It seemed so effortless when she did it, like how dancers make dancing look easy and actresses contort their faces and give emotions breath without even trying. But one must not forget that professionals are paid to give that impression, and cooking demonstrations are no different. Amidst the scurrying sous chefs, television monitors and gleaming, professional cooks are experts – ones who know exactly what they are doing. The act is to convince you that so do you.
For a brief moment in time, I forgot. And I attempted to reconnect with my French amore by making croissants from scratch. Needless (kneadless?) to say, next time, I’ll try to remember.
In preparation, I recruited the proper critics – friends that somehow always seem to provide good reviews of my baked goods. I bought the proper ingredients – whole milk, bread flour (this “need” is highly disputable within the croissant-making industry) and European butter (more a luxury than a “need”). The creamier butter, with a much higher fat content, is available at speciality food stores, such as Lunds and Byerly’s in the Twin Cities area. To fully indulge, I ventured to Penzey’s Spices for more “extras” – French thyme and provincial lavender (kept in the back and sold only in their larger quantity).
An hour and a half later, I ended up with a ridiculously messy kitchen (bread flour, though thicker, does indeed splatter as well as all-purpose) and a ball of tough, nonelastic dough. Discouraged, I retreated until my roommates returned home with humor. There’s nothing like playing kitchen catch, complete with mitts and a ball made from failed croissant dough.
Day two began early. Instead of using the class’ recipe, I scanned recipes online before settling on the William Sonoma recipe. With minor modifications, a culinary masterpiece evolved – shaggy, elastic dough. I was on the right track.
Hours later, I realized my mistake: I had created my butter block based on the first recipe, and dough from the second. All croissant recipes are not equal, and my mistake equated to two baking sheets inundated with butter, which melted off of the croissants like icicles melt in sun – quickly, without warning and with no sign of stopping.
Though far from French standards, the croissants turned out alright. And for some, more than okay. As my friend Hattie said, “I will dream of those croissants forever.” In my mind, they were inadequate, except for the addition of thyme and lavender, which turned out to be the perfect amount of understated flavors (not to mention it produces a wonderful smell).
Sometimes, mistakes are worth making. Sometimes, they provide lessons. And sometimes, they create useful lists.
1 – Do not overlook the fact that professionals are just that – paid to be good.
2 – When you fail, try again (and again).
3 – Never underestimate the French – especially when it comes to their cooking.
4 – When used correctly, spices are the key to life.