Laissez les croissants rouler!

It’s Mardi Gras! Eat all the things! The period of fasting begins tomorrow for those who observe Lent.

In the spirit of the indulgence and gluttony that leads up to this period I decided to make croissants with the organic New Zealand butter sitting in my fridge. Having made croissants before in my artisan bread making course, I was familiar with the labour intensive process and obscene amount of butter used. Should you take on the task of making homemade croissants, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Not all butter is created equal. A higher water content makes for a lighter and flakier croissant. European butter, particularly that in France, often comes in a variety of water content.
  • Start the process at least one day in advance of baking your croissants. It is a laminated dough which means it must get folded several times to build the layers of flakiness.
  • Use disposable parchment paper for baking. The high amount of butter will leave silicon baking sheets very greasy. To avoid an intense clean-up, use throw away parchment paper.
  • Size matters. Though you can find monster croissants in the stores, it is healthier to make small ones. There’s a lot of butter in this crescent-shaped bread.

Did you know…? Croissants are said to have originated in Austria. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/croissant-really-french-180955130/

Using whole grain well

I’m down with brown and white’s not alright – the truth about whole wheat versus whole grain

There are three parts to grain kernels: germ, bran and endosperm. Whole wheat usually only contains the latter two while whole grain contains all three. Whole wheat flour is sometimes just white flour with the bran added back in. The texture is quite granular. Other brands of whole wheat flour are mildly refined (only the germ is removed) and the texture is smooth. Some breads advertise “made with 100% whole wheat” but check the ingredient list. Often these breads are made with a combination of refined, or white flour, and 100% whole wheat flour. This is an example of marketing trickery. Breads made solely with whole wheat and/or whole grain flour usually add extra gluten to help with dough structure.

If going for whole grain buy stone ground flour and store in fridge if not using right away. If using whole wheat flour, add wheat germ to the mix and store along with the wheat germ in the fridge. Wheat germ and wheat bran are readily available in most grocery stores.

In commercial flour production the germ and bran are removed resulting in protein and nutrient loss. The essential oils contained within the germ degrade with the heat from the milling of industrial machines. This along with expedient bulk production, long storage capacity and transportation requirements make the removal of the good stuff necessary.

Whole grain is a thirsty flour. Adjust liquids accordingly or add applesauce, banana or other puréed fruit (dates, raisins) to the mix to retain moisture. Whole grains also produce a denser dough. Use a small percentage of a lighter flour (eg brown rice flour, whole wheat pastry flour) to balance the heaviness. Handle the dough gently, don’t over knead and throw in some wheat gluten to help with the conditioning of the dough. The addition of a sourdough starter and some nuts/seeds also greatly enhances the flavour of whole grain loaves.

Sugar Sunday – It’s my Easter Birthday

If bread be the staff of life, then let me eat it all day long!

Every now and then, March babies, like myself, will have a birthday that falls on Easter. This is one of those years. Whether you celebrate this holiday (Easter not my birthday) or not, you will probably come across an assortment of Easter breads somewhere in the Western world. Following is a link from the Kitchn website on 15 Easter Breads from Around the World:

http://www.thekitchn.com/rich-eggy-sweet-15-easter-breads-from-around-the-world-recipe-roundup-112930

Other breads with religious significance are challah, a yeasted sweet Jewish bread often braided; pretzels, said to be shaped in the form of hands crossed in prayer and communion bread, used in Catholic ritual.

Let them eat cake.”

Breaking news!

This year I decided to forgo an official cake for my birthday. Yes, shocking I know. I did make spring-themed cupcakes, though, and used the leftover batter and icing to make a small cake fit for a Lilliputian. This will serve as my non-traditional birthday treat.

Life is sweeter with a bit of sugar in it but even better when consumed in a reasonable amount. In keeping with the theme of National Nutrition Month (the 100 meal journey – making small changes one meal at a time), I challenge you to skip the super-size and candle-laden cake and partake in one of the following instead to mark your special day:

  • a piece of fair-trade chocolate
  • a glass of dessert wine or champagne
  • a slice of pie
  • a scoop of ice cream
  • a small cupcake

It’s my party and I won’t have cake if I don’t want to.