I'd find a warm cafe, and would sip cafe-au-lait and chew on hot fresh croissants while scanning the papers with one eye and monitoring the street life with the other.
My Life in France, Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
First, an admission. I realise that My Life in France is not a work of fiction and that, by including it here, I am technically breaking my own rules for this blog*. But I'm not too concerned, and hope you're not either - as well as inspiring me to try new things through her recipes, Julia Child's warm, witty autobiography put me right in the cafés of Paris. She tells the story of her life from her mid-30s onwards - of her marriage to Paul Child, the challenges she and her co-authors (Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) faced getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, and of finding her gastronomic homeland in Paris.
I'm lucky enough to have been to Paris a couple of times, and I truly love it. The food is terrific, the architecture right up my street (unfortunately not literally) and it's pretty much all walkable, so long as you've got a good pair of shoes. I travelled under the Channel once again last month; the train was an impulse purchase, thanks to a Eurostar sale. Once booked, I decided I should try to learn something new whilst there, in between all the oysters and wine.
So I booked onto a breakfast pastries course at La Cuisine Paris and spent a wonderful morning making, shaping and eating croissants. Being there was invaluable in terms of perfecting pastry under the watchful eye of an expert pâtissier. I came home inspired to try them again myself, and confident that I could recreate these previously intimidating pastries. The lovely team at La Cuisine Paris have (quite rightly) asked me not to share their recipe online, so if you fancy making croissants yourself, I'd suggest giving one of the following a try:
- Edd Kimber's 20 minute version - they look great, and I will be giving them a go when I don't fancy spending a weekend making pastry!
- This recipe from Paul Hollywood. His bread and pastry recipes always tend to come out well, in my experience, so well worth giving this one a go.
- Or try a recipe from the master herself - watch Julia Child make croissants here. If you're anything like me, you'll soon fall down the YouTube rabbit hole and end up watching all her videos. She's just brilliant.
Our class, making pain au chocolat, pinwheels, baskets and standard croissants
I thought I'd also include my top tips learnt from the course, so that those of you who do read this blog for the recipes don't feel that this post is a bit of a cheat (a non-fiction book and mere links to a recipe - I'm going completely off-piste!).
- The kneading stage took what felt like hours (for my arms, at least) - but which was probably more like 15-20 minutes. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, this would be the time to employ it. If not, just keep kneading - it's definitely satisfying seeing the dough change. Either way, you need to knead until your dough is very elastic and bounces back immediately if poked with your thumb.
- All equipment and ingredients need to be cold, or your butter will invariably melt and escape the dough. Work quickly and in short bursts, returning the dough to the fridge between rollings. Australians (dad, I'm talking to you), I'd suggest waiting until next June before giving this a go.
- The best thing about this versatile dough is that, once ready, it can be refrigerated or frozen - great if you want croissants for breakfast (who doesn't?) but don't want to get up at 1am to make it happen. It just needs a final rise in the morning and then a short time in a hot oven.
- Although the flour and butter used in France to make croissants aren't readily available in other parts of the world, you'll be able to find reasonable alternatives. Strong white bread flour is best (you need a high gluten content to get the necessary elasticity) and you should ensure that your butter is at least 82% fat.
- Finally - and this is true for all puff pastry - don't egg wash the cuts! They won't puff up nearly as much as you'll seal them closed, so just apply the egg wash to the flat surfaces.
*There is a very strong chance that 2015 will see more of these broken rules, as I may start to include some savoury dishes. Stay tuned.