Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eat: Croissants

I grew up in a city that loves it's croissants. Plain or filled with chocolate (the veritable chocolatine, my personal favourite), raisin or almond; all varieties have a die hard following. Everyone has their favourite boulangerie as well; we Montrealers can be quite polarized about such details (don't even get us started on where the best poutine place or hot dog shop is!). When I was 18 and working at the most covet-able of retail jobs (a comic store), I had my own croissant ritual. On my way to work every Sunday morning, I would get off the bus a few stops early just to go to a specific boulangerie that I preferred (Au Pain Dore) to buy a large coffee and chocolatine. The first half hour at the comic book store on those early Sunday mornings were spent mostly alone, behind the counter with my petit déjeuner. It's no coincidence that many of my fondest memories in life are associated with food.

Over the years I developed croissant-fatigue. I moved around Montreal a lot during my 20's and 30's and I found it difficult to frequent my favourite boulangeries. Instead I tried grocery store varieties as well as bakeries that more than likely used sub-par techniques and ingredients (and perhaps even resold baked goods rather than making their own). I ate way too many dry, stale croissants and subsequently lost interest in the pastry altogether. I had pretty much sworn off the pastry for the last ten years, resigned to the belief that it was too difficult to find good quality versions. That is, until I went to Paris...

During my trip to Paris, I had one of two things for breakfast every single day with my cafe creme; a croissant or a crepe. Both were magical. Paris made me realize that I had never had a decent crepe in Montreal. Go ahead, hate me, but try and prove me wrong!! Those ridiculous whip cream and maraschino cherry filled crepes at most breakfast restaurants (i.e. Chez Cora) are a pale comparison to the divine creations produced at crepe stands all over Paris. My second culinary epiphany was when I realized that I still really love a good croissant. I enjoyed many large, airy croissants with their just slightly greasy outer crust (that's butter, baby!) with so many lovely, soft, sweet layers which were not at all dry or crummy. Yowza... foodgasm! These Parisien treats re-ignited my taste buds for croissants, and I knew that I would have to seek out an equivalent in Montreal. I would just have to accept that bakeries have their specialties; just because 90% of them sell croissants does not mean that they bake them themselves or that they put as much loving care into the production as is required.

Upon our return from Paris, we resolved to address these two breakfast travesties. We promptly bought a crepe pan, crepe utensils and various toppings (Nutella, raspberry jam, and creme de marrons) and got to work. Sweet, delicious, drool worthy work. Instead of settling for bad restaurant crepes we decided to learn how to make our own. I could go on and on about our delicious creperie adventures but I'll save that post for another day. Suffice to say, our solution could be found right at home. With regards to croissants, we had resolved that a bad croissant was not worth having, so we would hold out on our cravings and only visit our favourite boulangeries. They have to be fresh, and if possible warm from the oven. But considering how much I like to sleep in, I am loathe to head out in the early hours of the morning to snag the freshest, warmest croissants available. Instead we wondered if we could we make croissants at home? It seemed like a great idea until we saw this episode of Bake with Anna Olson. Clearly, the creation of croissant dough was best left to the professionals. No wonder why a perfect croissant is so hard to find! The sheer amount of effort required to manipulate the dough, and the attention required to achieve the perfect temperature and rest time. So exacting!

Luckily there was an option we had not initially considered. The other night, Marc came home from a local bakery with a baguette for dinner and a surprise. Frozen croissant dough. Normally I am adverse to such an idea but considering it was from the same bakery  (Première Moisson) where we would buy fresh croissants, we figured it was a great starting point. The instructions were more elaborate than that of the Pillsbury cressent roll variety; which I took as a good sign. The frozen croissants should rest on a parchment lined baking tray in the (cold, unheated) oven for eight hours under a damp towel or cloth. You should then remove the croissants (and behold how beautifully plumped up they are!) to pre-heat the oven and if desired, coat the croissants with an egg wash (do this! seriously!) and bake for 15-20 min. Get a load of these croissants, are they not gorgeous? I did a little happy dance as I ate mine, knowing that we had found a perfect solution. Our petit déjeuner at home, Parisien style. More fond memories related to food.

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