If you've ever walked the streets of Paris in the early morning hours, then you've probably smelled that irresistible aroma wafting up through sidewalk grills from underground. What you might not realize is that you're standing above the workshop of a French bakery, where the day's hot pastries are being pulled out of the ovens. Down below, small armies of bakers work in subterranean kitchens, preparing for the masses who arrive every morning to retrieve their breakfast of a croissant, a brioche, or maybe a raisin roll; eating their baked breakfast treats is a national pastime for the French. Meanwhile, kilos of dough are proofing as busy hands pat and roll, fold and turn, and shape, coil, and curl what will be tomorrow's morning treats. They're impossible to resist, so just follow your nose. Whether you come out with a traditional croissant, an apple turnover, or any one of the multitudes of these morning pastries, you can be sure that they all share that memorable smell of sweet, buttery, yeasted pastry.
Three categories of doughs make up this chapter's morning pastries. Croissant and Danish Dough are made with yeast and layered with butter. Brioche and Bobka also have yeast, but in their case the butter is mixed directly into the dough. That leaves Puff Pastry, the crispiest, flakiest dough of all. Yeast-free, it gets its rise from repeated folding and layering of the buttery dough.
No matter which dough or method, these classic pastries are all about butter. Not margarine-butter! My preference is imported Normandy butter. It's high in butterfat with a low water content, a deep yellow color, and unmistakably superior flavor. Look for it in specialty markets or ask your local cheese seller to track some down for you. Some of the best domestic butters are made by small dairies across the country: Strauss Family Creamery on the West Coast and Egg Farm Dairy on the East Coast are two good choices. Supermarket varieties such as Plugra and Land O Lakes are also good-quality and widely available.
Butter, when folded into dough, acts as the separating agent, miraculously turning a slab into hundreds of flaky layers. For butter to work its magic, a few simple rules must be applied in this sensitive process. Do your preparation in a cool room, preferably on a chilled work surface that's large enough to accommodate the dough as you roll it out. Most important, the dough and butter must be the same consistency; neither one should be colder or harder than the other. To be sure, beat the butter and knead it by hand or soften it in a mixer with the paddle attachment. The butter should remain cool but malleable. If it's too soft and greasy, it will ooze out of the dough; if it's too firm, it might break through the dough. As you roll it out, work quickly and handle the dough as little as possible, so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the butter. Allow the dough its resting time for easy, stress-free rolling and to help maintain the layers.
The buttery doughs that get an extra boost from yeast need time to rise, or, as we say in the baking world, proof. Proofing time will vary, depending on the weather, the temperature of your kitchen, and the size of the dough. Keep an eye on your dough-when it's slightly puffy and spongy to the touch, it's ready to be baked.
All of these doughs have a fairly long shelf life when properly stored. Yeasted doughs should never be kept longer than one or two days in the refrigerator; they become overly sour and the yeast loses its strength. They can, however, be frozen for up to two months. You can freeze the dough in separately wrapped sections, removing portions of it as you need it for a recipe and defrosting it to roll out and assemble the pastries. The method I prefer is to make the dough, assemble the pastries, and freeze them until you're ready to bake them and eat them. Pastries made with yeast must be brought up to room temperature or defrosted in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours and then allowed to proof before baking. Puff Pastry, with all that butter, will also keep only a couple of days in the refrigerator before spotting and turning gray. For longer storage of Puff Pastry, you must freeze it. Since they have no yeast in their doughs, pastries made from Puff Pastry and Cream Cheese Dough can be assembled and frozen and then ,baked directly out of the freezer.
Take a deep breath and set aside your old fears and preconceived notions of yeasted doughs and Puff Pastry. Don't be afraid to get the pages of this chapter good and dirty, and remember to organize your time and resist the temptation to take shortcuts. This is not as difficult as you think. The satisfaction of baking these elegant pastries definitely outweighs the time and effort required. They are the classics of European pastry-making, as well as the heart and soul of our pastries at La Brea Bakery. BRIOCHE PASTRIES
Brioche is a traditional French yeasted bread, most commonly baked in loaves or special fluted molds. With plenty of butter and eggs, it yields a fine-textured, rich, and moist crumb. The dough is perfect for both sweet or savory pastries such as Viennese Cream Brioche, Savory Brioche Pockets, or Pecan Sticky Buns.
If you have any substantial pieces of Brioche Dough leftover, make a few Sugared Brioche by rolling or stretching the dough into free-form shapes, I to 1'/, inches thick. Cut some slits in the shape and gently pull apart to widen the slits, or shape the dough into an oval and score a crisscross pattern on the top. Brush with egg yolk, sprinkle with sugar, and allow the shapes to rise until slightly puffy. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned.
Here are a few ABC's of brioche making: Always make sure your butter is very soft (but not greasy) before adding it to the dough. Beware, this dough requires a lengthy mixing time to properly develop, often causing the mixer to jump around on the counter. Don't let your mixer overheat, and never place it too close to the edge. Brioche Dough
Special Item: Insta-Read thermometer (optional)
3/4 ounce (1 tablespoon) packed fresh cake yeast or 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, warmed to 100-110 degrees
6 extra-large eggs
3 1/2, cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, very soft, but not greasy
Place the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and pour the milk over to soften for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 of the eggs and 1 cup of the flour, and stir to combine. Sprinkle 1 more cup of flour over the mixture, without stirring.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes until the surface of the flour begins to crack.
Add the sugar, salt, remaining eggs, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture. Using an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix on low for 1-2 minutes, until combined. When incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high and continue to mix for about 15 minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook and is smooth, shiny, and slightly sticky. It may be necessary to add another tablespoon of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl.
Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time. After all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat the dough for about 2-3 more minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook. If necessary, add a few pinches of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl. The dough will be smooth and shiny, but not oily.
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to gather into a ball. Clean the mixing bowl and lightly coat it with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2, hours.
Spread the dough out onto a floured parchment-lined baking sheet. Dust the surface of the dough with flour, cover with parchment paper or towels, and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight.
Yield: 2 1/4 poundsViennese Cream Brioche
Like a baby's head nestled on a fluffy pillow, the soft crème fraîche sinks down as the brioche rises and bakes around it. A sublime combination of flavor and texture, this super simple pastry is everyone's favorite. Julia Child was brought to tears the first time she tasted them.
1 recipe Brioche Dough, chilled
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4-5 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 Pats
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup large crystal sugar
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Separate the dough into twelve 3-ounce pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into 2 -inch balls. Flatten the balls into 5 -inch discs, about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and set aside in a warm place to proof, about 1 hour, until spongy to the touch. Flip the discs over and allow them to finish rising, about 1 more hour.
Adjust the oven rack to the lower position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Press a pat of butter into the center of each disc. Brush around the rim with the beaten egg and sprinkle I teaspoon of the crystal sugar around the edge. Scoop 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche over the butter in a mound, and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar over it.
Place 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 2-0-30 minutes, until lightly browned and the center is set.
Yield: 12 brioche