This cup of hot chocolate symbolizes the power of social media. When Jacques Torres tweeted that he was getting ready for his demo at the International Culinary Center last Thursday, I sent back this message.
The end result was that he did bring his famous and much-loved hot chocolate to the afternoon’s pastry demonstration! The beverage went perfectly with these samples of plain and chocolate croissants that he showed us how to make.
It was also a nice treat to wash down the last of the sugary, sweet, fried bomboloni filled with pastry cream that he’d made for us earlier. These were made with a variation on a brioche dough, which Chef Torres also showed us how to make.
During the afternoon’s event, Chef Torres also shared his baking tips and left us with some helpful hints in working with croissant and brioche dough. He told us that this is one of his favorite demos to do, adding that when he’s in his hometown in France, he likes to cycle around to sample the croissants from each of the local bakeries. “If you go to a pastry shop in France and the croissants are beautiful, that means something,” he said.
As he made the dough in front of us, he talked about the baking process. The smell of the dough early on is the fermentation process taking place. When the dough is baking, the smell is of the process of caramelization taking place (aided by the egg wash). “Put the starter [for the croissants] in warm water if you want to make them the day of,” he advised, “It activates the starter a lot faster.”
He also said that he uses filtered water to make his croissants, as tap water smells like bleach. When putting together the dough, he added, it is best to write down what you added to the dough and to put all dry ingredients in separate parts of bowl so can see what was added. That way, you can know if you need to adjust the ingredients and by how much as you work with it.
With the assistance of a previously-made batch of dough, Chef Torres continued the demo, rolling out the initial form and adding a layer of butter to it. He took a whole pound of butter and thwacked it with a rolling pin, turning it to each side as he flattened it into the perfect shape to fit the dough. “The fatter the better,” he said, when asked by an audience member about his preferred kind of butter to use to make croissants. “Listen, if you want good croissants, you have to butter them,” he counseled.
Then, Chef Torres folded the layers of dough over the butter, turned it one-quarter turn, rolled it out and then folded it over again, in classic puff pastry-making technique. The dough went back in the fridge to rest.
Another previously-prepared dough was pulled from the fridge at the same time. Chef Torres sprinkled some flour on the countertop and then rolled out the longest sheet of dough I think I’ve ever seen. Note to future demonstration attendees: if you sit in the front row, be prepared to have flour sprinkled on you (not on purpose, I’ll add). Then, with a few quick strokes of the knife, Chef Torres divided the dough into triangles and squares to make croissants.
Some of the croissants were set aside to be filled with chocolate. When making them, leave the seam side down after you shape them, so they won’t open up during the proofing stage, Chef Torres advised. Also, if you have leftover dough, incorporate that into your new batch of dough as that will give it flavor and aid in the fermentation process.
Here’s the results of all the mixing, folding and baking. I’d like to say that the ones that I make at home will turn out exactly as perfect as these ones, but that might take a minor miracle (or lots of butter and flour and patience).
Chef Torres also made a modified brioche dough to use to make the bomboloni. As with the croissant dough, he had a batch he’d made earlier in the day to fry up for us to sample. He showed us how to cut the dough, first rolling it out into a log-shape. Then, he cut the dough into pieces.
Chef Torres shaped the dough into small rounds, put them on a baking tray, and set them to the side to proof. The batch that he’d let rise earlier were ready for frying. A quick toss of the hot dough into a bowl a sugar and a shot of pastry cream, and they were available for us to sample.
This demo has to be one of my most favorite ones of all that I’ve attended so far as a student at the International Culinary Center. It had some of the things I love the best: humor, fried dough, chocolate, sugar, and pastry. It was very helpful to hear Chef Torres’ guide to making amazing croissants. Maybe I’ll even get up the courage to fix up a batch of them at home. Here’s some more photos of how the demo looked from my Flickr photostream (Please remember, these photos are copyright protected and may not be republished anywhere without my express written permission.)