Getting Friendly with Laminated Dough: An Unexpected Turn of Events

My daughter was thrilled by the idea of my making croissants mostly because she believed that if it was something I did in the kitchen it would involve chocolate. The first time I made croissants, I said no. I didn’t want to attempt a variant of something before I felt comfortable with the process for the basic item first. It’d be like if I asked her — a kid just learning to write reasonable sentence — “Go write a villanelle.”

But we had a lot of snow days last week and so I suppose it was inevitable that I would turn toward the idea of chocolate croissants. Which are probably properly called pains au chocolat. Whatever. I made croissant dough and formed it around bits of chocolate and baked it.

This time around I took a slightly different approach to the dough, modeling it after the dough in the KAF recipe (which I linked to in my earlier essay on croissants), and relying much more on my sense of touch. That first dough I’d made was rather tough, and I was confident it should have had more water in it. This time around, working as snow fell heavily and wind howled and we hung around eating leftover Christmas chocolate and talking about how surely there would be no school the next day, I used a little more water, and was rougher with it, and the dough quickly became the elastic thing I wanted. As my husband admitted that even though his office was formally closed, he intended to go to work the next day, snow day be damned, I put the dough in the fridge to rest overnight and said, “Well, tomorrow, we’re making chocolate croissants. We’ll be pounding butter bright and early.”

The next morning, my daughter learned how to pound butter and did quite well until she pounded the tip of one of her fingers with the rolling pin by accident. She went sulking up to the third floor, where my husband had gone to putter about (having looked out the window and realized that his plan to go to work was completely not happening). This left me to work on the croissants by myself.

By this point, I’ve gotten comfortable with the process and I understand what kind of timing is involved and I more or less know what to do. So I rolled out the dough and I made my butter envelope and I let it rest and then I began rolling it out again and doing the turns. I made four turns. Everything was going beautifully. I thought for sure my daughter would want to help me put the chocolate into the sections of dough to roll up, but no, she was busy doing something important like playing with stuffed Microbe dolls, so I got to do it on my own. I do not own the fancy chocolate sticks one traditionally uses in pain au chocolat. I do have the rather large bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and used those instead. I lined them up neatly at one end of the rectangles of dough I’d cut and rolled up the dough. The little rolls looked perfect, if I do say so myself. On the small side, compared to what you’d get in a bakery, but that wasn’t a problem. Looking at the sides of the rolls you could see the lamination. It was, if I do say so myself, an impressive job — so much so that I told my husband, “C’mere and take a look at these. These are PERFECT.” And he dutifully came into the kitchen and admitted: the little rolls looked perfect.

I let them rise for about an hour and then I brushed them with egg mixed with water and I baked them.

The baking process turned a little harrowing. I tried to take the sophisticated approach, which meant starting the croissants in a rather hot oven (about 425°) and then turning the heat down after ten or so minutes. What I became aware of, after turning the heat down, was that the croissants were just leaching butter. There were pools of butter forming on the parchment paper. “Aw, CRAP!” I wailed. My husband peered in through the oven window. “But the dough still looks flaky!” he reassured me. “I bet they’ll be great!”

“They’ll be greasy messes!” I said, frustrated. I peered in again through the window. “What a mess!” I sighed. “Needless to say we will eat them anyway.”

I had to bake them a little longer than I expected to get them really golden on top but after about 15 minutes I felt confident that they were as good as they were going to get, and I took the pans out of the oven. After they’d cooled a bit, I noticed that the butter problem seemed to have gone away somewhat. When I removed them from the pan and put them on a cooling rack, they looked genuinely fine. And once they were cool enough to handle and eat, we each had one, and…. there was, seriously, nothing wrong whatsoever with these chocolate croissants. They were, in fact, delightful. My husband began to eat a second one.

“You realize that there’s half a pound of butter in these sixteen croissants,” I said to him.

“Really,” he said. “That’s a lot of butter.”

“It really is,” I said.

Today I went to the dentist and he remarked to me (after complimenting me on not having any cavities) that he’d heard from my husband, who had a checkup at the end of last week, that I’d had a pleasant couple of snow days at home with my daughter. “It was fine,” I said, laughing. “We made chocolate croissants.”

“I know!” he said. Apparently he’d asked my husband, at the end of his appointment, if he had nice plans for the weekend. And my husband had said something along the lines of, “I’m going to go home and eat the chocolate croissants my wife and child made this morning.”
God only knows what our dentist thinks of us now.

It is a funny thing about making chocolate croissants, now that I think about it. In the days since I made them, I’ve now discussed them with several medical professionals. Not one of them has said to me anything along the lines of “gee, don’t you worry about eating that much fattening food?” or “wow, I hope you ate a pound of broccoli to offset those croissants.” No: they’ve asked me, “How’d you do that? Boy, that must be hard.”

The sad thing is, what I’ve learned is, it’s really not hard. It’s just, as I always knew and said it would be, a giant pain in the ass. And I’m already thinking about when I might make them again.

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