Baking Through the CIA: Puff Pastry and Croissants

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As I complete week 11 at CIA, I am entering the denouement of the baking and pastry program’s fundamental skills period. In the coming weeks, I will be faced with the challenge of another skills exam, and take part in a public showcase of my class’s work.

For the second skills exam, I will be required to make an apple strip (a puff pastry strip covered in baked and glazed apples), crème anglaise (vanilla sauce), and the practical cake (genoise sponge cake with Italian buttercream.). For my showcase, my assigned group and I will be required to make the practical cake, crème brulee, éclairs, a lemon pound cake, an apple strip, a cherry pie, and a sorbet or ice cream of our choice. There is certainly a lot of planning and prep to be done, but I’m confident we will be well prepared.

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At this point, we’ve learned almost everything we need in order to complete these tasks before us. After learning how to make the buttercream and assemble the cake last week, we were left with one last item on our checklist, puff pastry. Puff pastry is notoriously tedious, as it is imperative it stays cold throughout the entire process of making it. Puff pastry’s flaky layers are the result of butter being sheeted and evenly folded over on top of rolled out the dough. As the dough and butter are folded together multiple times, it forms alternating layers. If the butter were to become too warm, it would be absorbed by the dough, and would not create the flaky puffed up layers that the product is known for. Because of this, it has to be put in and taken out of the refrigerator at specific intervals throughout the process of making it. This will certainly make it a challenge when it comes to managing time on our exam.

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The chef demoed the production method during Tuesday’s class.  We were to make the dough that day and bake it on Thursday. As he showed us the proper folding technique, he told us how the number of layers in the finished product resulted from the type of fold used (either 3 fold or 4 fold). After the initial “lock-in phase” of sealing the butter in the dough, you have 3 layers (dough, butter, dough) After folding it, you multiply the number of layers you have by the type of fold you did, and subtract to take into account the double dough layers resulting from the fold. For our puff pastry, we did the lock-in, 4-fold, 3-fold, 4-fold, and then a final 3-fold. This left us with a total of 289 layers. We also made croissant dough, which utilized a near identical method, with the exception of the addition of yeast to the dough, a short proofing time to check that the yeast was alive, and a triple 3-fold, rather than the four alternating 4/3-folds used in the puff pastry.

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On Thursday, we got to work baking off our week’s production. Due to the temperature sensitivity of the puff pastry, our class format was altered a bit, going back and forth between demos and production. We started with the initial steps for our apple strip, rolling it out to fit the supplied template, before congregating for our croissant demos. The rest of the class switched off back and forth like this until dinner. When our production time ended, our croissants were left proofing and unbaked. Luckily, our chef was nice enough to bake them off for us while we ate. My group’s croissants were wrapped slightly too tight, leaving them a bit thin. Other than that, they were flaky, buttery, and delicious. My apple strip also turned out alright, though it could have stayed in the oven a bit longer, as the apples were the slightest bit undercooked.

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Overall, my first experience with puff dough was a success, and I will have the opportunity to practice it at least once more before I am tested on it for my second skills exam. I actually took the opportunity to make some at home over the weekend, using it in a Napolean. This upcoming week will focus on frozen desserts before I begin reviewing for the exam. The semester is coming to a close, and I’ll soon be off to bigger and better things. I can’t wait!

By Andrew Bergman