Traditions are important–birthday traditions even more so. In my house the very best birthday tradition is that you get to eat whatever you want. I can’t remember the last time I celebrated my birthday with a traditional frosted cake. Infancy, perhaps. For me? Cheesecake all the way. I’m a loyalist, too, so it’s cheesecake every single year. Sometimes I’ll switch the flavor up a bit–plain cheesecake, raspberry swirl, salted caramel, whatever strikes my fancy.
My birthday isn’t until July, though, so cheesecake will have to wait. (Sorry. Didn’t mean to get your hopes up, there).
David’s birthday was in March, though, and he definitely knew what he wanted:
Croissants. I love croissants. I love the girl who bakes croissants. And she must love me–otherwise, why would she make them for me? They were damn good.
One of our annual traditions is making a food item for one another on their birthday. I think the initiation of the tradition happened when I made fresh Cod with sun-dried tomato tartar sauce (at the end of the night I found out Kelly doesn’t like sun-dried tomatoes…or tartar sauce) and fresh fava and jalapeno salad (she doesn’t like beans either). She enjoyed the meal and in subsequent years began baking for me on my birthday. She’s an excellent baker.
Kelly had previously mentioned (numerous times) that she had always wanted to make croissants. So why not provide an opportunity?
This year, when she asked what I wanted I immediately replied “marzipan croissants”. Hell yeah. When I lived in Germany, I used to go to this bakery for breakfast whenever I had class in the schloss. I used to get two things: a warm marzipan croissant and a warm ham and cheese croissant. So damn good. The only issue: what’s marzipan? Well, in Germany it’s almond paste. An almond paste that by law (yes, by law, much like the Reinheitsgebot) is two parts ground almond to one part sugar, only additional flavoring allowed being rosewater. Apparently here, Kelly discovered, marzipan is a type of almond dough. More for baking independently or as part of cake, than stuffing pastry. After some additional research on both sides, we agreed that Kelly would make an almond paste then.
As such we spent the better part of my birthday proper sitting around the house, relaxing and every few hours beating butter or folding and rolling dough with butter. It was a fun, long process. But worthwhile. The almond paste was spectacular by itself. Baked into homemade croissant: amazing.
So. Croissants. From scratch. What had I gotten myself into?
Croissants are a lengthy ordeal centered on something terrifying called “laminated dough.” Essentially, that means that you make a dough and layer it with butter about a thousand times. When you put the croissants in the oven the butter melts, leaving flaky pockets behind. Mmmm.
I’d never made a laminated dough before, and they’re rumored to be pretty high maintenance. Keep the butter and your work surfaces cold! Work fast and roll out accurately! Don’t panic!
Luckily there’s a built-in step in the croissant-making process to help you get out all your fear and anxiety. Beating the butter!
- This is the first video I ever took with my phone, and it shows. Apparently it doesn’t reorient itself the way the regular camera does?
- “Pasturized” butter. Obviously, the butter is pasturized! What I meant to say is that the butter was made using milk from pasture-fed cows. David thinks this mix-up is hilarious.
- Unintentional cleavage shot. Sorry!
After that, things just seemed to fall into place…
The very best part is that David had the brilliant idea to freeze the shaped croissants before the rise. That means we have a whole stockpile of croissants in our freezer and we can just take them out, thaw, rise, and bake ’em, and have fresh, homemade croissants on a whim! As a matter of fact, we had some for breakfast this morning. DELICIOUS.
Happy, happy birthday, my love! Hope your croissants are everything you wished for! I am so excited and also terrified to see what you’ll request next year…
I have to say that making these was a blast. Time-consuming? Yes, but not nearly as scary as I thought they’d be. Rather than try to detail the process here, I’m going to redirect you to Julie’s excellent tutorials at Willow Bird Baking.
I’ve been reading her blog for over a year. She issued a croissant challenge to all of her readers, and without her encouragement and painstaking instructions and photo tutorials, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. If you want to make croissants look through all of her amazing suggestions and success stories and get in the kitchen:
I made my own almond paste using this recipe:
And then used that to make almond pastry cream:
(I also used the orange vanilla simple syrup in that recipe to glaze the croissants before baking so the almond slices would stick to the top).