Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spinach and Cheese Filled Croissants

The recipe for the croissants is unlike anything I've made before. Typically I use a combination of strong and AP flour, but this called for 1/3 cup of vital wheat gluten. I had my doubts, but the results were really lovely. The use of strong flour and wheat gluten does help prevent the butter tearing through the dough as you make the turns, it also makes it incredibly elastic and difficult to roll out. Grab your heaviest rolling pin for this one. I found that giving the dough adequate rests between turns loosened it up a bit, but it was still pretty tough rolling. Mind, I did have a rather awful fall a few weeks ago, and my shoulder and hip took the worst of it. Still, I suspect even in tip-top health, this wouldn't be like rolling out a pie crust. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The filling was improvised from what I had-two blocks of frozen spinach, cooked and squeezed dry, some garlic, cumin, thyme, and cheeses. One of the cheeses was a hard grating cheese from Greece made from sheep's milk. The cheese monger had gone to great lengths warning me that it was strong, but I didn't find that to be the case-it tasted like a dry Feta. I also used a bit of Swiss I found lurking at the back of the fridge. Holding it all together was a few tablespoons of cottage cheese. I could have lightened it with an egg, but I was concerned it would be too wet for the pastry. In the end, the boys declared the results, "just perfect". They proved the point by demolishing half the batch.

The recipe for the dough comes from Sunset Breads, Step-by-Step Techniques, 1991. I have found this slim, paper-bound volume to be incredibly useful over the years, and encourage you to grab a copy if you see one in a thrift store. I've been pleased with all of the Sunset publications (canning, cookies) and although the recipe sounded odd to me, I had a degree of confidence that it wouldn't end up being binned.

You Will Need:

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
2 1/4 cups strong flour (bread flour)
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, sugar, salt and gluten flour. Mix well. With a heavy-duty mixer (or by hand with a wooden spoon-my preferred method) beat in the strong flour and beat until dough is elastic and pulls from the sides in strands. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours).

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Cover it with cling film and chill it 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the butter into thin pieces and place on a wax paper covered sheet. Chill the butter as well.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour on a cold surface (I chilled my flexible cutting mat) and roll dough out into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the butter in the centre, slightly overlapping. Fold the sides over the butter and roll again until rectangle is about 3/8 inch thick. Use as little flour as possible when rolling. Fold dough in thirds again to make a square-ish rectangle. Roll and fold again in the same way. Wrap in cling film and chill 30 minutes. repeat process 2 more times, chilling between each.

Roll dough out into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick (this will take some muscle). Cut into triangles about 6 inches at the base and 8 inches long (I made mine smaller). Place filling in centre of 6 inch side of triangle and roll up, placing the point underneath. Place point down on a baking sheet, and curl in the ends (mine always pop out). Leave about 1 1/2 inches around each. I got 18 croissants from this recipe. Cover them lightly with a tea towel and let rise until quite light-about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the croissants lightly with the egg and milk mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes (rotating the pans halfway through), or until golden brown. Serve hot, or cool on a rack. When completely cool, they can be wrapped carefully in wax paper and then cling film and frozen.

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