The summer of 2008, I had a difficult choice to make: attempt to get a finance internship to further my professional experience and boost my chances at employment after graduation, or go on a fun trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Just kidding – the decision was easy, and obviously I chose the latter.
(This is where I will note that when I did graduate in the spring of 2009, the only people I knew who secured positions in the then-turbulent field of finance were those who had internships the summer before. D’oh! Still, everything turned out fine in the end.)
One of the many adventures I had on this trip was a multi-day self-guided tour on Fraser Island. Basically, they throw together a group of a dozen or so people, give you a van, and let you play on the beautiful island for a few days. It was a lot of fun. You aren’t allowed to go into the ocean because all kinds of deadly things lurk along the shore, but there are some splendid lakes to explore.
Fraser Island was cool (dingoes!), but my best memories are all about the people who were with us on the trip. If I remember correctly, there were two American dudes, a couple (girl was from Toronto, guy was from Australia), two girls from Germany, a guy from France (more on him in a moment), and two friends from the UK. One of them was a child actor who played one of the sons in Finding Neverland. I found this very, very fascinating.
The UK guy was for sure cool, but the guy from France was even better. His name was Pierre and he was the only one in our group who’d come solo. He was extremely funny and fit tidily into every French stereotype. For some reason, somebody asked Pierre if he’d ever made croissants. He said of course he had, and that it was super simple. I remember him listing off a few basic ingredients and explaining how you just had to make a little triangle shape, roll it up, and voila: croissant.
He made it sound so easy – and yet, croissants are in the advanced chapter of Bread Illustrated. Nearly a decade after I met Pierre (I wonder where he is today), I finally decided to give it a go.
The key to croissant-making is ensuring that the ingredients stay very cold. Much time is spent putting things into and taking things out of the fridge and freezer. By far, the most satisfying part is creating a giant slab of butter. Behold:
You fold the dough over the butter, roll it out, then repeat a million times, throwing it in the freezer between roll outs.
Eventually, it came time to make and roll the triangles, as Pierre had told me about so very long ago.
Uniform, my croissants were not. Although this would surely earn me a fail on the Great British Bake Off, I figured it increased my odds of having at least ONE croissant turn out. Into the oven they went…
And they turned out perfectly.
The croissant pictured above was actually my most photogenic of the bunch – and even so, it’s still pretty ugly. Here’s how things actually turned out:
Pulling these out of the oven was like witnessing a croissant massacre. Some had unrolled entirely somewhere in the baking process. I thought I’d tucked the tips under – ha, not even close.
I cursed Pierre for a moment – he said they were easy! – then laughed, because I don’t think I’m the first person who has screwed up croissants on their first attempt. I have to say, despite their homely appearance, they tasted pretty darned good! On the scale of croissants, they easily surpass your average grocery store “croissant” (if you can even call those things croissants… croissant snobs know what I’m talking about), but they fall short of a fresh croissant purchased at a boulangerie in Pierre’s hometown.
I doubt I will try baking croissants again anytime soon (half of this batch is still sitting in my freezer), but who knows. My niece is a rabid fan of croissants, so perhaps I’ll give it another go when she’s old enough to brush her own teeth.