Week eight: Still bread, but with loads more butter and sugar.
After our somewhat stressful, but highly productive, bread practical exam week, Week Eight felt like a vacation. At least for me. (A relaxing and fun trip home over the weekend didn’t hurt, either.)
That’s not to say that we weren’t hard at work in the pastry lab, though. We hit the ground running, and even though Monday was Labor Day, there was no holiday for these bakers. We had a new instructor, Kate Good, and a new series module to kick off.
This week marked the beginning of the Viennoiserie module with an introduction of enriched doughs and laminated doughs. If you’re wondering, enriched doughs are those with a high percentage of butter and sugar mixed in, like brioche, pan au lait, sweet rolls, and sticky buns. Lamination is the process of layering dough and fat, in our case butter, to create delightfully flaky and beloved pastries like croissants, Danishes, Kouign Amann, and puff pastry.
On my table this week: Felicia, John, and Franklin. We also moved to a new classroom on Monday. The pastry lab is next door to the bread lab and has some notable differences: granite tables instead of wood; rotating convection ovens instead of deck ovens; sheeters instead of oven loaders; planetary mixers with removable bowls instead of spiral mixers.
Despite the differences, the process of baking in the pastry lab is really the same as before: we are still working from formulas that include flour, leavener, and liquid; we are still mixing to a desired dough temperature and specific gluten window; and we’re still bulk fermenting, proofing, and baking. The dough is still our boss. Like I said, it’s still bread.
Beyond the addition of sugar and butter, one of the notable differences has been the size of the pieces as we divided — compared with the hunks we weighed for baguettes, batards, and boules, the pieces in Viennoiserie are much smaller — precious in comparison.
This week we made straight brioche, brioche with prefermented dough, pumpkin brioche, pan au lait, and sweet roll dough. From these we practiced shapes like brioche a tetes, brioche au sucre, four-strand braids, cinnamon rolls, and sticky buns. We also made some fantastic concoctions that are traditionally made during the holidays: Italian panettone, German stollen, and a delightful bread from the south of France called Gibassier. The latter two were by far my favorites of the week. The Gibassier and stollen formulas both included orange-blossom water which added an intoxicating floral aroma and flavor. Stollen has raisins, orange zest, and warm pie spices, and is shaped to roughly resemble the baby Jesus swaddled in the manger. Gibassier has candied orange peel and anise seeds, and is shaped into a disc that puffs up slightly. Both breads have a generous coating of clarified butter and sanding sugar, but it’s the addition of the orange-blossom water that give the both an incredibly special feeling. I see myself making both of these during the holidays.
On Thursday, we started laminating doughs and learned to use the sheeter. (Add this to the growing list of equipment that I will dream of owning one day.) A sheeter is like a gigantic pasta roller with two large rolling pins that flatten dough to varying thicknesses. By enveloping a slab of butter in a piece of dough, folding it over upon itself, and running it through the sheeter, you create the distinct layers that make a croissant so wonderfully flaky and messy when you cut into it. The layering of fat and dough also contributes to the honeycomb pattern you see in a cross-section of a croissant. But it’s a precise process, and plenty can go wrong. If, for example, your butter is too warm, it can ooze out creating a greasy mess before baking. Or, if your butter is too cold, it can break into chunks that aren’t evenly distributed in the dough making the honeycomb pattern difficult to achieve. And, of course, underproofing or overproofing are still possibilities. It is bread, after all.
When we started, I wasn’t sure that I would like the process of baking pastries as much as I enjoyed bread, but it’s definitely growing on me. The satisfaction that comes from making a beautifully laminated croissant with hundreds of flaky layers is pretty great, I have to admit. I have a long way to go in terms of the artistry needed to make some of these pastries absolutely beautiful, but it’s a really fun and creative challenge.
The best part about last week was that it ended with a visit from Jeff as we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We celebrated, in part, with chocolate croissants. Cheers, sweet.