Week of 4/08/12
My significant achievement this week was to make Croissants. On Tuesday, I went to a friend’s for lunch and asked what I could bring. She said that anything that went with a Shrimp Salad would be good, so I thought bread or rolls would be ideal. With that in mind, I decided to make Croissants. I hadn’t made them in a long time and this would be a good excuse. Croissants are not hard to make – they are just time consuming. Luncheon was going to be on Tuesday, so I figured that I would need to be able to bake the Croissants by Monday evening as the proofing time for them would be several hours and if I waited until the morning, I might not have enough time as I had an 11:30 appointment before going to lunch at Mary’s.
We were scheduled to go to a BBQ lunch at Jenny & John’s (Ev’s Grandaughter & Grandson In-Law) Sunday afternoon so I set to work to make the Croissant Dough in the morning. The Dough is a yeast dough and uses 2 cups Bread Flour and 1 cup of All-Purpose Flour. Unlike a normal yeast dough, the yeast is dissolved in a cup of cold milk. (Normally you don’t want to use cold milk without first scalding it, because the enzymes in milk prevent the yeast from working to it’s full capacity)
Next you combine the Flours, Sugar and Salt and then work in ¼ lb. of Butter. This can be done with your fingers, a pastry blender or a food processor. In any case the butter should be cut up into several small pieces (8 works best) to facilitate working it in. I preferred to do it with my food processor as it cuts it in very evenly and distributes the butter throughout the flour.
Next, the Flour mixture is added to the Yeast/Milk Mixture. The two mixtures are then stirred to combine and then kneaded until you have a smooth dough. It takes about 7-8 minutes in a Standing Mixer fitted with the Dough Hook and about 10-12 minutes if you are kneading by hand. After the Dough is kneaded, it is shaped into a ball, scored on time with an X cut going across the whole top of the ball and then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for at least 5 hours.
By the way, Croissant Dough as Danish Dough, is a Laminated Dough and is a pleasure to work with. This Dough comes out really well and feels really nice to the touch. It is not sticky or dry!
Once the chilling time is over and you are ready to roll in the Butter Block, make the Block. The Butter Block consists of ¾ lb. of Butter and it is easiest to make if you use Butter that comes in 4 pieces per pound. Cut each of the 3 Sticks in half down the middle to make 6 pieces no thicker than 1inch. Place the 6 pieces of butter on a piece of parchment paper that has been dusted with Flour and then dust the top of the butter with flour and cover with another piece of parchment. Take your rolling pin and tap the butter over the parchment to soften it. Once it has softened sufficiently (not melted!) shape it into a 6 inch square.
The next step is to roll out the dough and encase the butter in it. Once that has been accomplished, and you have turned it, you then wrap it and refrigerate it for 30 minutes and roll and turn again. This step must be repeated a total of 3 times. After the 3rd time the dough should be refrigerated for several hours but not more than 24.
When you are ready to roll out the dough you roll it into a 12 x 18 rectangle and cut the rectangle in half horizontally. You then mark it every 5 inches on top and bottom with a sharp knife.
You then cut diagonal lines from left to right, using the marks as a guide. Next you cut more horizontal lines from right to left. This leaves with triangular pieces of dough which then cut rolled up from the point to the wide end to form a Crescent Shape. This recipe was supposed to make 14 large Croissants and 4 Minis but somehow I got about 18 large Croissants and several minis. I made the large Croissants just normal Croissants without filling. I used Almond Paste and Strawberry Jam (homemade) to fill the smaller and odd-shaped Croissants.
The rolled Croissants filled up two parchment covered baking sheets which I then covered with Plastic Wrap which was lightly sprayed with a Vegetable Oil Spray. I placed them in my oven (not turned on) to proof. The dough was still cold so they took about 3 hours to proof. Unlike most yeast doughs, do not wait for the Croissants to double in bulk, because this will not happen. (Remember the cold milk affects the action of the Yeast) When they are completely proofed, the Croissants will feel light but will not have doubled in bulk.
Next you brush them with an Egg Wash (1 whole Egg + 1 Yolk). The additional Yolk helps the Croissants to brown well. Preheat your oven and place one pan on the middle shelf and bake for 12 minutes. After twelve minutes the pan was rotated back to front and the heat reduced, then the Croissants were baked for approximately another 20 minutes or until they were nicely browned. Repeated the process with the second pan.
In the end we had a nice batch of Croissants, six of which I packed and brought to Mary’s house for lunch on Tuesday. Another 6 or so were packed and frozen for later use. We still had ample Croissants to eat at home and we did have them for breakfast at least 2 days in a row and there were still some leftover to snack on.
Croissants are fun to make and it is really exciting to see how the laminated dough puffs up when baking. Don’t forget, Croissants as other puff pastries, need a HOT oven for the puffing action to take place! For the full recipe just type in Croissant Recipe in your browser and many will come up.
When making jam, you usually want to have equal amounts of fruit and sugar. I didn’t quite follow this rule though when making my jam. After cleaning the fruit (berries should never be washed, just wiped clean with a paper towel – however, I always wash them.) If you do feel like you have to wash them, be sure to blot them dry with a paper towel. I used 4 cups of sliced berries, the theory being that there are gaps between the slices of berries and unless you crush them, you are not going to have a full 3 cups if you only measure 3 cups. I used 3 cups of granulated sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
(Its always good to have some acid) To avoid having the jam foam ( which you would have to skim off), once the fruit mixture starts bubbling, put a teaspoon of butter into the pan with the berries and sugar.
Combine your fruit, sugar, lemon juice in a large saucepan, or copper jam pot, if you have one.
Place over high heat and bring to a boil. You can crush the berries once they start cooking, using a potato masher or you can chop them in your food processor before you start cooking. If you like to have visible pieces of fruit in your jam, do it the first way.
Once the mixture starts boiling, turn the heat down just enough to keep the mixture bubbling, but not burning and add the Butter.
Berries and Sugar liquefy as they cook.
Cook, stirring constantly until the jam tests properly or your thermometer reads the correct temperature. (See the fourth and fifth paragraphs above), you can ladle the jam into the sterilized container and seal with the sterilized lids and rings. Turn upside down (the hot jam will ensure that the lids seal) until cool. Tighten the lids, label and store in a cool, dry place. Once a jar of jam is opened, store any unused portions in the refrigerator. Sugar is a common preservative and the jam will last indefinitely in the refrigerator. If it starts crystallizing, though, it is best to throw it out as it will not taste good. (You can tell if it is Crystallized by the formation of sugar crystals on the sides of the jar)
Other fruit jams can be made in the same way as the Strawberry Jam.
Jellies are made using the juice of fruit. The fruit first has to be crushed or pureed in the food processor and then strained through cheesecloth. You definitely get more fruit flavor by making jam rather than jelly.
Even though we tend to think of mint as spearmint or peppermint, there are actually over 600 varities mint in the world. This is one plant that grows like a weed and if it is in your yard, you will never get rid of it. For this reason, many gardeners, never actually plant mint in their gardens. Instead they plant them in boxes where they will be contained. If you do have mint growing, be happy, because there are so many uses for it that you will be glad that you have it. The mint that I have right now that is often a pain, is spearmint which creeps under the fence from my neighbor’s yard and keeps surrounding my tomato plants. Not good for the tomatoes unless I keep it pulled out, which I do. The reason that you can’t get rid of mint, even when you pull it out is that the plant puts down deep roots and even when you think you have pulled it all out, there is still enough left in there for it to grow again. Just like the mythical phoenix bird, mint keeps coming back and rejuvenating itself.
The two main types of mint are Peppermint and Spearmint. Spearmint is the preferred mint for using fresh as the Peppermint Variety has a high menthol content and tends to taste medicinal when not dried before use. There are many varieties within the Spearmint category which can be used freely for cold drinks or hot tea. My favorite is Chocolate Mint. One of the nice things about Chocolate Mint is that it does not grow as rapidly as the other varities and when you water it gives off a delicious Chocolate Mint fragrance which smells just like an old fashioned Chocolate Mint Patty, something I used to love when a child. In fact, I still do. A few of the other varities of mint which are available are Lemon Mint, Banana Mint, Lavender Mint, Orange Mint and Pineapple Mint. If you do find yourself fighting the mint battle, just take advantage of its presence and use it whenever youcan. Following are some of the things that I do with Mint and that you can do too, if you like.
I just pulled out a large quantity of mint that was surrounding my tomato plants. I pulled the mint out, roots and all but like I mentioned earlier, there will probably still be roots left in the ground and I will find myself pulling the mint out again in a few weeks. Since the mint roots where still attached, there was some dirt clinging to the plants. I first rinsed them off with the hose before taking them in the house. Once in the kitchen I filled the sink up with cold water and plop in the mint stems and swish them around to get rid of any loose dirt, bugs or other debris. Then I pull the leaves off the stems and put them in a colander. The easiest way to remove the leaves from the stems, is to run your fingers down the stem in the opposite direction of growth. When you do this, the leaves come off easily. Once you have the leaves off and in the colander, then run cold water over them, shaking the colander well to distribute the water and get rid of the unwanted material.
Once your mint is clean, you can then use it for a variety of things. I find that the best way is to make a mint infusion. The infusion can be used for making tea or jelly or can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. The infusion itself can be use for mint tea (no tea leaves needed). Not only is mint tea refreshing, it is also a great digestive aid. You can also make mint lemon or limeade or use it for cooking. One of the advantages of making the infusion is that when it is simmering it gives off a wonderful fragrance that will permeate your home and act as a natural air freshener.
To make an infusion, place the mint leaves in a pot where they will have ample room and then cover them with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down the flame and simmer for about 10 minutes, then shut off the heat, cover the pot and let it sit until the infusion is cool. Pour the infusion through a strainer into a clean container and discard the leaves. Again, the infusion can be used for tea either hot or cold. For iced tea, place some ice cubes in a pitcher, pour the infusion over it and then serve. For added flavor, add lemon or lime juice or orange, lemon and lime slices. The infusion can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two or can be frozen until you are ready to use it.
To make mint jelly, recipes can be found on line just by typing in ‘Recipes for Mint Jelly’ into your browser search area. Mint leaves can also be used to cook lamb and can be used in salads. Remember that if you have mint growing in your yard, don’t let it go to waste. Use it and don’t be afraid to pick it. It will grow back!
How many times have you tried out a new recipe or simply an old one that did not turn out right? Did you eat it anyways, toss it or try to create something new out of it? There are times when mistakes cannot be remedied, but most of the time, if you just think creatively, a new dish can be created. Let’s take the old phrase “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” and turn it into something new. How about “Creations born of mistakes”?
A recipe gone wrong need not be the only way that one dish can be turned into another. This series will deal with foods that you can create from leftovers, overabundance and mistakes. We are going to start with a Strawberry Marshmallow Cream Pie. Everyone loves Cream Pie and almost everyone loves Strawberries. Since it is almost always Strawberry Time in Southern California there are always vendors parked on the street, in front of the Post Office, in front of other stores, etc. Having purchased several boxes and having more than we could eat before they would go bad, I decided to make Strawberry Marshmallows with them. The reason I decided on Marshmallows is that #1 – I love Marshmallows! And there is nothing like homemade marshmallows. They taste nothing like the commercially made ones. They are light and fluffy and you can make them any flavor that you want. Plus I had an abundance of Egg Whites left over from making cakes that used only the yolks.
Not having made Strawberry Marshmallows before, I didn’t want to increase thegelatin in the recipe before I tried it out as it was, except for the addition of the Strawberries. Of course, the Strawberries, once they were pureed, increased the liquid content of the Marshmallow mixture and consequently, the marshmallows did not set up completely. But once having tasted the concoction with a spoon, there was no way we could let it go to waste. Therefore, I came up with the idea for a Strawberry Marshmallow Cream Pie. The crust is made from pulverized Vanilla Wafers with the addition of a small amount of butter. I made a Vanilla Pastry Cream to go in the bottom of the pie and then added sliced Strawberries to that.
When I started to spoon out the Marshmallow mixture, I realized that it was so airy that by the time I got it into the pie shell on top of the pastry cream, that it would not hold its shape. To remedy that situation I whipped up a cup and a half of whipping cream and folded the marshmallow mixture into the whipped cream and then layered that mixture onto the pastry cream. To finish the pie, I placed some sliced strawberries around the edges (small whole ones or halves would be more elegant) and then made some chocolate curls for the top and placed a whole strawberry in the middle. Voila! We now have a delicious and beautiful spring or summer dessert.
I still have Egg Whites and will make another batch of Marshmallows, although not strawberry this time, because by the time we eat the pie we will have tired of strawberries for a while. Look in your refrigerator and try to figure out what you can do with the leftover food in there. You will be surprised at what you may come up with!
For the recipe for this pie please go to strawberry-marshmallow-cream-pie/. The Pie recipe and the Pastry Cream recipe will be there.
For gifts that say ‘I Love You’ try making food items to give to your closest friends and relatives. Cookies, jellies, muffins and/or fresh herbs can be used.