Bake Club: Croissants

About a year ago I was watching videos trying to learn about laminated dough. I was inspired by the rough puff segments on Great British Bakeoff. The more I looked into it, the more I thought, naaaa that looks too hard.

I continued my year trying new bakes and learning more with each one. Christmas came along and I received Duchess Bake Shop. This has to be the first patisserie cookbook that I have read cover to cover. I learned about butter content and why you want to use European style cultured butter (82-84% milk fat rather than higher water content). I learned about flour and flavourings and their purposes. Plus I learned why measuring ingredients is so important. I kinda knew why and was diligent in the practice of weights and measures, but I am a firm convert now. Last year I purchased the Escali scale on the recommendation on Bon Appetite’s Basically tutorials. I am not going to lie, at $40 I was skeptical and thought I could get away with not owning one because I had done well thus far. (I laugh at old Robyn now. She was so cute thinking I was good at baking). I did a test. I scooped one cup of flour verses weighing out 125 grams. My scoop was an astounding 155 grams!! The scale was not going back and I found it a home in my pantry.

Fast forward to Christmas morning and reading Duchess. I decided I would try making croissants. It was six pages of instruction. SIX PAGES! This was not going to be easy but I was confident I could do it. I flipped back and forth on whether or not I would try it. Cookies were easier. So was pie dough. I read through the recipe three more times before committing two days to this project – for no other reason than I want to see if I could do it.

I went to Sobeys and looked for the correct butter. Only one packaged confirmed 82% MF. I read every butter packet on the shelf. I needed 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsps of unsalted European style cultured butter. I went home and started following the directions reading the recipe for a fifth time. I took the 3/4 cup of butter after weighing it out on the scale. Mixed it with salt and sugar as directed and placed it into a 7″ ziplock bag.

I reread the instructions and learned I fucked up 3/4 cup of $6 butter. I was supposed to mix 2 tbsp. of butter with the salt and sugar. <Insert every curse word you think I might use and choose a worse one>

Meanwhile, my starter was bubbling away. It hadn’t doubled in size yet so I still had time.

Off to the store I went for new butter.

I ran into my parents and walked with my dad a bit catching up, then found my mom. I hate this pandemic business of not seeing my parents more, but shopping for groceries and seeing was like a bonus. Found the butter, and came home. I considered purchasing two – but vowed I would read better the seventh time.

Came home, reread the instructions again and attended to my starter. It was time to add it to my mixer with dough hook and add 2 tbsp. of butter/salt/sugar mix and whole milk. I let it mix and knead for five minutes as directed.

I made the butter plaque as directed (3/4 cup of butter in a ziplock bag measuring 7″ x 5″) The recipe stressed the importance of measuring. After completing everything I can confirm this is the important part. Measure your butter and your dough. This provides the exact thickness you need for perfect layers.

After the dough was done kneading I put it in an oiled bowl and covered with a damp towel to let rise while the butter plaque was chilling in the fridge.

Once the dough doubled in size I rolled it out to measure 10″ x 15″ and placed the butter plaque on one side as directed. I carefully folded and crimped the edges, wrapped it tightly and placed it in the fridge to chill. I repeated the process of rolling, folding and chilling a couple more times.

Around 5:00 p.m. it was time to roll the dough and cut into triangles. I read a few different techniques in different cookbooks. Duchess was the only one that suggested cutting a slit in the bottom and folding to the side before rolling. Duchess Bake shop is rated in the top 20 best bakeries in North America…I think she knows what she is talking about. So I followed her lead.

I rolled up the triangles as directed and placed them on a baking sheet to chill over night and build flavour.

The next morning I read the instructions AGAIN. (Where are we? Eight or nine times?) I filled a baking ban with hot tap water and placed on the bottom of my oven then applied an egg and milk wash and placed the tray of rolled dough on the centre rack for about two hours.

The little pillows of joy smelled so good but they were crowded. I preheated my oven and transfered half the beautiful pillows of dough onto another tray. Into the 450F oven they went for 16 minutes, then I turned the trays for another four minutes.

These croissants were perfection. You could see the layers of lamination. The outer crust was crispy and flakey. The inside was soft and delicate. These croissants were the best thing I have ever made in my entire life. I was overjoyed and wanted to shout it from the roof tops. I facetimed my mom and my friend, I shared photos with other friends and finally I ate them – and reluctantly shared them with my famjam.

Do I recommend making these? As my friend said, “they look just like the ones from Duchess! Break it open so I can hear the sound.” I did and she was properly impressed. So yes, make these if the challenge appeals to you. You can find the recipe in the cookbook – I don’t feel like I should share it, buy her book. She deserves the credit and financial gain. Follow the recipe exactly – all six pages and weigh everything. It is worth it. These things are perfection and taste like France.

Stay healthy friends!

Bake Club: White Chocolate Cherry Pistachio Cookies

The hubs gave me Duchess Bake Shop cookbook for Christmas! If any of you are locals, you know how delicious Duchess is…and busy.

Apparently they have 300 people make baking purchases the first hour of any given Saturday, sometimes more when close to a holiday. At one point Duchess was named on of the top 10 bakeries in North America. Giselle Courteau knows what she is doing. We will go to the Duchess for birthday treats, Saturday strolls and sometimes just because.

As my baking skill increased over 2020, so did my desire to be challenged. Her baked goods remind me of some of the best patisseries in France. I have been wanting to try laminations for a while, who better to learn from? I decided to start simple and give White Chocolate Cherry Pistachio cookies a try. Longest name ever. I have had them in her shop and can tell you first hand how delicious they are. I do know mine will taste slightly different.

Why you ask? I don’t import my butter from France. It is the best dairy in the world, but it is expensive to do so – so, Canadian butter it is. I also make my own vanilla – its good – but it isn’t high end. My white chocolate is just chippits and the dried cherries are from Sobeys. The pistachios are leftover but frozen from Bulk Barn. Don’t get me wrong, these are very good cookies, just not as good as the could be. They are, however, affordable.

These are a basic butter cookie batter, the kind chocolate chip cookies are made from. If you search the internet you can find this recipe everywhere. But they are all slightly different.

  • 240g of flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter – room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg – room temperature
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped unsalted pistachios
  • 1/2 roughly chopped dried cherries

Room temperature is important, things blend better. She also requests whipping the butter for 2 minutes before adding the sugar and egg. Then whipping those until light and fluffy. That makes a difference. She didn’t suggest hydrating but I did. I let the mixture sit for ten minutes. I find this makes a more pliable batter.

I whipped the wet ingredients using the stand mixer. I weighed and sifted the dry ingredients. I used my new mini Kitchen Aid food processor to chop the nuts (I am so grateful for this tool. I despise chopping nuts by hand!)

I combined everything then I used my 2″ ice cream scoop and did everything as directed. Can I just say, ever since I got my new 1 1/2″ ice cream scoop – I want to toss the others. I bought an Oxo before Christmas and wowza is makes scooping a dream. The other ones I have don’t release very well and it is frustrating. I am putting new scoopers on my Christmas list for next year. This is the one I am talking about. Oxo 2″scoop. Maybe its because it is new? But looking closer at it, the release is different. Mine bind.

After scooping I rolled to smooth them, then flattened with the palm of my hand to about an inch thick. I was supposed to get 18 but I only got 14. That’s fine, the are delicious. I baked them at 325F on my convection setting. I like that setting, I can bake two trays at once. BUT I needed to keep the cookies in 5 minutes longer. It said 15 minutes at 350F. But all ovens are different. Use your eyes and nose to determine if your cookies are ready to come out of the oven.

I don’t think these will last long in the cookie jar. Next I think I will give pain au chocolat. I am slightly nervous but it’s good to be challenged!

What is your favourite treat from the Duchess? Stay healthy friends!

The Macaron Challenge

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When my daughter was 15, she visited Paris for the second time in her life. It was experienced by her best friends from, all of whom were in French Class. Their guide recommended they visit Ladurée because it was known for making the best macarons in the world. Up until that moment, she had never had one. After tasting one, she knew it was the best thing she had ever tasted and had always searched for a similar experience here in Canada. She brought home a small box and would not let any of us try it. They were hers. She has since learned, macarons need to be eaten fresh, the same day they are made or they lose their delightful texture and taste.

I have raised a macaron connoisseur purely by accident.

For her birthday adventure, we wanted to try different macarons available at bakeries or pâtisseries in Edmonton. We were curious to know who had the best ones. We decided on 3 different places.

  1. Bon Ton Bakery because it is my favourite bread and cookie bakery
  2. Dutchess Bake Shop because it is a classic French pâtisserie.
  3. Fan Fan Pâtisserie because it is also a classic pâtisserie.

We began our day in west Edmonton at Bon Ton and worked our way east.

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We had to take a number. I like this, you can then browse and not have to queue up.

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It was busier than it looked, I just waited a long while for an empty shot.

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We chose classic vanilla because we figured that would be the most common flavour. Vanilla is my favourite, it is complex yet fairly neutral.

We bought two and a loaf of cinnamon bread because it is my favourite bread bakery. Their carrot current nut is my favourite but I wasn’t early enough today to procure a loaf.

Macarons $2.25 ea

Total cost: $11.23

Next stop, Dutchess Bake Shop.

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This bakery once was listed at the top 23 bakeries to visit in the world and for good reason. But since that day the Buzz feed article was released, the line-ups have been out the door.

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We arrived at 10:15 am. 15 minutes after opening. By the time we left, the line was around the shop, out the door and down the street.

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Again we selected two classic vanilla macarons, Tart Amelie, L’Amour croissant, Brioche Pepin and two raspberry rose lemonades.

Macarons $2.00 ea

Total cost $28.88

Nest stop Fan Fan Pâtisserie.

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The shop was tiny but smelled like a bakery and the chef came out to greet us. She was friendly and patient because we could not decide on a flavour. Why you ask? She didn’t have the classic vanilla. So we decided on a classic French flavour and chose honey lavender. We purchased two.

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Macarons $2.25 each.

We took our purchases home and set up a taste testing booth.

 

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This package was from Bon Ton, a cute little white paper bag.

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This package was from Dutchess Bake Shop, a non-descript white bag. Other items were packaged in a Dutchess box with a gold and white Dutchess label.

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A lovely branded clear bag with a sticker from Fan Fan Pâtisserie.

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From left to right: Bon Ton, Dutchess, and Fan Fan.

The Bon Ton had vanilla beans on the macaron. First, we smelled the macaron, it was a non-descript cracker type smell. We both bit into it and it was a crunchy texture. The flavour was mild, could barely tell it was vanilla.

We smelled the Dutchess, it was an intense vanilla flavour. Our first bite was surprising. Light and soft with an incredible vanilla taste. If you ever had a vanilla bean vs vanilla extract, you know the difference. The Dutchess had a vanilla bean essence. This macaron was creamy.

We knew the Fan Fan was going to be a different flavour, so we were judging it based on smell and texture. It also had a non-descript smell but the texture was soft and light. It was not as creamy as the Dutchess but it was fantastic. The flavour was bolder than expected for lavender, but it was lovely.

Our favourite was Dutchess. My daughter claims it is not as good as Ladurée but it is a close second. The price is better too. $2 vs 3 euros but Laurée has nicer packaging and they sell them at the airport in France if you are just catching a connection or didn’t make it to central Paris.

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The gal at the Strathcona Farmers market needs to get honourable mention. Her’s are flavourful but not as soft. We didn’t visit her today but have in the past. Her macarons are $1 ea. Easily the best price.

Our favourite was the Dutchess but I don’t always feel like driving that far nor do I think waiting in line is super fun, but I would make the effort to visit Fan Fan Pâtisserie. It is closer, small and located in Old Strathcona. But I would consider taking a class at Dutchess to learn how to make them and they sell the mix for the shells for $20 at their provisions shop. I suspect it is 10% ingredients and 90% technique to make the perfect macaron.

So tell me, where is your favourite macaron?