Saturday, September 15, 2012

An Epic Tale of Pear Croissants

Chapter 1: On the Origin of Pears

At UC Berekely, Steve Lindow's lab studies naturally occurring bacteria on the surface of fruits, in particular, pears. Many of you may be aware of the natural yeasts found on things like grapes and plums (it's that fine white powdery stuff), so it's not surprising that friendly bacteria can also live on the surface of fruits. Some of these bacteria are "bad" in the sense that they grab water molecules and hold them in such a way that catalyzes the formation of ice crystals at temperatures above freezing -- this is how frost occurs!! There are other "good" bacteria on the surface of pears that produce the plant hormone, auxin, and somehow this is what creates all those cute little speckles on pear skin.

So why am I posting this on my food blog? Because each year, the Lindow Lab gets dozens of cases of pears from a nearby orchard - they look at the pears for various types of speckling, and then they set them in the lobby of the Plant & Microbial Biology building for anyone to take and eat. They also organize an official Pear-Off to encourage use of the pears and a little friendly competition between labs.

After much deliberation, and a brief experiment with tempura pears (delicious!), I decided that I would represent the Glass Lab by making pear croissants.

Chapter 2: An Evolutionary Dough

I've always followed the croissant dough recipe in Baking with Julia. As near as I can tell, it's fool proof. I divided the work up over several days so I could fit this project in to my already busy schedule.


1 1/2 Tbsp Yeast
3 cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/3 cup Sugar
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1+ cups Whole Milk

Combine these ingredients in a mixer with the hook attachment and mix on low speed until the dough begins to form a ball. Turn the speed up to high and knead the dough for about 4 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic, put it in a Ziplock bag, and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before placing it in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

If the dough is having trouble taking up all the flour at the beginning, add some more milk, one tablespoon at a time.  I ended using about 1 1/4 cups of milk in total. Also - play with the flour! The recipe only calls for 3 3/4 cups of regular unbleached all purpose flour, but you can absolutely divide up that 3 3/4 cups and use other flours, like whole wheat!
1# 2oz. Cold Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp Unbleached All Purpose Flour

Cut the butter into roughly 1/2-inch pieces. Beat the butter and flour in a mixer with a paddle attachment on high speed until it has a smooth, slightly fluffy consistency. Scoop the butter mixture out onto a piece of plastic wrap and mold it into an oval roughly 5-6inches long and 1inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.


Roll the dough out on a well floured surface so that it is approximately 10inches wide and 17inches long. Brush any excess flour from the dough and place the butter in the center. Wrap the dough around the butter and seal the open edges by pinching the dough together.

The butter should be completely sealed by the dough. Now comes the fun part! Take your rolling pin and beat the dough. If everything is still good and cold you can really give it a good whacking. The goal is to have  1inch thick rectangle that is about 14inches long and 6inches wide.

Once your dough has sustained a good beating, it can be refrigerated if it's starting to get soft (i.e. if it's a warm day, you're working slowly, or both). Or if you're feeling confident, you can proceed to what is known as the "1st turn". Roll the dough into a rectangle that is 24-26inches by 14inches.

Then fold the dough in thirds, like a brochure.

 Put it on a floured pan, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Next is the "2nd turn". Place the dough so that the folded side is facing you and roll it out again into a 14x24-26inch rectangle. Then tri-fold and refrigerate for 2+ hours just like the 1st turn. At this point I refrigerated overnight.


Again, roll out the dough into a 14x24-26inch rectangle. Fold the ends into the center so they almost meet (leave a tiny bit of space between them), then fold it in half as you would close a book. This is known as the "3rd turn", "double turn", or "the wallet". Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours, or freeze for several months!

Chapter 3: Croissant Creation

While the dough rested in the refrigerator (still on Day 3), I started to work on the filling. I peeled and diced several pears (which turned out to be WAY too many) and cooked them on a low temperature on the stove with a dash of cinnamon, sugar, and lemon zest. I cooked them just enough to evaporate some liquid, without turning them into complete mush. 

I traded the cooked pears for my chilled dough in the fridge. This time I cut the dough in half and put half back in the fridge while I worked with the other half on a well-floured table.

I rolled out the dough until it was 24x18inches and then folded it half hot-dog-style:

Then I cut isosceles triangles and unfolded the dough!

Now they're ready to be filled! I made a couple other flavors besides pear, such as plain, chocolate, and chocolate-raspberry!

To roll a croissant, stretch and pull on the dough, rolling it as tight as possible. I used to be afraid of being too rough with my croissant dough, but it's okay - croissants kind of like it rough.

Repeated the above with the second half of the dough and place all the formed croissants on a pan, wrapped it in plastic in the fridge over night. Croissants can also be frozen at this point--freeze them spread out on a sheet pan, once frozen, then put them in ziplock bags to save space!

If you're making multiple flavors of croissants in one batch, it can be helpful to shape them differently depending on their filling, unless you want to be surprised later (i.e. straight croissant = chocolate, crescents = pear)

DAY 4:

This is the final day!  I ran home after class, took my croissants out of the fridge, brushed them with egg wash, and put them in the oven with a pan of steamy hot kettle water to create a warm humid environment inside my oven (the oven is not on). Basically I turned my oven into a proof box. Then I went back to school for several hours of happy hour while my croissants proofed.

Croissants need at least three hours to rise before baking. These got a little over four hours. Right before baking, I applied a second coat of egg wash and some edible pixie dust, which is surprisingly hard to photograph!

These guys baked at 350 for 12 minutes, then I rotated them and baked them for another 4 minutes. My croissants spent the night chilling out on a rack:

Chapter 4: May The Best Pear Win!

This was an impressive competition. I'm clearly part of a totally awesome department. No one made pear pie. There was pear tart, pear crisp, red wine and pepper poached pears, pear mochi, pear soup, pear margaritas, pear cider, pear jello, pear ice, pear bars, pear biscuits, boozey pear cake smothered in chocolate, and several other pear things I'm sure I'm forgetting

Each person was given three strips of paper with which they had to vote for their three favorite pear dishes. Here are all the votes for my croissants!: 

I ended up getting third place with 14 votes. First and second place went to my fellow first-year, Ben's incredible pear bars, and his lab-mate's boozey pear cake.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Poblano-Strawberry-Fennel-Cilantro Salsa

THIS is why I married Alex!

It all began at the farmers market when Alex overheard a vendor telling a customer that poblano peppers are spicy, and the following scenario ensued:

Alex: Poblanos aren't spicy!
Vendor: Yes they are.
Alex: I eat your poblanos all the time and they're not spicy!
Vendor: I eat them all the time too and I can tell you - they're spicy!
*vendor cracks open a poblano and hands the upper half to Alex*
Vendor: Eat that and tell me it's not spicy
Alex: *takes a bite out of the side* It's not spicy.
Vendor: Take a bite right next to the stem, and get some of the webbing/seeds too...
Alex *takes a bite where he's told* WOA. that's spicy. Oh wow... uuhh... *he starts to sweat*
Vendor: Here, have some strawberries, it'll help kill the heat.

And so the idea for Strawberry-Poblano salsa was born!

For dinner a few nights ago, Alex made some rice, fried up some ground beef seasoned with cumin, and made a poblano-strawberry-fennel-cilantro salsa to put on top of the beef and rice. And the finishing touch was a dollop of sour cream. This was insanely delicious, and I highly recommend that everyone try this!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Avocado Sauce

Blended avocado serves the exact same function as a cream sauce. And the best part is avocados are gluten free, vegan, cholesterol free, contain tons of good fats, and their super invigorating and delicious!  ...Don't get me wrong though, I do still love gluten, cholesterol, and "bad" animal fats.

To make avocado sauce, you can simply blend avocado with a tiny bit of lemon or lime (to preserve the green color of the avocado). The avocados I was using were slightly under-ripe and kinda hard, so I added a tomato and some chicken stock to make it more saucy. Also salt is always a must.

Immersion blender in a pitcher full of deliciousness

Avocado sauce on pasta topped with meatballs and veggies!


I wont lie, I've been a little intimated by the idea of making salsa. But I've gained a bit of confidence since moving back to California and devouring my friends salsa (he has joked about starting a salsa company called "Some White Guy's Salsa").  He just marinated and grilled a bunch of veggies and threw them in the blender. I tried to recreate his type salsa.

Fire Roasted Veggies on the Gas Stove!

Ingredients: Fire roasted pepper, tomato, onion, fresh tomato, fresh garlic, and cilantro

Blended ingredients are delicious on chips!

This salsa wasn't bad for a first attempt, but I've got some work to do. First, the color is awful. Second, the flavor wasn't quite right - maybe more tomatoes less peppers next time? Or more peppers, less tomatoes... hmmm.  Also, mixing this salsa with chopped avocados was awesome!