Saturday, 31 January 2009

Rise and Shine!

Pour yourself some coffee, I made you breakfast.
Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes, to be exact. Light and fluffy, just perfect to start you on your weekend.
So sit back, listen to some Fats Domino, and have some blueberry pancakes - with real maple syrup of course, not that stuff in the plastic bottles.
Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes, Rose Levy Beranbaum, The New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook
2 cups sifted unleavened cake flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 full cups frozen blueberries
Butter, for greasing griddle or skillet
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk to blend. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks and buttermilk to blend slightly,. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised. Set aside briefly.
3. Add the yolk mixture to the flour mixture and mix lightly with a fork until the flour is moistened. Stir in the cooled melted butter. The batter should be lumpy; over mixing makes tough pancakes. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites.
4. Preheat the griddle or skillet. Lightly butter the hot griddle before each batch of pancakes. Pour out the batter to make 4-inch rounds. Quickly drop 6-8 frozen blueberries onto each pancake. Test for doneness by lifting a corner of a pancake with a metal spatula. When golden brown, turn over and cook about 30 seconds on the other side. Serve with warmed maple syrup, hickory bacon, sausages or scrapple.
Makes 18-22 four inch pancakes.

Notes - These were super light and delicious. I kept the oven on at 225f and put the finished pancakes in for a few minutes to make sure the middles were cooked through.
I also used far more that 6-8 blueberries in each, but mine were wild berries and so fairly small.
So go ahead and make these for someone that you love, and sing them this song while you're at it!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Salad for Tyler Florence Fridays

Ok, I know the recipe says relish, but I served this cold as a salad and it was pretty darned tasty. This dish fits nicely with my resolution of cooking with dried beans once a week, and also marks my first time cooking with, or even eating, black-eyed peas. They are originally from Africa and popular in the Southern United States, and are a great source of vital minerals in the diet.
I was surprised that they did not require a soak before cooking, and were cooked with salt - as many dried beans are not salted until tender, the salt inhibiting their softening.
I halved the recipe, and still had a lot of salad - unless you are feeding a crowd, I suggest you halve it as well. The resulting dish, which is good hot, warm, or cold, is very tasty and fairly healthy as well. The leftovers just get better over time, and it is good in the fridge for a couple of days.

SPICY BLACK-EYED PEA RELISH - Tyler Florence, Dinner at My Place
3 cups dried black-eyed peas
2 slices thick-cut bacon
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tomatoes, quartered
5 garlic cloves, peeled
5 dried red chilies
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart chicken broth
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lemon, juice only
Extra-virgin olive oil
Cilantro springs for garnish
Tomato wedges for garnish

Combine dried peas, bacon, thyme, tomatoes, garlic and chilies in a large pot. Season with salt and black pepper and pour chicken broth over top. Place over medium-low heat and simmer for 1 hour, until peas are tender.
Drain cooked pea mixture, reserving the cooking liquid and discarding the thyme. Remove bacon slices, tomatoes, garlic and chilies from the cooked peas; set aside. (Reserve chilies for garnish.) Cut up bacon slices and fold back into the peas with green onion, cilantro and lemon juice.
Place the cooking liquid, the tomatoes and the garlic in a blender and puree. Dress the peas with the puree and give it a final season with salt and black pepper. Serve with a drizzle of oil. Garnish with reserved chilies and the cilantro sprigs. Serves 6 to 8.

Until this week, these were the only Black-Eyed Peas that I was familiar with. Well, I do have a house full of teenagers.


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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Tuiles!.. Yeah, I don't know how to pronounce them either.

It's Daring Bakers time again! Which, for me, means getting up before the sun to make tuiles because the month started to get ahead of me... oh well, they make for an excellent breakfast treat!

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

I wanted to go fruity with my filling but the grocery stores were not cooperating, so I went Bailey's Irish Cream instead. I made little canoli shapes ('bout time I put those forms to work!) and dipped them into a Bailey's flavoured chocolate ganache and then filled them with a Bailey's flavoured whipped cream. Keeping with my theme, I garnished them with chocolate covered espresso beans. See - now they are breakfast food.

A couple I left flat and made little faces on with my coffee stencils and cocoa powder. Aren't they cute?

Yields: 20 small butterflies/6 large (butterflies are just an example)
Preparation time batter 10 minutes, waiting time 30 minutes, baking time: 5-10 minutes per batch
65 grams / ¼ cup / 2.3 ounces softened butter (not melted but soft)
60 grams / ½ cup / 2.1 ounces sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (7 grams or substitute with a dash of vanilla extract)
2 large egg whites (slightly whisked with a fork)
65 grams / 1/2 cup / 2.3 ounces sifted all purpose flour
1 table spoon cocoa powder/or food coloring of choice
Butter/spray to grease baking sheet
Oven: 180C / 350F
Using a hand whisk or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (low speed) and cream butter, sugar and vanilla to a paste. Keep stirring while you gradually add the egg whites. Continue to add the flour in small batches and stir to achieve a homogeneous and smooth batter/paste. Be careful to not overmix.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up. (This batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week, take it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with either butter/spray and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will help spread the batter more easily if using a stencil/cardboard template such as the butterfly. Press the stencil on the bakingsheet and use an off sided spatula to spread batter. Leave some room in between your shapes. Mix a small part of the batter with the cocoa and a few drops of warm water until evenly colored. Use this colored batter in a paper piping bag and proceed to pipe decorations on the wings and body of the butterfly.
Bake butterflies in a preheated oven (180C/350F) for about 5-10 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown. Immediately release from bakingsheet and proceed to shape/bend the cookies in the desired shape. These cookies have to be shaped when still warm, you might want to bake a small amount at a time or maybe put them in the oven to warm them up again. (Haven’t tried that).
Or: place a bakingsheet toward the front of the warm oven, leaving the door half open. The warmth will keep the cookies malleable.
If you don’t want to do stencil shapes, you might want to transfer the batter into a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip. Pipe the desired shapes and bake. Shape immediately after baking using for instance a rolling pin, a broom handle, cups, cones….

Check out the hundreds of other Daring Bakers from all over the world!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Working My Way Through a Giant Bag of Beets, Part One.

I am a sucker for a good deal.
So when I saw a big bag of Canadian beets on sale for 99 cents, I grabbed it. I am used to the little bunches that are $2.99 - which works out to about a buck a beet. I don't know the reason for my good fortune this week, one does not question these things too harshly, I was just glad I was there to find such a treasure.
Beets are entering their long overdue heyday this year. Now recognized as a superfood, beets may well be for 2009 what blueberries were in 2008. Cheaper too.
This means that I will have to start getting creative though, I have a lot more to go through.
For dinner tonight, I made a simple beet salad made with roasted beets. Since this had a Middle Eastern flair, I made a roast chicken and potatoes with complementary seasonings. This made for a great and surprisingly easy weeknight meal. The salad is tart and tangy, with warm earthy undertones from the cumin and roasted beets. And who doesn't love a roast chicken with potatoes? Just switch up the seasonings, and they are ready to go with whatever your dinner theme happens to be.
A meal designed around my roasted beet salad? Why not?
Beet Salad with Cumin, Mark Bittman, The Best Recipes in the World
1 pound of beets, or a little more
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced (I used three)
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Feta, crumbled, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 375f. Wash the beets, then put them, still wet, in a roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes (use a thin-bladed knife to pierce through the foil and into the beets to test for doneness) (Mine took closer to an hour). Remove the beets, then allow them to cool before peeling and slicing into rounds 1/2 inch thick. (You can cook the beets a day or two in advance if you like; cut them up at the last minute.)
2. In a blender or bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the parsley until creamy. Tasted and adjust the seasoning ans necessary. Toss the beets with the dressing and refrigerate or serve, garnished with the parsley.

I served this with a small whole chicken that I rubbed with a paste of two parts sumac to one part ground cumin, some kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and dried thyme and enough olive oil to make a paste. Rub the whole chicken with the paste, stuff the already squeezed lemon halves from the beet salad into the cavity and roast in your favourite manner.
The potatoes are yellow fleshed fingerling - a fun little shape - that I drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, lemon thyme and whole cumin seeds. I roasted them at 425 for about 40 minutes until crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Half a Sunflower is Still Better Than No Sunflower

Tuesday is the sweetest day.
This week in Tuesdays with Dorie, Heather of Sherry Trifle chose Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread on page 212 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: from my home to yours. Please see Heather's site for the recipe, today's date.
Now get this: a cake made with fresh ginger and bittersweet chocolate. Crazy right? Who knew this was such an amazing combination?
I love ginger, in fact I increased the amount of fresh ginger, making up for the fact that I had no stem ginger in syrup to add to the batter.
I decided to be extra fancy and bake it in my sunflower Nordic Ware pan. I baked it for an extra 15 minutes because my oven is lagging these days. When I took it out it smelled amazing. And then..... it stuck! Two hours I had invested into this cake and a big chunk was still attached to the pan. (I really should have floured it...)
No matter, I immediately started to eat the stuck portion and decided to photograph the good half.
It would have been perfectly good without the icing. To tell you the truth I went ahead and made the icing just to make the cake look prettier. Glossy too.
The icing recipe did call for 1 tbsp of strong coffee, but I was feeling too lazy to make coffee for one tablespoon so I used Kahlua instead. Yum.
I am thinking that this is one of my favourite TWD recipes so far.
Baking: from my home to yours really is a great baking book, if you don't own it already you should seriously consider adding it to your collection. Dorie has made me a much better baker over this past year - the occasional mishap aside. Of course Dorie won't drop by today when I am saying such nice things about her - she managed to show up on the one day I said the p-word. This is my luck.
Sigh. More cake?

Monday, 26 January 2009

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Haven't seen the sun since '08? Investments worth less than your debt? Worried that you might be slowly being poisoned by your - job/cel phone/groceries/water/spouse/stress/air? Slow down and have a little slice of sunshine - a light and delicious lemon scone, and heed the wise words of Mr. Johnny Mercer - and accentuate the positive!
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, Johnny Mercer
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?
Man, they said "We'd better accentuate the positive"
"Eliminate the negative"
"And latch on to the affirmative"
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
No! Don't mess with Mister In-Between!

Give Aretha a listen and sing along! Spread a little sunshine today.

from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger
makes 8 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tblsp sugar1 tblsp baking powder
grated zest of 2 lemons
1/4 tsp salt
4 tblsp (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon mixed with 2 tblsp sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
or make a glaze with a little lemon juice mixed with icing sugar, and glaze cool scones

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease or parchment-line a baking sheet. In a medium bowl using a whisk or electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Using a for or electric mixer, cut in the butter. The mixture will resemble coarse crumbs. In a small bowl or 1-cup measure, whisk together the eggs and cream. Add to the dry ingredients, stirring just until a shaggy, sticky dough is formed.

2. Turn the shaggy dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead gently, about 6 times, just until the dough holds together. Divide into 2 equal portions and pat each into a 1-inch-thick round about 6 inches in diameter. Using a knife or straight edge, cut each round into quarters, making 4 wedges. The scones can also be formed by cutting out with a 3-inch biscuit cutter to make 10-12 smaller scones.

3. Place the scones about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar , if desired. Place the baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 15-to 20 minutes, or until crusty and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cream of Celery Soup with Pecans and Blue Cheese

In trying to find a meal that would be both rich and delicate enough to suit my buttery croissants, I came across a cream of celery soup from Ricardo Larrivée, a French Canadian chef on Food Network Canada. I replaced the cream with buttermilk and used a freshly made batch of chicken stock. The original recipe also called for walnuts, but I prefer pecans.

Stock is easy to make and have around if you have a slow cooker. I keep two sizes, 3 quart and 5. I put the carcass of the bird in the suitably sized slow cooker, add a little coarse sea salt and whole peppercorns, just cover with water and let cook on low overnight. By morning, I just use tongs to lift out the larger bones and sieve the rest over an 8 cup pyrex measuring glass. (More if making a large batch) Let cool and seal in plastic containers and freeze or use within a day or two. This long cooking method gives a rich, gelatinous stock. I no longer add any other veggies or herbs to the starter stock, more flavourings can be added when you use it for a soup or stew.

Cream of Celery Soup with Pecans and Blue Cheese, adapted from Ricardo, Weekend Cooking
1 leek, white part only, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
10 celery stalks, cut into pieces
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into pieces
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup long grain rice
1 cup spinach, trimmed
1/2 cup buttermilk
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
In a medium saucepan, brown leek in oil over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
Add celery and apple and cook for another minutes.
Deglaze with wine and reduce for 1 minute. Add stock and rice and bring to a gentle boil.
Reduce heat and cook uncovered over medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Add spinach and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Transfer to blender and process or use and immersion blender. Return soup to saucepan and add buttermilk. Stir and reheat without boiling.
Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, garnish with pecans and cheese.

Pairs nicely with croissants and white wine!

Cream of Celery Soup with Pecans and Blue Cheese for Souper Sundays with my pal Deb from Kahakai Kitchen.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Tostones and Calzones - Fun to Say, Fun to Eat.

One of our new features this year for Tyler Florence Fridays is Megan's Challenge , a once a month optional recipe chosen by Megan of My Baking Adventures. The round-up will be at the beginning of the next month, along with the new challenge.
For January, Megan has selected Three Cheese and Spinach Calzones. A fun and family friendly dish that you are more than welcome to put your own twist on.
If you would like to participate in the Tyler Florence Fridays round-ups and join the blogroll, please see the TFF website sidebar for details on how to join.

To make these calzones more teenage boy friendly, I added some cooked bacon to the filling. My youngest son looked at the green filling with suspicion and when I told him that I added bacon just for him, he asked me why I didn't omit the spinach just for him. Boys.

This recipe was easy, fun and delicious. A great pick to get us out of the usual January comfort food mode and into something exciting. Plus, you can eat it with your hands. I love that.

I made tostones to go with it, completing my fun weekend theme. These my son did like, although when I told him they were plantains (carefully pronouncing it plan-ten, like my Jamaican friends have taught me) he said, "What is plankton?". Hilarity ensued.

Spinach and Three Cheese Calzones, Tyler Florence
1 package rapid-rising dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Egg wash
Cornmeal, for dusting
For Dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, bloom the yeast by combining it with warm water and sugar. Stir gently to dissolve, then let stand 5 minutes until foam appears. Turn mixer on low and slowly add the flour, 1 cup at a time. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and add salt. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium. Stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook. Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and fold over itself a few times. Form dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn't form a skin. Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Test the dough by pressing 2 fingers into it. If indents remain, the dough is adequately risen. When ready, knead the dough gently and divide in 4 balls. Sprinkle the rounds lightly with flour, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. This will relax the dough, making it easier to stretch. In the meantime prepare filling.For
Calzones: Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. If you don't have a stone, simply grease a baking pan. Roll or spread the dough discs into 10-inch circles, leave the dough slightly thick so that the filling will not ooze out. Spoon a quarter of the filling onto 1 side of the dough round and brush the outer edge with egg wash to help form a seal. Fold dough over to enclose the filling and form a large turnover. Roll up the edges with your fingers to close tightly and prevent leaking. Cut a few slashes in the top to allow steam to escape during baking and brush with egg wash. Repeat with remaining rounds. Sprinkle a pizza peel (or prepared baking pan) with cornmeal and carefully transfer the calzones. Bake directly on pizza stone for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Let the calzones rest 10 minutes before cutting to allow the cheese to set. Serve with basic tomato sauce if desired.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
Salt and pepper
15 ounces ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup shredded fontina
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
For Filling: In a saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add the spinach, season, and continue to cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a colander and squeeze out the excess liquid. If necessary, drain the ricotta in a sieve to remove excess moisture also. Calzone filling should be fairly dry, because it may leak out or make the dough mushy. Combine spinach, cheeses, egg, and pepper in a large bowl.

Tostones, Ingrid Hoffman, Simply Delisioso

2 green plantains
1 cup vegetable oil, plus more if necessary

Cut off the ends of the plantains and then carefully cut a slit down the length of the skin without cutting into the plantain itself. Using a wooden spoon, pry up the edges of the peel and pull off the skin. Once the peel is removed cut the plantain crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces, each about 2 to 3 inches long.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat until it shimmers, about 3 minutes. Add the plantains and fry them until they turn golden on all sides, about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, then place between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Reduce the heat to medium.
Flatten the plantains by pressing down on them with a heavy-bottomed pan. Return 1/2 of the flattened plantains to the oil and re-fry until deep golden on both sides, about 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer back to the paper towel-lined plate to drain and repeat with the remaining flattened plantains. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

I would like to thank Gloria Chadwick from Cookbook Cuisine who bestowed upon me this inspiration award. I took a long time to think about who I would like to pass it on to, and it hit me while I was walking the dogs. (As many things do)
The most inspiring home cook and food blogger that I could think of is Elra from Elra's Cooking. Elra started her blog to help share her love of cooking with her sisters, and has earned many friends, admirers and new sisters along the way. She is fearless in the kitchen and lovingly takes on every food culture from around the world. If you have not discovered Elra's Cooking, I suggest you bookmark it, you will be coming back again and again.

Choose, cook, share.
Round-up every Friday, check out the Tyler Florence Fridays site for details.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Shrimp Scampi with Linguini

I had originally planned on making Tyler's Amaretto Brownies this week, but at the last minute I was craving pasta. His shrimp scampi may well be the most popular dish on Tyler Florence Fridays so far, and it was exactly what I was in the mood for. The version of the recipe in Stirring the Pot is a little different than the online version, and mine is a hybrid of the two, based on what I had on hand at the time, and of course my need to increase the flavour factor!
This dish is warm and comforting, hot and garlicky noodley goodness. It is comfort food, and as Hurley says, “Maybe if you eat more comfort food, you wouldn’t have to go around shooting people.” Wise words indeed.

Shrimp Scampi with Linguini - Tyler Florence, Stirring the Pot

1 pound linguini
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large shallot, finely diced (I used two)
5 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional (I used lots!)
20 large shrimp, about 1 pound, peeled and deveined, tail on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, broken up
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves (I used a whole cup)
Parmesan cheese and capers for garnish.
For the pasta, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When it has come to the boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and the linguini. Stir to make sure the pasta separates; cover. When the water returns to a boil, cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is not quite done. Drain the pasta reserving 1 cup of water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if using) until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add tomatoes, basil, wine, lemon juice and zest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta and reserved pasta water. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil, garnish with Parmesan and capers, and serve immediately.

Join us for Tyler Florence Fridays!
Choose, cook, share.
Round-up every Friday, check out the
Tyler Florence Fridays site for details.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Oui, Oui, Oui, All The Way Home

Papa was a rolling stone.
Well, he was.
Mostly he was random, thin blue airmail letters from whatever country he was living in at the time. Once, when I was almost eleven, he was an invitation to France. Settled for the time on a working lavender farm, I was parceled over for part of the summer.
I learned a few things that summer:
It is lonely living on a farm where nobody speaks the same language as you.
Avoid the guy who tries to pick you up by your head.
Lavender itches when it is in your eyes, hair, clothes, teeth, etc.
French milk has lumps in it.
Those cute geese who follow you around the farm will eventually be found in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of them.
It is hard to live on dried Corn Flakes until you get back to your own home. (Well, I was young)
And eventually...
When all the grown ups are out in the fields, you can take the strange half moped, half bicycle from behind the house and ride along the country road until you come across a few ancient buildings clustered together. In one of those buildings is a bakery that sells the most heavenly breads and pastries and the merchants don't mind that you are a young wild child who can only point, as long as you have money to pay for it. (Francs gingerly removed from a communal bowl of them in the farm house) This was my introduction to French baking, nothing in North America compares.
This month the Bread Baking Babes took on the classic French Croissant. I was immediately transported back to the small town outside of Nice, to the pastries that saved me from losing my precious baby fat that summer.
I read each Babe's trials and tribulations with this recipe, with this dough, and did a little cross referencing myself. I wanted them to be perfect, I have had thirty years of dry North American croissants since my trip to France, and was committed to making the rich, buttery pastry of a bread from my memory.
Straight from the almost kitchen of Thyme for Cooking, the fabulous host babe of the month, is this recipe for classic French croissants, plus a couple of variations. If you would like to bake along with the Babes, you could earn a Bread Baking Buddy badge for your blog by baking and posting these fabulous croissants by February 2nd. See Thyme for Cooking for details.

Croissants, Pain au Chocolate, Pesto Baguette - Bread Baking Babes

The Dough, for Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, etc....
Copied fairly accurately from an article in France Magazine, 'Pastry from Heaven', by Michelin-star chef, Michel Roux.
Croissant dough is somewhat similar to puff pastry, in that a slab of butter is incorporated into the mixture and the dough is rolled and turned, but it actually belongs to the family of yeasted doughs, like brioche.This classic dough is used to make various sweet and savory pastries.
You can freeze unbaked croissants and Pains au Chocolat, after shaping but before brushing with egg, for up to 2 weeks. Separate with waxed or parchment paper so you can remove as many as you like.
Yield: 1.1kg dough, enough for 14 - 16 croissants
Time: 9 - 13 hours
25g fresh yeast
250ml whole milk
500g plain flour
12g fine salt
50g sugar
275g butter, cold but not too hard
Egg Wash - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1tbs milk
Dissolve the yeast in the milk.
Put flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook and mix on low. Gradually pour in the milk/yeast mixture.
Stop working the dough as soon as it comes away from the sides of the bowl. It should not become too elastic.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place (24C, 75F) until doubled, 45 - 60 minutes.
Punch down dough by flipping it over with your hand, but do not overwork it.
Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but not more than 8.
Punch down dough by flipping again and place on lightly floured surface.
Shape the dough into a ball and cut a 3cm (1 1/4") cross in the center.
Roll out the 4 sides to make flaps.
Bash the butter with a rolling pin to make a rectangle and place in the center of the dough.
Fold the flaps over to completely enclose the butter.
First Turn: Lightly flour the work surface, roll the dough out to a 60 X 30cm (24 X 12") rectangle.
Fold in thirds, wrap in cling film and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Second Turn: Give the chilled dough a quarter turn, roll out into the rectangle, fold, wrap and refrigerate as above, 30 minutes.
Third Turn: Roll the dough in the opposite direction as before, into the rectangle, fold wrap and refrigerate at least 30 but no more than 60 minutes.The dough is now ready for use.
Cut a cardboard template, 9cm (3.5") base, 18cm (7") to the point.
Lightly flour work surface and roll dough out to 65 X 40cm (26 X 16") rectangle.
Lift it slightly off the surface to aerate it to keep it from shrinking.
Trim sides with a sharp knife to make straight edges, then cut in half, lengthwise. Using the template as a guide, cut into triangles.
Lay 1 triangle on the work surface.
Make a 1cm (1/3") cut in the middle of the base and pull the 2 base points slightly to separate; then pull the top point slightly.
Roll the croissant from the base to the point.
Place on a baking sheet and turn the base points to form a crescent (You could lay a piece of ham on the base before rolling for a savory croissant)
Repeat with the rest of the triangles.Lightly but thoroughly brush with egg wash.
Put the croissants, on a baking tray, in a warm, preferably slightly humid, place (24 - 30C, 75 - 86F) to rise for 2 hours, or until almost doubled.
Brush with egg wash again, and bake in a preheated oven (170C, 340F) oven for 12 - 14 minutes.
Pains au Chocolate
40 - 44 sticks of dark chocolate, 4g each
Roll dough into 52 X 46cm (21 X 18") rectangle (It will be a bit thicker than for croissants)
Trim rectangle to make straight sides then cut, lengthwise into 4 long strips, about 11cm (4 2/3") wide.
Cut across every 7cm (2 3/4") to make small rectangles.
On 1 rectangle, place 1 stick of chocolate on the short end, about 4cm (1 1/2") from the edge.
Roll the dough over the chocolate once.
Place another stick at the edge of the roll and roll the dough over again.
Roll over again.
Place on try and brush with egg wash.
Let rise, brush again and bake as for croissants.
When done, cool on a wire rack, without touching, before serving. (The chocolate would be very, very hot)
Croissant Baguette with Pesto
480g croissant dough
100g pesto
10g pine nuts
Egg Wash
Roll dough into 40 X 20cm (16 X 8") rectangle and trim.
Place on greaseproof paper, with long side facing you.
Brush a 4cm (1 3/4") border of egg wash around edges on short sides and 5cm (2") on the long side away from you.
Spread pesto within border of egg wash.
Using the paper to help, lift the dough and roll into a baguette shape.
Roll onto a baking sheet, brush with egg wash and leave to rise in a warm place for 45 - 60 minutes.
Brush with egg wash again, then, with sharp knife, make eight 1cm (3/4") incisions, on the diagonal, along the length of the baguette.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and bake for 20 minutes at 180C (350F).
Reduce the oven temperature to 160C (325F) and bake another 15 minutes.
Allow the baguette to rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes before serving. Remove to cutting board and serve, slicing with serrated knife at the table. It is very fragile and best served warm.
(We be chillin')
My notes and changes:
I looked up croissants in Bakewise and The Art and Soul of Baking as well. These are both good reference books for the baker's kitchen. Between the Babes' comments and alterations and the pointers I received from these books I decided on a couple of changes.
I didn't let the dough rise before the folding and shaping.
I trusted the dough and didn't knead it much - this was scary as it was really shaggy and dry looking most of the way through the process.
I tossed the butter, in cubes, with a little flour before the bashing.
I chilled the risen croissants for 15 minutes before baking - outside, I don't know who these people are who have room in the fridge for trays of breads.
I braided the off cuts and sprinkled hazelnut flakes, cinnamon and turbinado sugar on top of the egg wash.
Mostly I made the classic croissants, but I did make a couple of cigar shaped pain au chocolat with chocolate chips inside, sprinkled with hazelnut flakes, cocoa powder and turbinado sugar.
The verdict:
While not quite as good as the croissants from my memory, these were certainly the best I have ever had in this country. Rich and buttery and impossibly light and flaky. Well worth devoting my entire day to. I am happy.
I started them before six am, before my commuters had left for the day, long before the sun was even thinking about rising. They were ready in time for dinner, a cream of celery soup garnished with blue cheese and toasted pecans. I wanted something that would go with the bread! The soup will be posted on Sunday, if you are interested.
The outcome:
We luxuriated in our soup and croissants with a nice bottle of wine and enjoyed the premiere of the fifth season of LOST. Josh Holloway was nice enough to go the whole first hour without a shirt on, capping my evening splendidly. Well, we can't be good all the time.

These croissants are being Yeastspotted!