I haven’t eaten enough gnocchi in my life to be on the fence about it, but I am. I don’t think I’ve given it a fair chance though. My mind conjures up images of heavy balls of dough, not helped by the fact that the one and only time I tried gnocchi, it was doused in a heavy gorgonzola sauce, so uniform in cheesiness that it tasted positively… bland? What I mean is, the sauce was a homogeneous goop-soup of melted cheese and heavy cream. So while the gnocchi itself probably tasted amazing, I could barely eat beyond a bite.
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.