Culinary Submersion: Semester 1, Day 52-56

Croissants, danishes, and brioche, oh my! I transitioned over to breakfast station at the beginning of the week and fluffy, flaky, buttery pastries have been my life. From 6am until 11am the team is constantly doing things to get the product out by 8am for the cafeteria’s breakfast as well as prep everything that is needed for the next day. You can see from the list of things to do this is quite the busy area and you need to be organized and understand the succession of tasks in order to make use of every minute and get everything done on time. One of my most favorite activities is laminating dough. This is the process of putting butter in the dough and folding it over multiple times so you get layers of dough and butter that give you that flake and airiness of a good pastry. It’s pretty awesome to do and pretty hard to get totally right. Plus, I get to work with the ‘sheeter’ which is the coolest machine in the kitchen and makes the lamination process so much more easier than doing it by hand (oh the heck to bakers do this two hundred years ago?!). Chef had a practical exam on this piece of equipment to see if everyone knew how to work it, make a piece a dough a certain size and clean it, and yes, I got a 100%.

Here, you can see us pounding out the butter, getting it ready to fit inside the dough (yes, it’s 3 pounds worth of fat per 8 pounds of dough. Breath…you don’t eat this everyday).
Next, we get the dough on the sheeter for the first lamination: a four fold. There are a total of 3 laminations, the first one you roll the dough out long and wide enough where it is twice its size and fold the butter in and then roll it out so it is four times is size and fold each end to the center, then fold one half the dough over itself to make one big mass.
You do this process 2 more times, timing each interval every 30 minutes to let the dough rest, but doing 3 folds now instead of four. This is the same type of procedure but you roll it out to three times its size and fold one end over 2/3 of the way and the other end over that end so you, again, get a big square mass.

Fast forward an hour and a half and you are ready to roll out your dough one more time to a width of 1/3 inch, or about that…we just go to the setting ‘4’ on the sheeter (it goes from 30 to 1, 30 being the widest and 1 being the thinnest you can make your dough) so I’m not exactly sure. Now the dough is ready to lay out on the marble table to be worked into a specific shape for final shaping of the danishes and croissants (note: they are two different doughs but the process for lamination is the same).
Preshaping involves gently spreading and working the dough to 19″ in width while you are pushing the dough into itself from each end so the gluten strands are not stretched and will stay their shape when you cut for final shape (if you stretch your dough without resting and then cut, your dough will bounce back on itself into a smaller shape and your pastries will not be the correct size). Actually, if done right, the dough looks like it has cellulite: its wrinkly, with butter bits seen beneath the surface and holds its shape after resting. Once you reach that stage, it is ready for piecing out into the final shapes.

Danish sizes are 4×4″ squares, croissants are 9×5 (9″ long ways so you get two long strips from the 19″ width – you always compensate for shrinkage of the dough as explained above- and 5″ at the edges of each long strip with one side starting at 2.5″ so you can cut into a triangle and not a rectangle), and chocolate croissants are 3.5×5″ rectangles. It took a bit to remember all the dimensions and how to properly cut them but I feel fairly comfortable doing it now.

Here are some of the cool danish shapes we made: star, diamond, fold over, pull-through, roll, and basket. Of course, some of the pictures are after a day once the dough has been proofed and filled (raspberry, apricot, pineapple, and apple are some of the flavors) and is ready to be baked.

It is so satisfying to see these pastries come out of the oven and look so gorgeous. I never thought I would learn to do this, it’s amazing!

Our next practical exam is going to be on pastry cream. We have to be able to memorize the recipe and procedure and make it in front of Chef because “it’s one of the most important pastry elements in the kitchen and you must know how to do this in the real world” (his words exactly). Here, he is demonstrating it to the class. Not super hard but you need to know the succession of steps and the temperatures so everything comes out right. You better believe I’ll be practicing this week to get that 100% again.

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