The great croissant challenge

I was craving croissants.

I really wanted to eat something buttery, crunchy, and flaky. And yet, most croissants that I have found, while delicious, fall short of that description. So I decided to try to make my own!

Now croissants are crazy flaky because they’re made out of puff pastry, which is basically flour and a LOT of butter folded over and over and over onto itself to make those layers we so appreciate. You can buy puff pastry at the store but I wanted to make my own. It takes a while because you have to keep the butter cold. So a typical recipe has you do a fold, then put the dough in the fridge for 30 min to an hour to chill the butter before you fold it again. It’s a lot of waiting. I decided the weekend would be the best time to try it.

Cobalt and I have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything book so I decided to start there. I spent Saturday evening rolling and folding the dough, as per Bittman’s suggestions. Then I put it in the fridge overnight so I could make toasty croissants for Sunday morning brunch.

On Sunday, I rolled out and shaped the croissants. They looked good. Check it out.

Then I popped them in the oven. After about 25 minutes, they looked golden brown and pretty.

Though they looked pretty, they felt kind of weird. They were heavier than I thought a croissant should be. Could be okay still though. It came down to a taste test.

The inside was a disaster. They were still raw in there! I wonder if I made them too big. But also, they didn’t really taste great.

I went on a mission for a new croissant recipe. And I found this one by The Great British Bake Off’s judge Paul Hollywood.

So I went to the store and gathered some more supplies (these things need a lot of butter). And then I started on the recipe.

Hollywood’s recipe has yeast in it, which I took to be a good sign. Croissants that have risen maybe wouldn’t be as dense as the Bittman ones were.

This recipe was a little more complicated than the Bittman one. First of all, the ingredients were listed in grams instead of our American cups and teaspoons. But that’s okay! I have a kitchen scale. I pretended I was back in the lab: I tared the scale and then weighed out the exact amounts of my ingredients.

The recipe also called for “caster sugar,” which is apparently superfine sugar. Our store had sugar and powdered sugar (which is superfine sugar with cornstarch in it), so I had to make my own caster sugar. I took regular sugar and put it in the food processor. Voila. Superfine!

Then all of Hollywood’s measurements were in centimeters instead of inches. I’m not great at guestimating centimeters, so I borrowed my measuring tape from my sewing kit.

Finally, I had some drama getting the butter the way Hollywood described it. But at last I got the dough to its stopping point and let it rest overnight in the fridge.

On Monday morning, I rolled out the dough and shaped the croissants. Not bad!

You can already see the layers!

These ones were smaller than the Bittman ones but they also had a two-hour rise before I baked them. They puffed up!

And then they puffed up even more even more in the oven. Oh man. They looked and smelled so good. Plus they were light and super flaky!

Okay so they probably won’t win any beauty contest awards (Sorry Paul Hollywood!) but they’re still AMAZING.

Time for a taste test. Looks like Cobalt likes them! Yummmmm….

I really like making puff pastry dough (minus adding the butter to the Hollywood recipe, which made me infuriated). There’s something so relaxing about rolling out and folding this dough. Especially with the Hollywood recipe because it smelled so good. :D

I’m definitely going to have to try this one again. I have to figure out how to perfect that butter part! Also maybe I should mix up the recipe a little. Maybe make some pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants)? Yes please!

I hope you all are enjoying the new lunar year! Year of the Dog! Did anyone make/eat dumplings? :)

Butterflies at the Insectival!

This butterfly’s wings are wrinkled because of a birth defect. It can’t fly very well… :(

So… this weekend, the Butterfly Pavilion hosted an Insectival (or Insect Carnival)! The best part about it was that the local camera store in the Boulder/Denver area was there loaning out macro lenses for free! For those of you who don’t know what a macro lens is, check out your point and shoot cameras. Macro mode is always identified by a little flower shape. When you turn on macro mode, you can take pictures of super tiny things and the camera will do its best to bring those little things into perfect focus. It’s kind of similar for big DSLRS too except you can actually use a totally different lens that specializes on focusing on the tiny. Macro lenses are pretty expensive (the one I played with is around $1000) and I don’t do enough photography of tiny things to justify buying one but if someone wants to loan me an expensive macro lens in an area full of tiny things (like butterflies) and let me play, I am okay with that!
So we went! I was so stressed out and nervous the whole drive there, worrying that they would be out of loaner lenses or something. >_< Poor Cobalt…

It all worked out though. I got to borrow a 105 mm macro lens which turned out to be HUGE. My friend J also brought her DSLR and she got to borrow this epic telephoto macro lens which was even bigger. The difference between our two lenses is that with her telephoto lens, J could look at tiny things farther away and have them appear as if they are right next to you. With our borrowed lenses in hand, J and I (and the rest of our group) headed into the world of butterflies!

It was interesting trying out a new lens with my camera. Usually if you go to a camera store and ask to try a lens, they bring you a random camera with the lens of interest attached and you play with it in the store. This time, I had my own camera (that I am completely comfortable using) and my own memory card and I could just mess around (i.e. take a million pictures and look at them all later in the comfort of my home). I usually shoot all my DSLR pictures in manual mode – meaning that I often take several pictures of the same thing to try to get the settings the way I want them. I found that with demoing a new lens, I would rather just mess around with the lens settings and let the camera take control of the light settings. I couldn’t let myself go all the way to automatic mode so I settled on Aperture Priority (Av mode on most cameras), which lets you set the depth of field and it adjusts the shutter speed to whatever it thinks will work best. It was hard trusting my camera when I am so used to doing everything myself (I found myself constantly judging the lighting of certain situations and wondering if I should change something before I realized the camera would take care of it) but it did a good job. Once we got inside to look at some of the other bugs, I had to put it back on manual because I was disappointed in its choice of shutter speed but otherwise, good job camera! Thank you for letting me only focus on the lens.

Long story short… it was a blast. I have so many butterfly pictures on my computer right now… AND the camera store is holding a photo contest! I am currently trying to figure out which of ALLLLLL my pictures is my favorite (these three are in the running with about 8 other ones…) so I can enter it in the contest. Winner wins a fancy Nikon J1 camera. Maybe I will post the picture I submit when I submit it…

Finally some non butterfly/camera geekiness:
Cobalt LOVES tarantulas. You can tell from just his mouth in this picture… He actually got to hold one named Rosie (and he got a sticker saying that he held her). Rosie also must have really liked Cobalt. When the handler tried to take her back, she wouldn’t leave his hands…

And a picture of J, me, and A (taken with my normal 50 mm lens). I am sad because we just had to give our fancy lenses back to the camera people…

Crazy week ahead! MOH comes tomorrow and we leave on Saturday for CA!!!! Gotta finish that crazy grant too. Plus, I should probably clean the house before T shows up tomorrow….

Your assignment for today: What do you look for in a good photograph? Do you look at photo composition, colors, focus, etc? Are you a huuuge nerd about something the way I am about cameras/photography?