It’s funny isn’t it, the little habits we fall into; the things that just become a natural part of day to day life, those moments that we miss dreadfully when we find we can’t do them.
The tail end of this year, rather like the beginning and if I’m perfectly honest, the middle bits too, has been a tad chaotic. All the plans we thought we may have made, have had to be ripped up again and again.
Since my tumble in August, I haven’t been able to ride my bike, so our regular croissant-chasing, breakfast rides have fallen a by the wayside.
At least when I was with Andy in France, we could potter out in Fifi and just sit at a boulangerie, with a coffee and a viennoiserie, simply spending an hour or so putting the world to rights, which wasn’t quite the same, but filled the gap that had appeared in our routine.
Back in the UK though, with Andy still in France, even that is no longer an option. The days just weren’t the same, we were missing so much, and were definitely missing our breakfast chats. There is something about a coffee and croissant that seems to ease the brain and if I’m honest, we seem to get so much sorted out in our minds, from travel planning to overcoming the renovation hiccups, by the time we drain the last drop of coffee and pick the last buttery flake from the plate.
As it became clear that these daily chats were such a part of us, we started our morning chats via Face Time and soon got back into the rhythm, grinding the coffee, and pushing the plungers on our aeropresses in such a way that we could score highly if ever ‘synchronised coffee making’ became an Olympic sport!
We are lucky to have found great artisan coffee roasters in both countries, with me using beans from the excellent Crankhouse Coffee in Exeter, and Andy sampling different roasts from our recent find The Cafe-S-Hop in Cavaillon, which happily will soon be supplying a new cycle shop in Apt, so we will have it on our doorstep.
We then spend an hour or so just putting the world to rights, often with Andy sitting amongst the geraniums, in the winter sun on the back steps….
Whilst I snuggle in comfort on the sofa.
The problem was that I soon realised I was missing my croissant or pain au chocolat, and the shop bought ones back in the UK are just not the same, so I decided that the time had come to make my own. I love baking, but have never tried making my own before, but I suppose we’ve never really had the need.
Andy is normally the bread baker in the house… he has perfected his loaves and his teacakes are incredible, so I felt rather daunted as I started to hunt out a recipe, but nothing ventured, nothing gained and if they ended up in the bin, at least I would have tried.
The first thing I had to do was halve the recipe, as there was no way I could even start to contemplate munching my way through 12 full-size croissants or pains au chocolat! which left me finding 250g strong white flour, 5 g salt, 40g caster sugar, 6g instant yeast, 150ml cool water, 150g unsalted butter
It was also something that was going to take a while, with several separate stages and an hour to rest between each one before a full night on the fridge…. but at least that would mean freshly baked viennoiseries in the morning… the dough was the same for both croissants and pains au chocolat, so I could decide what to make the next day.
So I set to…. turning the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and water into a squidgy dough, that immediately went in the fridge for an hour ( time for a cup of tea)
Before taking it out, rolling it into a rectangle and laying onto it the cold, hard butter, that I had happily flattened with a rolling pin (I may have been rather over-enthusiastic doing this, as it seemed a good opportunity to let off some steam).
The butter covered two thirds of the dough, so I pulled the top third over, covering some, gently cut through the remaining butter and placed the remaining slab on top, before folding over the rest of the dough to create a triple layered, butter ‘sandwich’, which immediately went back in the fridge for another hour (time for another cup of tea)
Then out it came again and the rolling and folding process was done again, (always starting with the short end) in fact this has to be repeated another 3 times with an hour in the fridge between rollings …. by the time this was done I had progressed from the cup of tea, onto a glass, or maybe two glasses of wine
Then it stayed in the fridge overnight, whilst I went to bed wondering what they would turn out like, once I cooked them …… would they be flaky and ‘peelable’ or would they simply end up a buttery, fat-laden lump of dough. I did worry it may be the latter.
Waking up, I decided that I needed a chocolate fix, but really wasn’t sure what would be the best chocolate to use – I love 85% chocolate, but would that be too bitter … would a 70% be better? Which would melt better, or would I simply end up with a baking tray covered in burnt, escaped chocolate …. in the end I hedged my bets and went with both, just to see which worked best.
So at 7am the following morning, I was back in the kitchen, rolling the cold dough into a rectangle and popping 2 strips of chocolate into each length as I rolled it into the traditional shape …. I am so disappointed when I find just one stripe of chocolate in a pastry in France ….. it rarely happens, but when it does I feel totally cheated, and it ruins my day.
Once shaped I had to leave them to rise, hoping that they would start to fluff up in the warm kitchen air, and as I stood watching them with my morning cup of tea, i happily noticed, that indeed, they were starting to grow. It was worse than waiting for a kettle to boil!
Two hours later, I glazed the tops with beaten egg and popped them into the hot oven, finding myself glued to the glass door, watching as they started to fill out and turn a golden brown. I watched them the whole time they were cooking – I always find the process of a raw, soggy, squidgy mix (whether cakes, scones or bread) transforming into something light, fluffy, fascinating, and watching the little pains au chocolat swell, their layers becoming visible, was just a delight.
So just in time for morning coffee I pulled them out and popped them on a rack to cool, filling the air with that buttery, chocolatey scent that always catches in my nostrils wehenever I pass a boulangerie.
So coffee that morning, was accompanied (for me) with a rather lovely homemade pain au chocolat, still warm, beautifully flaky, with a slightly gooey heart of chocolate …. and the 70% version was just about perfect.
It wasn’t up to the Simiane standard, in fact nowhere near, but it made me smile as I munched and picked flakes from the plate, whilst chatting to Andy, as he sat on the steps in the morning sun.
I was on a roll now and so the following week gave croissants a go, which were equally as good.
It may not be the same as sitting on the terrace of a favourite boulangerie, but it was as close as we could get to it, a thousand miles apart….
And I have added something new to my repertoire!