a brief history of yeast, part one

August 29, 2017

Originally, this was supposed to be a quick two or three paragraph post. In fact, the first sentence I just deleted said something like "This post will not be very long, but it is still an important topic!"


Some have called me loquacious. It could be somewhat true. I've always found it difficult to write a short letter or email. It seems that wordiness is in my nature. Another problem is that every time I decide to post on a topic, I become determined to learn as much about it as I can. In fact, I created a flow chart to illustrate how off topic I can sometimes get when working on a new post (spoiler alert: it ends with creating a flow chart... ). As my interest in learning about yeast grew while working on this, I eventually realized I was covering a little too much information for one post, so I decided to break it into two. This first post will cover a bit of history as well as a brief explanation of the commercial production of yeast. The question that we are ultimately working towards answering is: why on earth are there so many different kinds of yeast out there?

You may have noticed that there are several different names on the yeast found in that tiny corner of a shelf allocated to yeast at the grocery store. Instant yeast, active dry yeast, RapidRise, Quick-Rise, and bread machine yeast are just a few of the names you might see. Fresh yeast is another type of yeast you may see in a cookbook or online, but you likely won't find it on that little shelf since it must be refrigerated.

My theory is that yeast companies purposely try to come up with as many names as possible for the same product (yeast) in order to convince consumers that they need to keep about six different kinds of yeast on hand at any given time. ("Oh no! I want to make bread in my bread maker but I'm all out of bread machine yeast - must run out to the store and buy some immediately!") It's definitely a conspiracy, and don't even get me started on all of the conspiracies out there (Just kidding) (Maybe).
alllllll the different kinds of yeast at kroger (and a lil bit of corn starch)
Let's back up. Yeast. What is it, anyways? Yeast is a eukaryotic microorganism that originated about a gazillion years ago (literally hundreds of millions of years ago). There are around 1,500 different species of yeast out there, but the one that I love most is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly known as brewer's or baker's yeast. S. cerevisiae has quite a few different applications (protein supplement, immune enhancer, some studies even show it to be a successful component of preventive medicine). In fact, it is so freakin' important that it was actually the first eukaryotic organism to have its entire genome sequenced. In case you were wondering (as I was), the sequencing was completed in 1996 by The International Collaboration for the Yeast Genome Sequencing. All these impressive facts about S. cerevisiae aside, I am focusing here on its awesome ability as a fermenter.

Cells of yeast are very, very, very small. They are so small, in fact, that it's almost impossible to describe how small they are. Here's my analogy for it: if you replaced every single person on the surface of the earth with a cell of yeast, you could fit the entire world's population in a one cup measure. Umm.... whoa. Honestly, you could probably even throw in all of the aliens living on Mars along with them and still have room to spare.
teensy tiny cells of yeast. image credit: bob blaylock via wikimedia commons
Baker's yeast's main purpose is as a catalyst. It facilitates the fermentation process, which is crucial in bread making. When it is added to a dough and activated, the yeast will begin to feed on the sugars in the dough. As it does this, it expels carbon dioxide. Since the CO2 really has nowhere to go as it is trapped in a matrix of starches, it simply expands right where it is, making thousands of CO2 bubbles, causing the dough to expand and lighten (aka letting the dough rise). During the baking process, the starches gelatinize and set and the yeast dies, leaving behind a web of empty bubbles.

Now that I've given you a very brief description of yeast's importance and how it works, let's get back to the question at hand - why are there so many different kinds of yeast out there? Honestly, there is really only one type of yeast you should ever want or need, and that's instant yeast. If you've been spending your days toiling away dropping bits of active dry yeast in tepid water and then waiting to make sure it blooms, this little nugget of information is going to blow your mind. Let me explain the difference between active dry and instant yeast.
active dry yeast vs instant yeast (vs pizza crust yeast?)
Active dry yeast is probably what your grandma uses to make bread- many people are more familiar with this type of yeast and thus feel more comfortable using it. To use active dry yeast, the first step you must always take is activating the yeast. You do this by sprinkling it over warm-ish water and waiting a few minutes to make sure it blooms, or poofs up a bit. When it does this, it's a sign that the yeast is still alive and is up to the task of making your bread rise. Many people are more familiar or feel most comfortable with this process because active dry yeast has been around longer than instant yeast. Active dry first came onto the scene in the 1940s. At the time, it completely revolutionized baking. Previously, the only form of yeast available to home bakers was fresh yeast or cake yeast, which is very perishable and must always be refrigerated. With the invent of active dry yeast, bakers now had a shelf stable yeast that lasted more than just a few weeks.

To get down to the nitty gritty differences between types of yeast, a little background on how baker's yeast is commercially produced can be helpful, or at the least, interesting. It's actually a very amazing process to consider. The yeast that you eventually find on that tiny sliver of shelf at the grocery store starts in a laboratory, where a few single, healthy, vigorous cells of yeast are selected to start a batch. They are isolated from the other cells and placed in a sterile test tube, along with any nutrients needed to grow. The cells of yeast in the test tube will then begin to multiply via budding, which is a form of asexual reproduction. These strict growing conditions ensure that only the strain of yeast desired will be produced. If the yeast were not started in a sterile test tube, it would likely be infiltrated by wild yeast that may be residing in the air or surroundings.
Flowchart via Dakota Yeast website
As the cells of yeast continue to multiple, they soon outgrow the test tube and are transferred into flasks and finally large fermentation tanks. The flasks and fermentation tanks contain wort, which is a mixture of minerals, vitamins, and molasses. The wort is food for the yeast and helps it to multiply even faster. The amount of wort fed to the yeast is carefully regulated in order to maximize growth while preventing any alcohol production. As the yeast continues to grow rapidly, it transferred into larger and larger tanks. The final tanks are huge, with capacities of 40,000-60,000 gallons. I can't really visualize a 60,000 gallon tank, but according to Fleischmann's (a large commercial yeast producer), they are as tall as a multiple-story building! As someone who grew up in a farming community, I am picturing a grain elevator full of yeast. Whoa. Another amazing part about this - when the yeast is initially transferred to the final, largest fermentor, it often only fills about a third of the space. The yeast then continues to multiply and will fill the entire fermentor in just 15-20 hours!

Finally, when the point is reached where just a few cells of yeast have multiplied and grown and multiplied and grown to fill the space of a multi-story building, it is ready to be harvested. At this point, the yeast is washed many times and then separated from the leftover growth nutrients through a process called centrifugation. If you're not familiar with this process, it basically means that you put everything in a tube and spin it around really, really fast, so that everything separates out from each other by density. A good visual is to imagine clothes spinning around in a washing machine. Once the yeast has been separated from the nutrient debris, it is in a liquid form known as cream yeast. It is ready for further drying so that it can be processed into one of three final forms: fresh yeast, active dry yeast, or instant yeast.

At this point, I am going to let you take a brain break from thinking about yeast and we will pick up right here in part two of this post. See you in part two, and let me know if you have any questions (I might not have the answer, but I'll definitely listen to the question)!
my favorite brand of yeast...more to come on this!

buttercream frosting

frosting facts (alternatively titled: STOP MAKING INFERIOR FROSTING)

July 04, 2017

The simplest way to drastically alter your baked goods for the better is to stop making American buttercream frosting. Believe me when I tell you that this fairly easy step is pretty much the best kept baking secret. Once you start topping your cakes and cupcakes with a different type of frosting, people will tell you that they are just so good and...wait for it...they just can't put their finger on what's different? And then you will all but yell (because you're now just as excited and passionate about this topic as me) it's the FROSTING! Next you will launch into a lengthly explanation about the differences between different types of frostings and how they are made while overusing phrases like "subtly sweet" and "much more depth of flavor".

So, here's the deal. There are five main types of buttercream frosting - nationalities, if you will. French, Italian, German, Swiss, and American. American buttercream is by far the most prevalent in the United States and woefully so - it is also by far the worst tasting. It is sickeningly sweet and tastes like cardboard... in my personal opinion. French, Italian, Swiss, and German buttercream all take a few more steps but are ever so worth it in the end. I'm going to explain each type of buttercream and how to make it and then leave you with a recipe for my favorite of the five.

these cupcakes brought to you by... buttercream frosting!
We'll start with American buttercream (ABC) so that we can get it over with. If you've ever made frosting, you've probably made ABC. This is pretty much the standard frosting recipe - you beat a stick of butter half to death and then slowly add powdered sugar. At the end you'll throw in a touch of salt, milk or cream, and flavorings like vanilla or perhaps melted chocolate, raspberry puree or peanut butter. And there you have it - good ol' American buttercream.

If American buttercream is your all-time favorite frosting, I don't want my open disgust towards it to hurt your feelings. So many people were raised on the taste of this overly sweet frosting that it's all but impossible not to have a nostalgic fondness for it. All I'm asking is that you give these other buttercreams a chance. And I do have one ABC caveat. The recipe I use most frequently for peanut butter flavored frosting is actually American buttercream. I make this particular recipe because A) it calls for a lower proportion of powdered sugar than most ABCs, and B) I find that the peanut butter masks the cardboard-y taste of powdered sugar more thoroughly than other flavorings. So even though I bash ABC every chance I get, I still make the stuff on occasion. Basically, I'm a frosting hypocrite. There are worse things to be hypocritical about, right?

peanut butter cupcakes frosted with ABC, everything else frosted with Italian buttercream.
Now that we've got ABC out of the way, let's move on to the good stuff. First, I want to talk about German buttercream (GBC). In my opinion, GBC is one of the most underutilized frostings. To be fair, it's pretty impossible to make a pure white GBC. For this reason and also because it does not hold up super well in heat, it's often used as a filling rather than to frost and decorate the outside of a cake. However, GBC has a great flavor because of its components - butter (naturally) and pastry cream (or crème mousseline, if you want to get technical). The pastry cream is also the reason that GBC will have a slight yellow-ish tint. As I discussed in my previous post on eggs, egg yolks are often used as the base of sauces and curds, and we can add pastry cream to the list. To make a German buttercream, you'll first make the base by cooking together egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt until thickened. This is another one of those plan ahead recipes- the pastry cream then needs to chill in the refrigerator until completely chilled, probably about two hours.

Once your pastry cream has chilled, you actually want to bring it back to room temperature again. Why? Well, the reason it was chilled in the fridge was so that it could thicken to its fullest thickening potential. Now that's it's the exact right consistency, you want to bring it back to room temp and you also want your butter to be room temperature. The two will mix together much more easily and thoroughly if they are both close to the same temperature (this is true for many recipes beyond just GBC).

one of the layers in this dacquoise is german buttercream
Many GBC recipes suggest whipping the pastry cream and slowly added softened cubed butter. However, I find another method to be much easier - first whip all of the butter by itself for a few minutes, until it is very light. Then add the pastry cream in several batches, whipping until combined in between each addition. You can then add any flavoring additions and BOOM, you're done! I highly recommend adding a bit of amaretto mixed with espresso powder for a knockout coffee-y frosting. (I can't claim inventing this idea.. I got it from a favorite dessert recipe that I will share another time!)

The other three buttercreams I mentioned earlier are French, Italian, and Swiss. I wanted to discuss these one after another because the recipes bear quite a few similarities. Each of these recipes uses either egg whites or yolks as a base. These are heated in some way and sugar is added in the heating process. The egg/sugar mixture is then whipped until cool and light and cubed butter is added piece by piece. Finally, flavorings are mixed in and the frosting is ready. However, despite the similar techniques, each frosting has its own distinct taste and applications.

French buttercream (FBC) is made by drizzling a hot sugar syrup into beaten egg yolks, whipping that up, and adding butter, vanilla, etc. As you might guess, FBC has a very rich flavor. Because of its high fat content, like GBC, it does not hold up super well in warm temperatures. Neither of these would be my first choice for frosting a wedding cake. However, FBC is delicious and totally worth making. It has a unique bright yellow color due to the egg yolk base AND it has a flavor not quite like any frosting you have ever tasted before. It makes an excellent filling for macarons but could also be played against something very light or simple like a plain-jane vanilla cupcake to contrast and spotlight FBC's deep, rich flavor.

preparing for an especially large batch of buttercream
Italian and Swiss are actually meringues, as in, Italian MERINGUE buttercream (IMB) and Swiss MERINGUE buttercream (SMB). These two bear the most similarity to each other of all of the frostings in this post. They are both composed of egg whites, sugar, water, salt, butter, and vanilla. They are the most stable of the buttercreams (due to a lower fat content) and thus hold up the best in heat. These are my go-to frostings for wedding cakes or any cake/cupcake that may be spending some time out in the summertime. They also taste extremely delicious, so that's another plus.

IMB is made by boiling sugar and water together until it reaches soft ball stage, so about 235 degrees Fahrenheit. This syrup is then immediately pulled off the stove and slowly drizzled into beaten-until-frothy egg whites while running the mixer at a low speed (exactly the same as FBC, except you're drizzling syrup into egg whites instead of yolks). Once all the sugar syrup has been incorporated, you will increase the speed of the mixer to high and whip it up into a meringue. You want to continue whipping until the bowl is cool to the touch. At this point the butter is added, cube by cube, and then the salt and vanilla. Finally you just need to whip it a few more minutes until it is smooth and silky. Mmm. I think silky is such a delicious (and accurate!) way to describe buttercream. It's a very tasty word.

a visual suggestion for about how your frosting should look when it's almost finished
As a side note, all of these recipes are completely doable with a hand mixer. I know this for a fact because I've made them many, many times with my trusty $20 hand mixer. Of course, it's much less laborious with a stand mixer, but please don't let lack of a Kitchenaid stand in the way of your own personal buttercream frosting paradise!

I've saved Swiss meringue buttercream for last because it is my absolute favorite. It's so versatile and I personally find it much less harrowing to make than IMB (no scary syrup drizzling!) with very similar results. The process of making SMB is only slightly different from that of IMB. Instead of making a sugar syrup, you mix the egg whites with the sugar and then slowly warm them in a double boiler. I usually mix them in my Kitchenaid bowl and then just put that over simmering water in the tiniest pot I own. It's important to stir or whisk the egg white and sugar mixture pretty constantly while heating it to make sure you don't get any egg-scrambling action going on.

my double boiler setup. also a little embarrassed by how well you can see my reflection in the bowl.
When the mixture reaches 140 degrees or so, you can take it off the double boiler and immediately start running the whisk attachment on your mixture at a low-ish speed (around 2 or 3) for a minute or so and then increase it to high. You will whisk this mixture until it turns into a beautiful fluffy white creation and even then continue to whisk until the bowl is cool to the touch. Sometimes I get impatient at this point and begin to contemplate what the definition of "cool to the touch" really is. If you also start feeling impatiently philosophical during this step, here's my conclusion (after much soul searching): it doesn't have to be cold per say, but cool enough that it won't melt the butter you are about to start adding.

If you've never made a meringue-based frosting before, I would recommend grabbing a spoon and dipping it in for a taste at this point. The egg whites were pasteurized when you heated them up in the double boiler, so don't worry about raw eggs, and... it's DELICIOUS! Sometimes I skip adding the butter and just pipe the meringue onto cupcakes (super sticky and messy but worth it). If you've ever made seven minute frosting, that's basically what we have right here with the meringue. If you feel like going rogue, meringues can be used for any number of things - you could glob the stuff onto a pan, bake at low heat for a few hours, and end up with some crunchy, light, airy goodness. You could also top a lemon meringue pie with it. Really, you could do any number of things with it, including but not limited to eating it straight from the bowl.

this frosting is just the swiss meringue, without any butter added in
But, I digress. Since we're talking Swiss meringue buttercream, we will do none of the above. Instead, swap out your whisk for the paddle attachment and mix at a low speed as you begin to slowly add the cubes of butter. Once all the butter has been integrated, add in vanilla and salt and continue to beat at a low-medium speed until it comes together and has a soft, silky texture. Then give it a taste, and, YUM.

A few notes about troubleshooting buttercream-making:

Something that often trips up people as they make the meringue buttercreams is the perceived curdling. As you add in the butter, cube by cube, the mixture will often begin to look like thick curdled milk or small curd cottage cheese. Gross, right? Believe it or not...that's actually my favorite part of making buttercream. To me, it's the sign that the buttercream is almost ready. Usually when I see 'curdling' it comes together beautifully within a minute or so. I feel so victorious when something that looks gross and curdled becomes deliciously smooth a minute later. If I can make that happen, I can do anything, right? So if you see your buttercream taking on a curdled appearance, PLEASE do not toss it. Instead, high five yourself. You are so close!

the curdled look - don't get discouraged!
If the butter you are adding is too soft, your mixture may get a little soupy. This is not one of those recipes where you want almost-melting-softened butter. I usually don't even take the butter out of the fridge until right before I start heating up the egg whites and sugar on the double boiler. So that right there makes this recipe even easier - you don't even need to plan ahead and take out butter to soften! However, if you do get soupy buttercream, don't worry. Just stick the whole bowl in the fridge (covered) for 15 minutes or so and then it should whip right up. If you have the opposite problem - your mixture is too cold and the butter is not integrating cohesively - here's a nifty tip: grab a washcloth and wet it with hot water. Wrap the warm washcloth around the bowl. When it gets cool, wet it again with hot water and and repeat. This will gently warm the butter and your frosting should come together quite smoothly.

American buttercream usually forms a crust after being piped onto a cupcake or cake, which will make it much easier to transport without messing up your decorations. The rest of these frostings do you one better - if kept in the fridge for an hour or two, the frostings completely harden. This is ideal for transporting. To get the frosting back to that creamy smoothness, just let the cake or cupcakes sit out for an hour or so before eating, or until the frosting is soft to the touch.

straight out of the fridge and ready to be transported without messing up all these swirls
If you're not going to use any of these buttercream right away, I highly recommend using the saran-wrapped-logs-of-frosting storing technique that I talk about in my post on baking 300 cupcakes, under the section titled "Lesson #3 - Planning Ahead."All of these frostings will keep well in the fridge for 3 to 4 days and also freeze beautifully. I've heard you shouldn't keep them frozen for longer than a month, though I've never tested this theory out. I like to make a big batch of buttercream and then just freeze whatever I don't use and that way I get a jump on my next baking project. Making ahead is very helpful if you're baking for a large number of people.

To thaw, just move the frosting from the freezer to the fridge a day or so before you want to use it. To warm up fridge-cold frosting, you can do one of two things. The first is to heat it over a double boiler, stirring constantly, until it is partially melted and looks curdled, and then whip on low speed until smooth. The other option, which I call Joanna's Lazy Method, is to pull it out of the fridge a couple hours before you need to use it and then try whipping it up. If it's too cold, use the warm washcloth method I mentioned earlier. This second option is probably slower but I just hate using extra dishes that I'll have to wash later and in my mind, setting up a double boiler seems like a lot of extra work (it's not).

I think I've covered most of the main issues I've encountered while making buttercream. If you have any difficulty, give me a shout and I'll see if I have a solution. And now, with no further ado, a recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Please, please, please give this delectable frosting a try!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups - should frost/fill about one 6-inch cake or 24ish cupcakes (approximately)
Adapted from Sweetapolita

5 large egg whites (150 g)
1 1/4 c sugar (250 g)
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) butter, cubed
1 T pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Put egg whites and sugar in a very clean bowl (I use my Kitchenaid bowl).
2. Create a double boiler by simmering a small amount of water in a small pot and putting your bowl of egg whites and sugar over the simmering water.
3. Heat until the temperature of the mixture is 140 degrees F, stirring constantly. If you don't have a kitchen thermometer, heat until all of the sugar has dissolved. You can check this by putting a bit of the mixture on your finger (it's hot!) and seeing if it feels gritty.
4. When the temperature reaches 140 and the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and immediately begin to whip at a low speed (2 or 3). After a minute or so, increase the speed to high (7 or 8) and whip until light and fluffy and the bowl is cool to the touch (about 10 minutes).
5. Swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment and begin slowly adding cubes of butter while beating at a low speed (2 or 3). Beat well after each addition.
6. Once all of the butter has been added, beat in the vanilla and salt. Continue beating until frosting comes together and is smooth and light.
7. Add in additional flavorings, if desired.

egg whites

all about eggs

June 15, 2017

Have you ever noticed that some recipes will just call for eggs in general - "two eggs, beaten", whereas others specify the size of the egg - "two large eggs, beaten"? Likely if you are reading a recipe where the egg size is specified you're baking rather than cooking. Even if each recipe doesn't specify, recipe books for baked goods will often clarify somewhere in the book that "egg" means "large egg". I've never seen a recipe call for any other size of egg, but despite this fact, if you roam the aisles of a supermarket, you will find eggs ranging in size from peewee all the way up to jumbo.

So, let's discuss. Is it problematic to sub in one size of egg for another? What is the significance of eggs sizes? How important is the role that eggs play in baked goods?

I spent about a year working in the kitchen at a brewery, and it was then that I learned of the importance of egg size standards. I'm sure if any of my coworkers from the brewery kitchen are reading this blog, they are rolling their eyes right about now. I may or may not have spent a good amount of time at work weighing each egg individually and mumbling under my breath about egg size standards. You know. It might have happened.

One of the most popular items on the Sunday brunch menu at the brewery was chicken and waffles. In preparation for the ravenous brunch crowd, I would make a huge batch of waffle batter every Saturday night. When I say huge, I mean three dozen eggs per batch. We would purchase all of our eggs from a local vendor at the farmer's market. I just took it for granted for quite some time that the eggs were the standard large, but I felt like the batter was runnier than it should be. I remembered reading standard egg sizes somewhere, so I weighed a few of the eggs. Once I started weighing the eggs, I found that even though the cartons were labeled as large, the eggs individually weighed anywhere from 2.4 to 2.6 ounces.

Egg weights in the US are mandated by the USDA. Every country has its own egg weight standards, so depending on what country your cookbook originates from, you and the author could be on a very different page (haha) when it comes to eggs. Below are the standard egg sizes as per the USDA. The egg (shell included) must weight at minimum the listed amount to fall into the corresponding size classification.

Peewee: 1.25 oz
Small: 1.5 oz
Medium: 1.75 oz
Large: 2 oz
Extra Large: 2.25 oz
Jumbo: 2.5 oz

Personally, I have never seen a peewee sized egg. I don't know what kind of tiny chickens lay them or where they are sold. I've never seen them for sale at my grocery store - what about you? If you have experience with peewee eggs, I'd love to hear about it.

Knowing the standard egg weights can save you a lot of headaches, guesswork, and frantic googling. A scale is extremely helpful in this situation but even if you don't have one, you can still figure out how many medium/extra large/etc eggs to substitute with a little algebra. If you're buying eggs from a farmer's market or a friend with chickens, I would highly recommend weighing the eggs before just tossing them in the bowl. If you want to weigh your eggs but have already started cracking them, it's also helpful to know that a large egg out of the shell weighs approximately 1.7 ounces.

The important of weighing your eggs is a topic near and dear to my heart. I could actually go on about it for quite a while. However, for fear of extreme repetitiveness, it may be best to move on. Let's take a step back to a more general look at eggs and the role that they play in baked goods.

Eggs make a large contribution to the final structure and texture of baked goods. You may have noticed that some recipes call for just the whites or the yolk, or maybe something like two whole eggs and two yolks. This is because the yolk and white have very different effects on baked goods. The yolk of an egg is composed of fats and vitamins and nutrients whereas the whites are laden with protein and water.

For a richer, creamier food, you will look to the egg yolks. If you're baking a cake that calls for all yolks or extra yolks, it will likely have a velvety texture and rich flavor. Egg yolks are also indispensable in two other cooking techniques: emulsification and thickening. Have you ever made mayonnaise or aioli? To do so, you slowly drizzle oil into a mixture of some kind of liquid, egg yolks, and flavorings/spices that you are beating either by hand or in a food processor. As you drip the oil in, the egg yolks absorb the oil and the entire mixture begins to thicken, as though by magic. It is not magic though, it is the emulsion process! The egg yolks are the binding agent that allow the liquids and fats to stably coexist. The combination of blending at a steady pace with the slow addition of the oil causes the liquid and fat elements to become suspended within each other in an even dispersement. The egg yolks are the emulsifier - because they have both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties, they act as a catalyst for the mixture to become one cohesive unit.

When you use egg yolks to thicken a sauce or curd, they not only serve that purpose but also add that rich flavor (as opposed to using cornstarch, which adds that cornstarch flavor. Yikes). The thickening occurs because as the yolks are gently heated, the proteins in them loosen up, unfold, and begin to gel together. The process is pretty simple - you just mix all of your ingredients together with the yokes and slowly cook them over low heat while stirring constantly. Both of those steps are very important. If you don't stir constantly, you'll end up with scrambled egg soup. Gross. If you turn the heat up too high, the egg yolks may curdle. Some recipes that use egg yolks as thickening agents actually direct you to use a double boiler, which pretty much guarantees that the heat will be applied gently (unless you're using the double boiler incorrectly).

Whether you're using the double boiler or putting your pot directly on the heating element, make sure you mix the egg yolks with the other ingredients (unless the recipe directs otherwise) so that there's an even lower chance of scrambling. If you're using frozen berries to make a curd, make sure to thaw them before mixing them in with the egg yolks so that you don't end up with frozen yolk. Not like I'm speaking from experience or anything. Normally I consider thawing a pretty skippable step, but not in this case.

If you're worried that your sauce/curd is not thickening, inch up the temperature slowly. Just as it gets under a simmer it will suddenly thicken almost instantaneously. At this point it is imperative that you are stirring constantly or your sauce will be lumpy. Lastly, if you still feel that the sauce is not thick enough after passing this step, don't worry. It will thicken considerably as it cools and even more so if/when you put it in the fridge.

Now that we've covered egg yolks fairly thoroughly, let's briefly talk about egg whites. Most of the time when a recipe calls for only egg whites, it also directs you to whip them up and then gently fold them into the batter. Meringues, macarons, and pavlovas are excellent examples of this. When egg whites are beaten into a frenzy, they create a foam that does an excellent job of providing both volume and stability to a baked good. This is because when you beat the egg whites, you incorporate air into them. When the air is incorporated in, the proteins in the whites begin to unwind. They are very stretchy and they encase the air bubbles, which provides the volume for the baked goods. Egg whites can actually expand up to eight times their original volume.

When the encased air bubbles are heated, the gas within the air expands from the heat, which causes the batter to rise. As the batter continues to heat, the network of proteins solidify around the expanded air so that when the bubbles eventually burst, the structure remains solid and your cake has risen beautifully!

If you have any questions about eggs and their contribution to baked goods, let me know. I can't promise to know everything, but I've picked up a few tricks along the way. Also, when people ask me gets me curious to learn more. So, ask away!

baking in bulk

baking 300 cupcakes & lessons learned while doing so

May 20, 2017

This has been an extremely busy week for me, as I was baking 300 cupcakes for a luncheon my coworker coordinates. Have you ever started a project and then wondered to yourself, I in over my head right now? That is definitely how I felt at some points this week. It was the biggest baking project I've worked on by myself. Kyle is usually my second in command when I bake for large groups of people. He washes the dishes and runs to the store for forgotten items and does whatever I ask him to - aka he is a really supportive boyfriend. He was sick this week so he was supporting me from the couch instead of backing me up in the kitchen this time. 

Every time I take on another big baking project like this, I learn a little bit more. I learn about planning ahead and strategizing and juggling and how many cupcakes can fit in my freezer (the answer is about 200). I learn a little more each time, but I also come up with new questions to puzzle over.. which just inspires me to want to learn more. It's an endless cycle, really. I'm going to write about a few of the lessons I learned, but I'd like to say that I would love to get input from anyone reading this. Share your own stories about cupcakes or other baking lessons learned in the comments to spread the knowledge around.

chocolate cupcake/chocolate ganache/peanut butter frosting
Lesson #1 - How to keep the cupcake wrapper from peeling away while cooling
This is probably one of the most frustrating things that can happen when making cupcakes, in my opinion. You make a perfect recipe, they rise beautifully, you take them out of the oven...and the wrappers peel away while cooling, rendering them useless. I guess useless is a pretty strong word- if I were baking for fun I would definitely still use those imperfect cupcakes. But when I'm getting paid for the cupcakes, I don't feel comfortable presenting a subpar product. SO, the goal is to keep the cupcakes all in one piece. Here are a few tips to do so:

1. Use good quality cupcake wrappers. Personally, I prefer the foil wrappers. They look good with pretty much any color combination, they keep their shape well while baking, and they peel away easier when you are eating the cupcake. They may be slightly more expensive than the classic white, yellow and light pink paper wrappers sold at virtually any grocery store, but they are worth their weight in gold.

2. Use a recipe with less fat. The more oil or butter in your recipe, the more greasy the batter will be. This will make it slippery and less likely to 'grab' the wrapper and stick to it- thus making it more likely to pull away once they are out of the oven. Additionally, when creaming or mixing the fat and the sugar, do it for a longer period of time with the butter as close to room temperature as possible. When all of your ingredients start at the same temperature, they will mix together more thoroughly to create one cohesive mixture. This causes the grease to be better absorbed by the sugar, making the batter less greasy.

3. Make sure to put enough batter in the wrappers. I hate a cupcakes that spills over the sides of the wrapper as much as the next person, but an underfilled cupcake wrapper is another culprit of peeling. A good rule of thumb is to fill the wrappers approximately two-thirds full. The more cupcakes you make, the more comfortable you will be with how full to fill the wrappers. Additionally, I've found that different recipes behave very differently in terms of how much they rise in the oven. You kind of just need to know your recipes, your pans, and your oven. One common recommendation is to use an ice cream scoop so that you put an equal amount of batter in each wrapper. That will also promote even baking. I haven't actually tried this because I don't own an ice cream scoop (yikes!), but it's on my list of things to try!

funfetti batter
4. Bake the cupcakes long enough. I have a serious fear of overbaking. Dry cakes are my nightmare. However, underbaked cupcakes will ultimately cause shrinkage once they come out of the oven, which again leads to peeling. It's a fine line to walk, and my advice again is just to know your recipe and your oven. You can test the cupcakes to see if they are fully baked by lightly pressing the top (this also goes for normal cakes). The cupcake (or cake) shouldn't stick to your finger and it should spring back right away when you press on the top.

5. Take the cupcakes out of the pan RIGHT AWAY. This one is interesting to me, because I also see people advising to completely cool the cupcakes in the pan. However, if you leave them in-pan to cool, they will start to sweat while cooling and absorb the extra moisture, which leads to peeling. I try to take them out within two minutes of them coming out of the oven - basically as soon as I can without burning my fingers off.

funfetti, chocolate, and vanilla cupcakes
Lesson #2 - How to successfully freeze cupcakes (and still keep the wrapper from peeling away)
This was the first time I have ever made cupcakes ahead of time and froze them. When I've baked for large groups previously, I've had more time during the days prior to the event and have been able to do all the baking right before. That was not an option for me this week, so I spent a lot of time reading up on freezing cupcakes. Basically, there are three schools of thoughts when it comes to this: never freezing cupcakes, freezing plain cupcakes, or freezing completely filled and frosted cupcakes. I wasn't quite bold enough to try the frosting/filling/freezing option so I stuck with freezing the cupcakes plain. I was most worried about the cupcakes drying out in the freezer and/or the wrappers pulling away from cupcakes during the thawing process.

Since I was only freezing the cupcakes for about five days, I didn't bother to individually wrap each cupcake in plastic wrap before putting them in a ziploc bag, which was recommended by some sites I consulted. If I were freezing them for a longer period of time, I would probably do this in order to keep them from getting freezer burn or picking up weird smells in the freezer. When I put them in the ziploc bags, I tried to get as much air out of the bag as possible before closing it and then just stacked the bags on top of each other in the freezer. As soon as I pulled the bags from the freezer, I took each cupcakes out of the bag and set them out on the counter to thaw. Some people recommend leaving the cupcakes thawing in a sealed or airtight container, but this would cause moisture to be trapped in the bag and on the cupcakes, again leading to the wrappers peeling away. 

I froze about 250 cupcakes and was mostly pleased with the thawed cupcakes. I did have a few cupcakes (approximately nine) where the wrapper peeled away. I wasn't really sure if it was due to the thawing process or something during the baking process. One interesting solution I read was to use a bit of frosting to 'glue' the wrapper back to the side of the cupcake and then carry on with filling and frosting. I don't think this would work if the wrapper was completely peeling off, but it could be a lifesaver if just a small part was peeling away. I didn't try it because I had made some extra cupcakes which I just used instead, but it's certainly an intriguing idea. 

This is what my freezer looks like with 200 cupcakes in it.
Lesson #3 - Planning ahead
Since I was at work during the hours of 8-5 every day and the cupcakes needed be delivered at 7:30am on Friday, I had to do a lot of planning ahead to make sure that three things happened: 1) the cupcakes would be ready on time, 2) they would be fresh and yummy, and 3) I would not be tired and grouchy at work on Friday. Here's the timeline that I used:

One week out:
Saturday - Ingredient shopping
Sunday - Bake & freeze as many cupcakes as possible
Monday - Bake/freeze the rest of the cupcakes
Tuesday - Make the fillings & refrigerate 
Wednesday - Make all of the frostings & refrigerate
Thursday - Fill & frost

chocolate cupcakes with raspberry curd filling
I made two different kinds of cupcakes, two different fillings, and three different frosting for a total of four different cupcake combinations. This definitely called for making the components ahead. As a general rule, frostings can last in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer for at least a month if not two. Fillings, depending on what is in them, can also be refrigerated for about a week. I've often made frosting ahead of time, and in my opinion, the most annoying part is bringing it back to room temperature. If you don't have the chance to pull it out a few hours ahead of time, you actually have to put it over a double boiler to warm it and then whip it for a few minutes. This is such an annoying additional step in my opinion. This time around, I learned an extremely helpful make-ahead tip while perusing various baking websites. 

After making a batch of frosting, you take a piece of saran wrap and plop some frosting down the middle of the saran wrap. You then roll up the frosting in the saran wrap and twist the sides, so that it resembles a very large tootsie roll. Keep doing this until you have several logs of frosting. Once you're done, you can throw your frosting tootsie rolls in a ziploc bag and put them in the fridge until you are ready to use them. The day you want to frost your cupcakes, pull the bag out the fridge maybe 20 minutes ahead of time. Take your decorating bag with the decorating tip of your choice and just slide the roll of frosting, saran wrap and all, into the bag and BOOM -  you are ready to go! This technique keeps your decorating bag nice and clean which makes it much easier to switch out tips or different colors/flavors of frosting. It's also extremely helpful when trying to pipe striped frosting. I tried this for the first time during this baking project and it was probably one of my most successful and least frustrating frosting experiences ever. If you are more of a visual person, there is an awesome photo tutorial of how to do this on of my favorite cake forum websites, Cake Central.  

chocolate cupcakes/raspberry curd/raspberry frosting
The final lesson that I wish to mention is simultaneously the most important and most difficult lesson to learn, not only when baking but in all things you do - accepting failure. Having a recipe come out differently than I expected or hoped is always really hard for me, and yet, it's bound to happen and to happen frequently. I love learning about baking science because it gives you the ability to control a recipe, but there's no way to control for everything going perfectly every time. You can put an oven thermometer in your oven, but you can't make the heating element work consistently every time. You can make a recipe exactly the same as you did the last time, but sometimes it might just bake up differently, and you won't know why. As a semi-perfectionist, I get so frustrated and angry every time I mess up a recipe. There have been so many experiences and recipes that left me in tears, or worse, silently simmering in anger and frustration, so mad at myself and the situation that all I can do is stand there and glare at the ruined cake in front of me. Kyle knows this well because he is often the one who is standing next to me, patting my back and telling me it will be okay, we will figure it out. 

It's very difficult for me to look through the frustration to find a solution- I default to blinking back tears of anger and wanting to throw something. But I'm working on it. Every time I bake something new or complicated I have to accept that the results may not come out how I wish, but ultimately, I will find a solution and finish the job. By anticipating and expecting something to go wrong, I can mentally prepare. It's like why every financial advisor will tell you to have an easily accessible emergency fund. It's not if you'll need to use it, it's when. Planning ahead for failure is my emotional emergency fund. That way, when something goes wrong, I can check it off the list (a big mess-up that makes you frustrated, check!) and move on to the next item on the list - finding the solution.

I'm not trying to be sappy or deep here, but to address something that is part of every baking experience. I don't want my blog to be a highlight reel of my successes. I want it to be an honest commentary on baking where you can learn some practical knowledge along the way. This baking project had the usual ups and downs, and I may or may not have laid down on the couch and watched five hours straight of New Girl the evening after finishing and delivering the cupcakes. But, the moral of the story is that I got it done, and that I learned something along the way. Hopefully you did as well- thanks for reading.

funfetti cupcakes/vanilla frosting

baking science

croissants, part two (science + recipe)

May 04, 2017

This is part of a two-part post. Click here to read part one, the history of croissants.

It's time to talk about the why. I think there is nothing more fascinating than understanding why you do something that you do. I've always heard people say they prefer cooking over baking because when cooking you can alter the recipe as you choose and just go where the spirit takes you. While this is true, if you have the proper knowledge and understanding backing up your alterations, you can apply this same technique to baking with excellent results. Since baking is so scientific, you can control very specifically for the results you want. I think that is so cool. 

Before we get much further into this recipe and/or this blog, I should probably tell you an important fact about myself. I am NOT trying to post quick, easy, 30-min-or-less recipes on this blog. I personally do not search out those recipes, and I am not going to start in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Though I don't want to post easy recipes, I do want to make it easier for readers to understand how to follow the more difficult recipes. I want to share the tips I wish I knew before trying the recipe. I want others to feel the same joy I feel during and after a particularly formidable recipe, the satisfaction of looking at an exquisite piece of food and thinking to yourself "I made that." Though these recipes may not be harried weeknight favorites, they will be delicious, and most definitely will be Instagram-worthy. So there's always that.

I think the best way to discuss croissant-making is to just break down the recipe. I'm going to post the recipe in its entirety at the bottom, but first I'm going to pull snippets and discuss them. Please don't bake off this discussion part because I'm not going to discuss every single step, just the ones that bear discussing.

Please don't get freaked out by how long the recipe is. Take a few minutes to read straight through the thing, from start to finish (which is really what I would recommend doing anytime you bake anything.. I like to read the recipe and visualize myself taking each step), and you'll see that the reason it is so long is because it's quite repetitive. Basically, if you know how to laminate dough, you're golden. And if you don't, you're about to become an expert! Also, heads up, this is a two day recipe. The dough has to rest in the fridge overnight before the final shaping. Please plan ahead.

Laminating the dough, which basically means rolling it out and folding it and rolling it out and folding it many, many times to create layers of alternating dough and butter (YUM), is the defining technique of croissants. Without the lamination of the dough, your end product would not be a croissant - though it may resemble a kipferl. Each time you roll out and fold the dough, it's called a turn. Most modern croissant recipes call for three or four turns, which create 27 or 81 layers respectively. However, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child calls for 6 turns of the croissant dough aka 729 layers in total. HOLY SHEET. 

If you are a perfectionist or you aspire to be like Julia (don't we all?) or for some reason you just want to laminate your dough 6 times...don't. What?! Well, here's the deal. Unless you're making giant croissants (like, for example, the amazing croissants at Dan the Baker in Columbus, OH), laminating the dough so many times for a smaller croissant will likely result in a less open crumb. And more importantly for the newer croissant bakers out there, more layers = more opportunities to accidentally tear the dough and cause ***leaky butter***. And no one likes leaky butter. Especially when it completely messes up what would have been perfectly lovely layers of croissants. So for now, lets just stick with a still impressive 27-81 layers of dough and butter.

Alright, with that said, let's dig into the recipe! I'm not going to explain EVERY step, just the more confusing ones. If you don't want/need this tutorial please feel free to skip all of this. The recipe is posted at the bottom. Before reading this tutorial, it will be helpful to scroll to the bottom and read the recipe in its entirely, and then come back up and read my explanation for some of the complicated parts.

Jumping into the tutorial, we will first discuss some of the ingredients:

4 1/4 cups (21 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour ( King Arthur Flour is recommended)
12 oz (24 tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter, very cold
4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast 

Obviously, flour, butter, and yeast are not the only ingredients. Most of the ingredients are quite straightforward, but these three are more specific and I wanted to explain why. The reason that King Arthur flour (KAF) is specified over other flour brands is because of its protein content. As you may or may not know, the variation in protein content is the main distinguisher between cake flour, all-purpose (AP) flour, bread flour, and high-gluten flour. I'm definitely going to do a post on this later because it is fascinating, but for now, suffice it to say, KAF's AP flour has a higher protein content than most AP flours (it's 11.7 percent if you were curious) which is perfect for croissants. It's strong enough to support the many layers but not too strong that you'll break your arms trying to roll it out. 

The other specified ingredient, European-style butter, is also very important in order to get those distinct layers that we so crave and admire in a croissant. Though European-style is definitely a splurge, it's worth it. European-style butter (I often purchase the Kerrygold brand because that's the only unsalted European-style butter I can find at my local grocery. It must, I repeat, MUST be unsalted.) differs from American-style butter in the fat to water ratio. For butter to be considered butter in the US, by law it must be at least 80 percent butterfat. For European-style, it must be at least 82 percent (some go up to about 86 percent, average is 83 percent). You don't think two percent is worth the extra $3? Flip it around and look at the water content. That's 20 percent vs. 14-18 percent water, a 10-30 percent difference in the total amount of water in the butter. As you may know from pie dough struggles, too much water = tough pastry. The extra water acts as a binding agent in the dough, which stops the layers from rising as well or becoming as distinct as you may like. More butterfat also means it will remain solid longer in the oven, again leading to more layers in your croissant.

Lastly, the yeast. Please, please, please use instant/rapid-rise yeast (they're basically the same thing). It is SO MUCH EASIER than active dry yeast. This is a topic that I cover in great (probably way too much) detail in a two part series on yeast (part one here and part two here). I don't think anyone should be using active dry anymore. If my generous use of the word 'please' isn't convincing you, consider this: subbing one for the other does not occur at a simple 1:1 ratio so you will A) have to know the ratio or risk messing up your beautiful croissants, and B) have to do MATH to sub in active dry. There- did that sway you?!

Now that we've talked about [some] of the ingredients, I'm going into the process. Again, I'm not going to explain every step, just those that I think need it.

2. Whisk in yeast and transfer milk mixture to bowl of a stand mixer. 
3.  Add the flour, sugar, and salt  to the bowl with milk mixture. Using dough hook, knead on low speed until a cohesive dough forms, which should take about 2 to 3 minutes. 
4. Increase mixer speed to medium-low and knead for 1 more minute. 

If you don't own a Kitchenaid or some kind of stand mixer, you're not alone. I spent years baking all sorts of things (including a wedding cake for 200 people) with just a hand mixer and sheer determination. Luckily, making this recipe by hand is a snap. As my grandma always says: "people who knead their own bread and hang their own laundry are more emotionally healthy." Even if you do have a stand mixer, maybe you should knead out some of your stress with this dough. Just go ahead and knead it by hand until it feels smooth and satiny. If that's not specific enough for you, I'd say to knead it for about 7-10 minutes.

1. While the dough chills, fold a 24-inch length of parchment paper in half to make a 12-inch rectangle. Fold over the 3 open sides of the rectangle to form an 8-inch square with enclosed sides. Crease folds firmly. Set aside.

I'm going to be honest, the butter block directions seem a little confusing at first. Some recipes take a simpler approach by mixing the dough together, cutting in large chunks of butter, and quickly blitzing it so that the dough is still dotted with large pieces of butter. They will then proceed straight to laminating. While this approach definitely addresses the butter part of the butter block, it does not translate to the same lovely layers in your finished product. Other recipes are not as precise with the measurements of the butter block. However, I find this technique to be quite simple once you actually start doing it, and perfect for matching up the dough/butter ratio correctly. I mean, if you're going to the trouble of spending hours making these things, might as well be precise about it, right?

2. Place 24 tablespoons (12 oz) very cold butter directly on counter and beat with rolling pin for about 60 seconds (or so) until butter is just pliable but not warm. You can then fold butter on itself using a bench scraper and form it roughly into a 6 inch square.

Beating the butter is actually very fun! You literally just set out the butter on your (clean) counter and start whacking it with the rolling pin. (Would not recommend doing this late at night if you share a wall with your neighbors- it's quite loud.) The whole point is to make the butter pliable enough so that you can get it into an 8x8 square and incorporate it into your dough without it melting from being too hot OR cracking from being too cold.

3. Unfold parchment envelope you set aside earlier. Using bench scraper, transfer butter to center of the parchment paper, refolding at creases to enclose. 
4. Turn packet over, with flaps underneath, and using a rolling pin on top of the parchment paper, gently roll until butter fills the parchment square. Make sure you have an even thickness. 

Rolling the butter evenly into every corner of the parchment paper is oddly satisfying. Just trust me.. and let me know if you disagree after you've tried it.

(Don't forget, I'm not covering every step here - just the interesting/confusing ones)

1. After the dough has been in the fridge for at least 2 hours (the original recipe calls for putting the dough in the freezer for 30 min as well, which I would say is optional), transfer dough to lightly floured counter and roll into 17 x 8-inch rectangle with the long side parallel to edge of counter. 

Use a ruler. No, I'm not kidding. Of course you don't have to, but I've found it very helpful, especially since at this point you are trying to perfectly match up the butter block to the dough. I have a special "baking ruler" which is just a 99c ruler I only use for baking and keep in the kitchen. I've also found the ruler helpful for knocking the sides of the dough so that your sides are straighter and edges are not rounded.

2. Unwrap butter packet and place the butter in center of dough. 
3. Fold both sides of dough over butter so they meet in center. Press seam together with fingertips. 
4. With rolling pin, press firmly on each open end of the dough and butter packet (top and bottom) to seal edges. 

Thanks to your RULER, the sides should match up perfectly over the dough! You then want to make sure to seal the edges (by pressing with the rolling pin) so the butter doesn't seep out during the next part. If the butter begins to seep out and get all over the sides of the dough, this will inhibit the rise and distinction of your layers.

5. Roll out lengthwise into a 24 x 8-inch rectangle. Fold into thirds like a business letter, so you get an 8-inch square. 

You are now beginning your first turn. As I mentioned earlier, a 'turn' is a term used when laminating dough (which is what you are doing now). To complete a turn you will roll out the dough to the prescribed length and width (24 x 8 in this recipe) and then fold it in thirds. That's all there is to it - that's a turn. Easy peasy. This recipe calls for three turns. Again, I use a ruler for this- literally roll the dough out to be 24x8 and then all you have to is measure 8 inches in and it will be folded in perfect thirds. While you may choose not to use a ruler, you should still do your darndest to make sure it's folded in even thirds. If you don't, some parts of your dough will not have as many layers as other parts do and the butter will not be as evenly distributed. When you fold the sides of the dough in, letter-style, make sure to brush off any extra flour as you go. We floured the countertop earlier so that the dough wouldn't stick to it, but we want to incorporate as little extra flour as possible into the dough itself - extra flour sitting on top of the dough will mess up those layers!

6. Turn dough 90 degrees counterclockwise. Roll the dough out lengthwise again into 24 x 8-inch rectangle and fold into thirds, again like a business letter. 

Now you are going to do your second turn. Exactly the same as what we just did. Now there are 9 layers of dough and butter...mmm! You should expect the dough to be more difficult to roll out with each turn because the strands of gluten within the dough are connecting with each other and becoming stronger as you work with the dough. Just count it as your daily strength training. And you are almost done for the day- you're just going to put the dough in the freezer for a quick 30 minutes because at this point it is probably getting dangerously close to room temperature after those two turns. The last thing we want is a room temp dough, because that means the butter in it is room temp, and that means it's getting ready to melt into the dough and become a cohesive buttery dough, instead of alternating layers of butter and dough. If at any point during this part of the recipe you become concerned your dough is getting too warm, throw it in the fridge or freezer for 20-30 minutes.

After your dough has chilled in the freezer, you'll do your last turn- just repeat exactly what you did in the above steps.

Starting below, we are on day 2 of this recipe:

2. Generously dust half of the dough with flour. Fold upper half of dough over lower floured half. 
3. Using ruler, mark dough at 3-inch intervals along bottom edge with bench scraper (you should have 5 marks). 
4. Move ruler to top edge of dough, measure in 1 1/2 inches from left, then use this mark to measure out 3-inch intervals (you should have 6 marks). 

Alright. This is the part of the recipe where it gets extremely wordy describing a process that won't take more than five minutes. I thought about making it more concise but I find the thorough explanation to be useful. Just read it over before you start and you'll find it's quite simple. Here I will again recommend a ruler.. that is if you want to have uniformly shaped croissants that bake up evenly rather than ending up with some overdone and some underdone. If you don't have a bench scraper to mark the dough with (I highly recommend purchasing one, they are about $5 and useful in many recipes), just use a small knife or pizza wheel. Try to work quickly so the dough stays as cold as possible - you'll thank me in step 6.
I filled these particular croissants with prosciutto and gruyere. Mmm.
5. Starting at lower left corner, use sharp pizza wheel, bench scraper, or knife to cut dough from mark to mark. You will have 12 triangles and 5 diamonds. Either discard scraps or place scraps next to each other in a small tart pan to rise.
6. Unfold diamonds and cut in half to make 10 triangles (you will have 22 equal-size triangles in total).

I never discard my scraps- I prefer to save them and do whatever I want with with them, such as pressing them into a small tart pan, layering with fillings of choice, and topping with more scraps (and baking up into a deliciously ugly blob). Of course you are welcome to discard them, but it hurts me to think about that expensive European butter and hours of hard work and love being tossed in the trash.

When you get to step 6, hopefully you don't have difficulty unfolding the diamonds as I did the first time I made these. If you've been working quickly and you floured the dough well before folding, it should still be cool enough to be fairly differentiated and will separate easily. If not, just work carefully and repeat "I can do this I can do this I can do this" over and over in your head. Or put the dough in the fridge (cover loosely with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes and then try again.

8. Cut 1/2-inch slit in center of short side of triangle. Grasp triangle by 2 corners on either side of slit and stretch gently, then stretch bottom point, again gently. Brush any extra flour off the dough.
9. Place triangle on counter so point is facing you. Fold down both sides of slit. Roll top of triangle partway toward point. Gently grasp point with 1 hand and stretch again. Resume rolling, tucking point underneath. 
10. Curve ends gently toward each other to create crescent. Repeat with remaining triangles.

For step 8, you want a cut a small slit at the base of the triangle so that you can fold out from your slit and roll up the croissant in that fashion. This serves to elongate the croissant so that it can take the shape of a classic croissant, with the edges slightly tucked in. If you are more of a visual person, this video is only one and a half minutes long (and you really only have to watch the first 30ish seconds) and illustrates exactly what I am trying to say. The chef also shares some interesting information about French croissants that I did not know!

14. In small bowl, whisk together egg, water, and a pinch of salt.
15. Brush croissants with egg wash. Place croissants in hot oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees F. 

To be honest, I often forget about the egg wash when making pastries. In some recipes it makes a big difference in browning, but there is so much butter in this recipe that the croissants have no trouble browning up nicely without any egg wash. However, the egg wash does give the finished product that particular shininess that one associates with the top of pastries, so if that is particularly important to you, by all means, do not forget the egg wash!

16.  Bake for 10 minutes, then switch and rotate baking sheets if making 12 croissants. If making only 9 you don't have to worry about rotating pans. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Watch carefully so they do not burn.

The first few times I made croissants, I struggled not to burn them. I found that they browned within 10 or so minutes but was never quite sure if I should pull them out of the oven because I was concerned they weren't baked all the way through. To this day, I don't think I've ever kept croissants in the oven for more than 15 minutes or 20 at the most. If your croissants are browning too quickly, try covering them loosely with aluminum foil and continue baking.

And that's pretty much all there is to it for croissants! There is a note at the end of the recipe about freezing some of them prior to proofing and baking, which I usually do because, as much as I'd like to, I can't eat 22 croissants in two days. Sadly, I've always felt like there is a pretty fair difference in quality between the croissants baked immediately and those that are frozen, thawed, proofed, and baked. If you have success with the frozen ones, please share your secrets with me!

The recipe I outlined above and am sharing below is actually the first croissant recipe I ever made. It's adapted from a recipe created by America's Test Kitchen. I really appreciate how clearly they spell out the directions and really walk you through the recipe. Though I enjoy experimenting with croissant recipes from some of my other most trusted baking websites (Serious Eats, The Kitchn, King Arthur Flour), this is the one I always come back to - it feels familiar, comfortable. Hopefully it can be that for you as well.

Basic Croissants
Makes 22 (freeze some for later!) (or eat all 22 in the same afternoon!)
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups whole milk, cold
4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast 
4 1/4 cups (21 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour ( King Arthur is recommended)
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar 
2 teaspoons kosher salt 

Butter Block:
12 oz (24 tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter, very cold

Egg Wash:
1 large egg 
1 teaspoon cold water
pinch of salt


1. Over low heat, melt the 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan. Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in milk (the temperature should be lower than 90 degrees F ). 
2. Whisk in yeast and transfer milk mixture to bowl of a stand mixer. 
3. Add the flour, sugar, and salt  to the bowl with milk mixture. Using dough hook, knead on low speed until a cohesive dough forms, which should take about 2 to 3 minutes. 
4. Increase mixer speed to medium-low and knead for 1 more minute. 
5. Remove bowl from mixer and cover with plastic wrap. 
6. Let dough rest at room temperature 30 minutes.
7. Transfer dough to parchment paper–lined baking sheet
8. Pat the dough (using your fingertips) into 10 x 7-inch rectangle about 1 inch thick.
9. Wrap dough tightly with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

1. While the dough chills, fold a 24-inch length of parchment paper in half to make a 12-inch rectangle. Fold over the 3 open sides of the rectangle to form an 8-inch square with enclosed sides. Crease folds firmly. Set aside.
2. Place 24 tablespoons (12 oz) very cold butter directly on counter and beat with rolling pin for about 60 seconds (or so) until butter is just pliable but not warm. You can then fold butter on itself using a bench scraper and form it roughly into a 6 inch square.
3. Unfold parchment envelope you set aside earlier. Using bench scraper, transfer butter to center of the parchment paper, refolding at creases to enclose. 
4. Turn packet over, with flaps underneath, and using a rolling pin on top of the parchment paper, gently roll until butter fills the parchment square. Make sure you have an even thickness. 
5. Refrigerate butter packet at least 45 minutes.

1. After the dough has been in the fridge for at least 2 hours (the original recipe calls for putting the dough in the freezer for 30 min as well, which I would say is optional), transfer dough to lightly floured counter and roll into 17 x 8-inch rectangle with the long side parallel to edge of counter. 
2. Unwrap butter packet and place the butter in center of dough. 
3. Fold both sides of dough over butter so they meet in center. Press seam together with fingertips. 
4. With rolling pin, press firmly on each open end of the dough and butter packet (top and bottom) to seal edges. 
5. Roll out lengthwise into a 24 x 8-inch rectangle. Fold into thirds like a business letter, so you get an 8-inch square. 
6. Turn dough 90 degrees counterclockwise. Roll the dough out lengthwise again into 24 x 8-inch rectangle and fold into thirds, again like a business letter. 
7. Place dough on a parchment paper (or cookie sheet), and wrap it tightly with plastic. 
8. Place dough in freezer for 30 minutes. 
9. After 30 minutes, transfer dough from freezer to a lightly floured counter, so that top flap opens on right. 
10. Roll out dough lengthwise into 24 x 8-inch rectangle and fold into thirds. 
11. Place dough on sheet, wrap tightly with plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 24 hours, preferably overnight.

30 minutes before you are ready to begin shaping, throw the dough in the freezer. This will keep the dough from reaching room temperature as quickly during the shaping process.

1. After 30 minutes in the freezer, remove and transfer dough to a lightly floured counter. Roll into 18 x 16-inch rectangle with long side of rectangle parallel to edge of counter. Go all around the rectangle and cut off just the very edges.
2. Generously dust half of the dough with flour. Fold upper half of dough over lower floured half. 
3. Using ruler, mark dough at 3-inch intervals along bottom edge with bench scraper (you should have 5 marks). 
4. Move ruler to top edge of dough, measure in 1 1/2 inches from left, then use this mark to measure out 3-inch intervals (you should have 6 marks). 
5. Starting at lower left corner, use sharp pizza wheel, bench scraper, or knife to cut dough from mark to mark. You will have 12 triangles and 5 diamonds. Either discard scraps or place scraps next to each other in a small tart pan to rise.
6. Unfold diamonds and cut in half to make 10 triangles (you will have 22 equal-size triangles in total).
7. Position 1 triangle on counter. (Keep remaining triangles covered with plastic.) 
8. Cut 1/2-inch slit in center of short side of triangle. Grasp triangle by 2 corners on either side of slit and stretch gently, then stretch bottom point, again gently. Brush any extra flour off the dough.
9. Place triangle on counter so point is facing you. Fold down both sides of slit. Roll top of triangle partway toward point. Gently grasp point with 1 hand and stretch again. Resume rolling, tucking point underneath. 
10. Curve ends gently toward each other to create a crescent shape. Repeat with remaining triangles.
11. Place 9 shaped croissants on a parchment lined sheet (or 12 croissants on 2 parchment-lined sheets) at least 2 1/2 inches apart.
12. Lightly wrap with plastic. Let stand at room temperature (70 degrees F is ideal) until nearly doubled in size, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
The rest of the shaped croissants can be refrigerated for up to 18 hours. Remove from refrigerator to rise and add at least 30 minutes to rising time. You can also freeze the rest of the shaped croissants (see make ahead note at the end of the recipe).
13. After croissants have been rising for about 2 1/2 hours (or until croissants have almost doubled), preheat oven to 400 and adjust oven rack to be in the middle if making only 9 croissants and using 1 sheet. If making 12 croissants and using 2 sheets, adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions.
14. In small bowl, whisk together egg, water, and a pinch of salt.
15. Brush croissants with egg wash. Place croissants in hot oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees F. 
16.  Bake for 10 minutes, then switch and rotate baking sheets if making 12 croissants. If making only 9 you don't have to worry about rotating pans. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Watch carefully so they do not burn.
17. Transfer croissants to wire rack and cool about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

TO MAKE AHEAD: see step 12 above. 
1. Directly after shaping, place the croissants you wish to freeze on parchment-lined sheet 1 inch apart. 
2. Wrap with plastic and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. 
3. Transfer to zipper-lock bag and freeze for up to 2 months. 
4. Bake frozen croissants as directed from step 11, increasing rising time by to 2 hours, or as needed to double in size.

**Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are mine alone. I am in no way affiliated with any of the baking websites mentioned in this post. 

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