Saturday, October 07, 2006

Field of Croissant Dreams: As week two of Classic European Breads concludes, we are on to the stuff of the romantic French “petite dejeuner” – Croissants, Pain au Chocolat and Brioche.

There is something miraculous about making croissant dough by hand. The butter and dough is “laminated” together, one fold after another, until you achieve a dough with many layers of butter and pastry that puff in the oven. There are precise measurements for each triangle, and a traditional method for rolling the croissant into the spiral shape. It is a time-intensive labor of love, and you get a kind of spiritual lift as you sniff the aroma of warm yeast and butter surrounding you and watch the golden crescents swell in the oven.

While technically simpler to shape, the flavor of pain au chocolat with its subtle mélange of butter and rich chocolate is sublime. The twigs of chocolate are specially-made with a higher melting point to assure a substantial mouthful of chocolate in the final product.

Brioche loaves are enriched with eggs and butter. The dough is slippery and elastic and fun to shape. We make large and small ball-shaped loaves and create that distinctive “tete” that resembles the cap of a clergyman. Some of our tetes topple a bit in the oven, but the downy golden dough is deliciously soft and sweet and smells like a French country morning.

Just to keep us on top of our game, Chef has us prepare a batch of Pain de Mais, a hearty yellow bread of corn meal and olive oil. Chef isn’t sure exactly how this variety emerged, since corn is not a typical ingredient throughout France, but the crunchy loaves have a sweet and spicy flavor and we shape some into beautiful sunflowers that remind me of the radiant fields glimpsed from the bus during my recent travels through Burgundy.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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