It's Alissa's fault. I didn't even know these delights existed before I met her. And then one day she mentioned Thomas Haas, and I must have given her a blank look or something and shook my head. What is Thomas Haas? She drew her breath. It wasn't an excessive, dramatic gasp, like I am known to do. It was a candid, deep-drawing of the breath inward, stabilizing the soul. She put her hand to her chest (again, in earnest) looked sideways at me around the rim of her glasses, and told me just what Thomas Haas was, and what is more, she explained what deliciousness lay behind the glass barriers of their display case-- croissants, pastries--butter, flour, yeast baked to the perfect shattering crisp. These were not the overblown monstrosities of chain store supermarkets. These were the beauties begotten only in Europe. Except, they were in our own backyard.
Vancouver is now a long ways off. Here in Northern California there are incredible bakeries in the Bay Area (I can vouch for Tartine, but so can everyone else). And I have heard rumors of croissants in Sacramento, but I have yet to taste them. It doesn't much matter though, because since I dared to start making my own croissants (2nd? 3rd time now?), and since I found Clotilde's (of Chocolate and Zucchini) recipe for the day-old upgrade (years ago), I haven't felt quite the same push to find the perfect pastry stateside. (By the way, Clotilde has an array or other delightful recipes on her blog...I especially recommend her Italian cornmeal cookies, aka crumiri.)
I mean really. I just made some pretty good croissants. They are best eaten just cooled enough so that the butter (and the layers) have had a chance to set. I read one participant's review of the exercise, and she said that she and her husband were not impressed in the least. "Too buttery." "Not enough flavor." I admit, a little too warm and they had yet to develop into their own. But when let to mellow a bit, even completely cooled they were exactly as they should be. (It is absolutely, indisputably, irrevocably imperative that you use only the freshest, best butter you can find. The croissant will be half butter after all, so that is all you're going to taste.)
However, to make Clotilde's second-day edition, you're going to need some good first day croissants, and if you don't want to make and bake, you're going to have to buy them. Quick, if you pick up your coissants today, you can have the double-baked ones tomorrow. Bonus: they're quick to make and quick to eat and make quite a brilliant impression.
Please note: I have not tried this recipe with the wretched, supermarket variety of the pastry, but I still would not recommend it. The texture is all wrong. But, if you have not the means or the time to hunt or bake and want to live life on the edge of wretchedness, don't let me stop you. Just don't say I didn't warn you either.
In fact, just to sell Dorie Greenspan's book Cooking with Julia a little more, I do recommend it, and the recipe makes enough croissants for the process to feel justified. You only need so many croissants at once anyway. So buy the book, make a batch, and do a little leftovers dance. (I froze my dough at a stage when freezing was not mentioned, so we'll see how that goes, but it was nice to be able to freeze half the dough unformed and use the other immediately.) Freeze what you can't eat fresh. Next time, instead of eating a quarter of the entire recipe in less than twenty-four hours, I would just eat one (or two) when fresh, share what I could at the same time, and freeze the rest. Then I'd have more double-baked delights to work with on whim. I am a butter advocate, but my metabolism can only handle so much before I can actually feel my thighs plumping. We must have a little balance. Right?
Double-Baked Almond CroissantsReprinted with permission from Clotilde
Clotilde says the recipe can be halved if you have fewer croissants to fill, and both the syrup and the crème d'amandes can be made a day ahead.
And I add two bits: 1) When you soak your croissants soak them well, but not too much! Disintegration of the pastry is not the desired result. 2) Any leftover almond cream can be used to fill tarts topped with soft fruit (fresh or frozen berries, poached/home-canned pears, peaches or apples, or other soft fruit like peeled figs all work well) and baked. Voila! Frangipane.
6-8 day-old croissants, about 80g each
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
For the syrup:
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons light rum (optional)
other flavor ideas: citrus zest, orange blossom water, or rose water (careful about quantities)
For the crème d'amandes:
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup whole blanched almonds or 1 cup almond powder
a pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, diced
Prepare the syrup: combine 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar and the rum (if using) in a saucepan. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, and simmer for a minute, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, transfer into a shallow soup plate, and let cool completely.
Prepare the almond filling: combine 1/2 cup sugar, the almonds and the salt in the bowl of a food processor, and mix until finely ground. Add the butter, and mix again until well blended. Add in the eggs one by one, and process until creamy.
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Work with each croissant one by one: dip it into the syrup, coating both sides and the ends well -- the croissant should be quite moist. Slice horizontally like you would for a sandwich, and place on the cookie sheet. Spread the inside with about two tablespoons almond filling, and place the top back on. Spread the top with another tablespoon almond filling, and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Repeat with the remaining croissants and filling.
Put into the oven to bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the almond cream is set and golden. Transfer onto a cooling rack, dust with confectioner's sugar, and serve, slightly warm (I vote for this one) or at room temperature. They will keep for a day (I re-baked the second day: incredible). (Enjoy!)