Every now and again, I like to tackle big projects. I’m good at big projects. There’s something so reassuring about them, like you know there’s an end in sight, eventually, but it’s so far away that you’re not focused on it. Instead, you get to hunker down, keep your head low, and really sink yourself into the process. Drink some coffee while you’re at it, noodle around with other things while waiting (there’s always a lot of waiting).
BUT. Everything will be going swimmingly, until everything goes awry. That’s when, say, you open the oven to discover a hot tub’s worth of butter oozing around on the floor of your baking pan. It might be kind of like how Alexander Fleming felt when he realized he’d left a Petri dish uncovered in the lab—the horror!, the shame!, the contamination (him)!, the smell of frying croissants (me)!—except he discovered penicillin, and I ended up with rubbery croissants.
It’s in moments like these that your character will come through. You could give up, throw in the towel, decide to start down another path altogether. Knife-sharpening comes to mind, although that’s another one of those projects you could (and will be told to) spend a lifetime mastering. Or attempting the elusive scorpion pose. (I know, scary.) Alternatively, you could also decide to try again. According to my assessment, the latter demonstrates true grit. Or so I have to believe. Fine, mostly, I didn’t want to feel like I’d been defeated by a baked good.
So I took a step back and really tried to figure out where I’d gone wrong. I think it came down to one main reason: the butter hadn’t been soft enough when I’d started the lamination process. It seems that butter that isn’t sufficiently malleable will clump up and tear through the layers, resulting in lots of leakage points. Does that sound about right, seasoned croissant makers? But, a little leaking is normal too, and should not be a cause for concern. Along with a few other small tweaks, I felt ready to give croissants another go.
I’d initially made half a batch of plain croissants and half a batch of ham and cheese, but for my second attempt, I decided to pare down my expectations. If I could successfully make a batch of plain croissants, I could begin thinking about incorporating other ingredients. It’s kind of like how in Japan, sushi apprentices spend years mastering the art of making rice before they’re allowed to move on to even touching the other stuff. (Talk about integrity!)
Of course you’re wondering how my second attempt went? Pretty well, I think. The insides were a bit doughier than I would’ve liked, but they actually tasted like croissants. Buttery, flaky, layers shattering upon contact. I love that initial tenderness of the innards when the croissants are pulled apart. They’re still steaming from their bake and taste incredibly luscious and fresh. I also love the way the tips burn slightly. They’re the crispest parts, all puff pastry-like and caramelized. And the shape, the shape! While svelte and long are generally qualities esteemed by women the world over, I love how cute and round mine came out. They’re like the Volkswagon Beetles of the croissant world.
I don’t know, I think Tartine just might approve.
1. This is what happens when an unseasonably warm day comes along, the first in what has felt like a very long winter, the first where you could leave the house with nothing but a light jacket on, the first where a cold beer actually sounded like a good idea: you jump the gun just a bit while also taking some liberties with your convictions. A twofer, and I’ll let myself have it.
I usually stick to eating what’s in season, or at least I try to stick to eating what’s in season, but the asparagus on sale at the market called out my name. “Lindaaaaaa, buy uuuuuus,” they squeaked. Or are asparagus not squeakers? Whatever the case, I’m gonna be honest here: I’m not the perfect locavore. I buy tomatoes in the winter, okay? I eat watermelon pretty much all year round. And if strawberries are on sale tomorrow, I’ll snatch them up, dangit! (But I know they won’t be good, let’s just be clear about that.)
2. An exemplary egg is a sight to behold. If this isn’t the most ravishing yolk you’ve ever seen and the highest-shouldered whites (it’s an egg term), then you must point me in the direction of an egg purveyor easy reachable by the New York subway system. (These eggs are from the Northshire Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket, by the way. Highly recommended.).
I made it to the farmer’s market for the first time this year last Saturday. Do you ever do that thing where, if you can’t find what you needed to buy, you find something to buy anyway? It’s how I’ve ended up with some of the more random ingredients in my pantry: juniper berries, chocolate sprinkles, rock sugar, chickpea flour, and bags of frozen bird’s eye chilis, all of which have (mostly) gone untouched.
This isn’t to say that eggs are unusual, but $5 for a dozen goes outside my normal comfort zone. (I have spent $6 for half a dozen, but how can anyone refuse such beauties?)
3. Miso butter. Misobuttermisobuttermisobuttermisobutter. MISO BUTTER! It’s a word to scream out from rooftops, songs should be written about it (sung by squeaky asparagus[es?]), trees and forearms should get it tattooed into their flesh, except I don’t like the thought of cutting into a tree with a sharp object.
Okay, fine, you want concreteness, I get it. In short: if any vegetarian ever complains about missing bacon, point them in the direction of this genius pairing. Miso butter is meaty and rich and lip-smackingly salty. It almost reminds me of MSG-laden Asian snack foods, which I realize isn’t exactly a positive description to most of you, but that’s because you only found out about it after it had gone on the blacklist. I grew up eating MSG like it was no big thing, just a magic seasoning that perked up most meals and made them more flavorful and delicious. Get it? Got it? Good.
For more miso butter ideas, check out Kristy’s ideas. I can’t wait for fresh corn season!
So there you have it: how I arrived at this dead-simple recipe, in three disjointed parts. Just to let you know, this last week so far has been kicking my butt. I’m going to blame it on the switch to Daylight Saving time, which I wouldn’t have even known about if the cashier ringing me up while I was buying the asparagus hadn’t mentioned it. (Instead, I would’ve entertained some indulgent fantasy about how I was under the weather, and spent half a morning hiding under the covers while drinking boatloads of coffee—someone pull me out from under my rock please?)
But things are looking up and up—like the mercury! Happy early spring!