Ten days ago, the Guardian submitted supermarket croissants to a taste test
. The highest scoring (8/10) were from Waitrose, which surprised me, as I had bought a pack of croissants from Waitrose and been very disappointed: light and flaky is good, but so flaky and insubstantial that you end up with a plateful of crumbs and nothing else. I'd preferred Lidl. Then I realised that my Waitrose croissants had been a pack of four, I forget the exact brand but something indicating 'Waitrose superior'; the Guardian
's were 'Waitrose 1' brand, and a pack of two cost £1.50, which the Guardian
thought was pricey.
That sent me off on a happy wild goose chase across the internet. I'm sure that when I spent a year in France, the price of croissants, like the price of the baguette, was regulated. Evidently that's no longer the case, and what's more, people seem more interested in the price of a pain au chocolat than of a croissant (pause in which I reflect on the depravity of modern tastes). The best I can do is this piece in Le Figaro
about the popular entertainment of quizzing politicians about the price of everyday items. Last October, Jean-François Copé (of whom I have never heard) was asked how much a pain au chocolat cost, and guessed "Aux alentours de 10 ou 15 centimes d'euros, non?" The correct answer, says Le Figaro
, is that you'd pay about ten times that much at the baker's. Which makes Waitrose's £1.50 for two croissants look about right. One of the comments below the article points out that in the local supermarket, a pack of right costs €1.89 € (24 cents each), but in the bakery section of the same shop they are 95 cents each - and in the café across the road, &euro4 each. From all of which I conclude that you make your choice and you get what you pay for, and, to come back to that 'taste test', which supermarket you buy from matters less than where in the supermarket. Despite which, I have a highest opinion of Lidl's bakery.
This had set me thinking about croissants, and the obvious next move was to have another go at baking my own. I took down Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery
- no, I know this isn't exactly English
cookery, but that wasn't the problem. First, Mrs David says, "I have only limited tolerance towards all the rolling and folding and turning involved in puff pastry..." and since for croissants you submit a yeasted dough to exactly the same process, she doesn't often bother. Secondly, she says, on those rare occasions when she does bake croissants, she uses Julia Child's recipe, and instructs the reader to do likewise. She relents only to the extent of giving what is evidently a professional's recipe for baking industrial quantities of croissants, with some hints about how to modify it for home use. Well, that's OK - she doesn't give an exact recipe, but since I adapt for my sourdough bread, an exact recipe would be wasted on me. What's more, I added a further random factor by carefully measuring out and adding too much water to my dough (no, I don't know what I was thinking either; these things happen). So the usefulness of this post as a reminder of what I did is as much awful warning as model to follow. Well, that's useful, too.
I used all wheat flour, in order to get the highest possible gluten content, but I couldn't bring myself to use all white flour, because that's not a thing I do. So I used five oz wholemeal flour, and since I had inadvertently added too much water, I had to keep adding white flour until I could handle it. Which was so much higher a proportion than usual that it might be worth nerving myself to use all white next time, just to see what happens. Made the dough, knocked it back, adding more flour rather than oil - and again. Next time, I added butter. The recipe says 450g butter to a kilo of flour, so I aimed for half a pound to my (notional, actually substantially more) of flour; the recipe says spread butter on half the dough and fold in half, but I sliced butter from the fridge over two thirds of the dough, then folded in thirds (the unbuttered third over, and then the unfolded third over that). Leave in a cool place, and repeat twice more. Then rolls out, cut into triangles and shape the croissants. Brush with beaten egg, leave to prove again, brush with more egg (this took one whole egg altogether) and bake, in the top of the over, mark 6 for 20 minutes.
Here's the thing I need to remember: it was not actually all that hard work. And the results were - well, I have had worse. They were chewy rather than flaky, and quite dense, and the layers were - vestigial. But worth it, I think. Certainly all the folding is just another thing to find time for, and I think the results would be better if I'd found more time, not for the process but for letting the dough rest between rounds. Start earlier, and steal time from the initial proving, maybe? It might actually be worth buying salted butter, which I don't usually do, and not salting the dough. And that two-stage egg wash is certainly worth the fuss.