud not to be weaving as we made our way through the fancy-pants lobby of the Ritz. And those of you who know me will be especially impressed to know that I finished mine! A Serendipity, which the menu described as “France in a Glass.” It had champagne and some other stuff in it and was garnished with a rose. I didn’t like it (though Nicole said it was very good), but I finished it, and I have the before and after pictures to prove it:
I also bought Daddy a book of Paris Ritz drink recipes and maybe stole a menu as a souvenir. (I asked to buy one, but it wasn’t on my bill, and so I didn’t question it. We were playing 30-Euros a pop for the drinks. Can you blame me?)
From there, we wrapped up the day at Sainte Chapelle, where a string quintet was performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It was beautiful.
One of the highlights of a day full of highlights. We knew it would be hard to top, so we staggered home to get lots of sleep for …
Day Six:
Day six was our last day to spend actually in the city, so we had purposefully not made any specific plans for the day, so that we could use it for overflow. Accordingly, we spent the morning shopping. We went to the kitchen supply store where Julia Child bought her pots and pans, then wandered in an out of boutiques and perfumeries as the mood struck us, collecting gifts and souvenirs as we went. Then, after a quick lunch in a cute little café that we passed, we split up for one last afternoon in Paris.
I headed back to the Musee de l’Orangerie to see the enormous Monets. Two elliptical rooms with one long painting on each of the eight walls.  They were dreamy.
And downstairs, more art! Picassos (which I didn’t like) and Matisses (which I did) and lots of other stuff.
Plus! I found out that the man whose collection made up the museum lived basically next door to our apartment and had started a town house gallery there. There were even little miniatures of his flat, and portraits of him and his wife (by big names) were part of the collection.

After that I wandered more, picking up a few remaining souvenirs and taking lots and lots of photos.
It was beautiful. So I stopped to enjoy it for a few minutes in the Tuileries with a hot chocolate and my journal. You really can’t get much more Parisian than writing in your journal at a sidewalk café, right?
But it didn’t last for long, because I had to meet Nicole! We had saved our return trip to Laduree for our final night, and I didn’t want to be late!
Being a particularly special occasion, we splurged in every way on this meal. More cocktails (though mine was a virgin – a very pretty Marie Antoinette), plus a full three courses, PLUS two macarons apiece (despite the fact that one of the courses was dessert).
Nicole had smoked salmon with violet cream for her entrée (which we would call an appetizer), and anglerfish with truffles for her plat (which we would call an entrée). I had a tomato tart with basil sorbet, and something called Vol au vent de volaille aux champignons sauvages, which translates to poultry vol-au-vent with wild mushrooms, according to the menus, which Nicole and I stole as a souvenir. (This time we definitely stole them. As in, took advantage of a diversion and slipped them into my purse. Scandalous, I know! But they wouldn’t sell them to us!)
Then came dessert. Saint-Honore Vanille-Chocolat for me and Saint-Honore Rose-Framboise for Nicole. We don’t know who Saint-Honore is, but she must have been a wonderful person, because the desserts named after her are absolutely heavenly!
It was all sooo good. The best meal we ate in Paris, and that was saying something!
Stuffed as we were, we took our macarons back to the apartment to enjoy as we watched Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette in preparation for:
Day 7:
Versailles Day! And what a day it was!
Originally we had planned to journey on from Versailles to a chateau outside the city for our last night, but we couldn’t figure out how to manage the trains with our luggage. Good thing, because it was hard enough managing the trains without them!
There were very few times that the language barrier caused us any problems in Paris, but this happened to be one of them. We were a couple of stops into our journey, when the conductor got on the loud speaker and made a long announcement in French. It wasn’t repeated in English, so we though, “Huh. Hope that wasn’t important,” and went on about our business of waiting. But nothing happened – until the only other girl left on the train suddenly jumped up and said, “They’re taking the train to the garage! We have to get off!”
We were surprised, but accommodating, and raced for the door with her. But we were too slow. The doors slammed shut and the train started moving! We banged on all the windows and pushed every button we could find, but to no avail! The train went a little ways, and then stopped in the middle of nowhere. Alarm mounting, we kept banging and pushing and were just about to pull the emergency cord when the conductor walked by. We were able to lower one of the windows and call out to him, and he let us (and one other tourist with the same problem off), so that we  could walk the half mile back to the station to wait for the next train.
Not to worry, though! It was but a minor setback on our way to Versailles. We got there safely, eventually deciphered the signs pointing to the palace and stopped to buy a picnic along the way.
Baguettes, cheese and grapes! What could be more French? And what could be more French than enjoying such fare in the musical garden of Versailles (literally musical – they pipe in classical music)?
The line was dishearteningly long to get into the place itself, so we bypassed it for a ticket to the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s retreat. Then, after our picnic, proceeded to wander through the gardens for approximately five hours! (Though some of that was in Marie Antoinette’s retreat and hamlet, and the gift shop, where I bought an (imitation) pearl necklace, and then saw its double around Marie’s throat in one of her portraits! What good taste I have.)
Anyway. My point is it was absolutely enchanting. And we hardly scratched the surface. Next time, I’m going to rent a rowboat on one of the ponds! (This seemed a bit too romantic for Nicole and I to do together.)
By the time we finished, the line was every so slightly shorter to get into the palace, and after waiting in it for about an hour, we had just enough time for the tour of the royal suites.
They were posh and impressive, but I still think I enjoyed the gardens more. I can’t imagine what they must be like in the spring (though I also shudder to think of what the lines must be like at the peak of tourist season …).
We made our way back to the train, then, and back to the apartment, where we watched Moulin Rouge while we packed and enjoyed (though I use the term very loosely) a pizza. (This was the only other time the language presented a problem – after much haggling, we somehow ended up with a “Mexican” pizza. Taco meat, onions and olives. It was edible, but barely.)
We made our way to the airport the next morning with heavy hearts, and even heavier suitcases. Our wallets were light though. Still, it was worth every penny (or whatever the Euro one-cent equivalent is called), and I’m totally going back. On my honeymoon, in fact. Preferably with this guy, whom we spotted on the subway home that last night:
If you know him, could you give him my contact information?
Paris by the numbers:
7 days
10 pairs of shoes

743 photos
25 metro rides
4 museums

3 bazillion calories
7 bazillion steps
1 amazing adventure
PS: Click here for the third (and final) entry, and learn how to make a real Parisian croissant!