So I’m a wanna be pastry chef. Last year, I went to Paris for five days to study the art of baking beautiful desserts. I was on a mission to understand how to make flakey, buttery, simply delicious croissants. Here I will share with you some insights from my personal journey and a recipe for making my favorite French dessert (or breakfast, lunch, anytime food)…the croissant.
I’m not sure where to start, which is exactly how I felt on day one in Paris. Hello Eiffel Tower! Bonjour Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and the Louvre! Let’s not forget Palais Garnier (Yes, I’m a wanna be a ballerina too – a 40-something, croissant-eating ballerina, to be exact). And then there is the architecture and personal design choices. My wish is for everyone at home to dress their front doors like the Parisians. Splashes of color everywhere.
Joey Agbayan Art: Parisian Door #20
Ah, but we were talking about baking fundamentals.
I thought once I knew the proper technique to create these delicious creations, I’d be on my way to baking greatness. Not quite. The beauty of design, whether it’s food, architecture or front-door flair, is that it requires a wonderful collaboration between science, knowledge and pure artistic creativity. Kind of a left brain, right brain thing. One of the biggest lessons I learned through my novice training is the success of baking is not only creative culinary genius, but it is largely predicated on fundamentals, like having the proper tools and environment. It’s a lot like interior design; if you don’t follow the fundamental principles, then it’s difficult to have a beautiful finished product.
Darn. I’m digressing. Back to baking (again). Let me share some fundamentals from Paris.
Proper Appliances: You cannot become a Julia Child protégé without the right appliances. To make a proper croissant, temperature is the name of the game. The refrigerator needs to keep butter at a certain temperature (not quite frozen), and have the necessary space for storage of the dough. Lastly, the oven must circulate heat properly (circular rotation, not bottom up).
A naysayer once told me, “A good chef can cook with any appliances. All the conveniences in technology today are cheating.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a chef, I’m a “wanna-be”, remember? A hard-working Mom, who likes to bake, but loves all the help I can get. If you can bake in an oven that looks like it belongs in the ‘70s… go for it. I’ll be “cheating” in the digital 21st century.
My new favorites are:
KitchenAid 25.8 Cu. Ft. 36″ Multi-Door Freestanding Refrigerator: Not only does this fridge have great storage with the two new soft-close drawers added to the exterior (hello butter drawer), but it includes special temperature controls. Aside from function, it also comes in the new super cool black stainless color. Function meets form. Love.KitchenAid 30″ Single Wall Oven with Even-Heat™ True Convection: This wall oven compliments the fridge here, but more importantly, the convection heat distributes heat evenly. This one even heats the walls and the racks to the specified temp. It also has a 5.0 cubic feet interior which is a little bigger than most. Shown in traditional stainless here, it also comes in black stainless.Appliances are an important key to culinary success.
Work Surface: I confess, I’m tired of granite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great option…highly durable, heat resistant and, thanks to high-demand, affordable. I love the natural look and wide variation found within slabs. I even have it in my own kitchen, but if I can offer a suggestion to you, it’s to explore all of your options for countertops and consider different materials for different places in your kitchen.
If we’re still talking about baking (and we are), then I would suggest defining the zones in your kitchen and then determine what is best suited for you. A friend I was recently helping with her kitchen said, “I’m not out to win interior design awards in my kitchen. I’m there to cook and create crazy good food”. Touché! The culinary schools in Paris were no different–all work, centered on total function. But ya know what? They were exceptionally beautiful too, because the function exuded passion, good food and beauty.Notice the butcher block island for the prep “zone”. While it is industrial looking, it’s also “interior design award” worthy. Another good investment for your kitchen is marble. I can’t, in good faith, recommend it for the whole kitchen – it’s expensive and tough on knives, but it is a known staple for prepping pastry dough. Notice in the Paris picture, there is a marble block (ice cold, btw) that accompanies the butcher block.
Side note to baking: Another great option for countertops these days is something called engineered stone, or quartz countertops. Also, solid surface is making a comeback (say hello to Corian again). There are some beautiful colors and edges now available. It’s durable and has easy lifetime care.
Organization: Hopefully you are reading this blog because you are considering a new kitchen that comes along with a new AW home, and you are getting geared up to visit us at The Studio. Be sure to talk to your designer about kitchen organization. Designing the kitchen isn’t just about cabinets and countertops anymore. Take snapshots or make a list of all the things in your kitchen that need a home. Your designer can help you add rollout shelves (for that heavy mixer), special drawers to store knives, chopping blocks or cookie sheets and cake pans. If you’ve ever been in a professional kitchen, you know everything has a place. It shouldn’t be any different in your home. This is one of the joys of new construction, so take advantage of it.
Okay, back to the really good part…butter, cold butter and more cold butter. My favorite recipe for the Classic Croissant is from Fine Cooking. Beyond kitchen fundamentals, you will need really good ingredients, time and patience. The secret to good croissants is planning ahead.