Bored of Baking Bread? Take Your Skills to the Next Level With These Advanced Baking Projects
Congrats! You've graduated from sourdough school. Here's what's next.
Since we've all been spending more quality time with our own kitchens, bread baking has become child’s play. Sourdough was the pantry staple we never knew we needed; the fun we had with focaccia feels like a lifetime ago (it was). Even our homemade pizza dough obsession is getting tiresome (that is, until we tried grilling it).
We’re ready to move on to more advanced carbs, which is we why we consulted Paul Baker, the master baker and co-founder of St Pierre, America’s fastest-growing European Bakery brand. He provided us with tons of helpful tips on baking brioche, croissants, popovers, and French baguettes. First step? You should probably start stocking up on butter.
Handle the Dough Carefully. Brioche is an enriched dough (meaning it contains sugar, egg, and butter), so it can be very soft. Be prepared to handle the dough with care. Baker recommends dusting flour on your workbench and using a floured scraper to manipulate the dough.
Balance Your Ingredients. Nailing the balance and ratios of ingredients is key to avoiding brioche that’s either too crusty or over enriched. “Don’t think that more of everything will make it taste better, like more sugar, egg, or butter,” Baker says. “This will upset the balance of the ingredients, and you’ll end up with a sticky mess that won’t rise in the oven or taste good.”
Use Fresh Yeast. Grocery store out of active dry yeast? For once, you don’t have to worry. “Fresh baker’s yeast is best, because it will result in more of a cake-like texture,” Baker explains. You can pick some up from your local bakery, natural food store, or find it online.
Don’t Overmix. If you’re using a stand mixer, make sure to use the hook for mixing dough—never a blade or whisk—to avoid over mixing and causing a too-tough texture. Dough should be smooth and silky when mixed. If you see the dough starting to shred, you’ve overdone it. “And if kneading by hand, be prepared to have a serious workout,” says Baker. The type of flour will determine how much kneading you have to do. White flour means more kneading; rye flour means less.
Make Thin, Even Layers. According to Baker, the key to a good croissant is the lamination (or layering) of dough and butter. What you need to achieve through the rolling out process is multiple thin layers of butter and dough. However, the more “turns” (where you create the layers) you perform the more likely that the butter will split through the dough. Try to roll out the butter and dough evenly, otherwise you’ll form a homogenous dough, which leads to a bready texture and no layers in your croissants. “This will also lead to a flattened, dense croissant, as there will be no layers to lift apart during baking.”
Quality Ingredients Are Key. Baker recommends using a French T45 pastry flour and a butter with a high fat content (84 percent). "Once in the oven, the butter will melt, and steam will create those distinctive, delicious flaky layers of a croissant."
Use Cold Butter. Make sure your butter is cold (but not frozen). When adding the butter, cut it into thin, flat slices and lay it across the dough. When rolling out the croissant dough, fold the butter and dough together three to four times, advises Baker. “Be careful not to combine the butter and dough during the rolling process. If you press too hard on the rolling pin you will push the butter into the dough. Instead, try to roll out your croissant dough evenly when combining it with butter,” he adds.
Don't Forget the Classic Croissant Shine. After proofing your croissants, mix together a couple of eggs, a pinch of salt, and a dash of milk. Use a soft bristle brush to lightly wash each croissant with the mix evenly, and all over. Pop them in the oven to bake, and you’ll find shiny croissants—just like you would buy in a French patisserie—when they’re done.
Keep Everything Cool. Ensure the room temperature, your work surface, and your rolling pin are all as cold as possible. If you can’t achieve this, try making your dough in the evening and “rest” your croissant dough (in cling wrap, not too tightly covered to allow for a bit of expansion) in a fridge overnight before shaping, proving and baking the next day.
Nail the Proofing Process. Baker says a common mistake when baking croissants is over or under proofing, which will ruin the airy, flaky texture key to making a quality croissant. “Ideally, you should prove your croissants at around 80°F/26°C, which is slightly warmer than room temperature; 75 to 90 minutes is recommended,” Baker says. Keep the air in the room—and therefore your croissants—from drying out by placing a saucepan of water in the same place that you are proofing. “The humidity from the water will help to keep the dough surface moist and prevent the surface drying out and becoming hard.”
Towards the end of the proving time, place your finger lightly on a croissant. If there is some slight resistance and the dough springs back then you’re good. “You want the dough to have a bit of power left in it for the oven. If the dough does not spring back, it indicates the yeast is toward the end of its gassing stage and you may have over-proved the croissants.”
Bring Ingredients to Room Temperature. Use room temperature ingredients to create a light airy popover. Cold ingredients will cause the popover to be dense.
Don’t Use Your Mixer. Hand-whisk your batter, being careful not to overmix. According to Baker, the batter should be thin and runny.
Be Conservative When Filling Your Cups. “Be sure to grease your pan well, being careful not to overfill the cups,” says Baker. If using a muffin pan, fill every other cup, so the popovers have plenty of room to rise.”
Don’t Open the Oven Door. Place the pan on the center oven rack and as tempting, as it may be, don't peak. The oven door should remain closed while the popovers bake. Also, don’t skip the preheat process: the hotter the oven, the more they rise.
Use the Right Type of Flour. Try to get your hands on Type 55 flour. According to Baker, this is a standard, hard-wheat white flour used to achieve that crunchy crust and perfect interior chew.
Enlist a Baking Stone. A baking stone (or a pizza stone) will also help you create that crusty exterior. It evenly distributes the heat.
Don’t Forget Water. Steam is key. When pre-heating the oven, put a baking dish on the bottom rack and when ready to bake the bread, pour a small amount of water in the pre-heated baking dish.