Written by Abigail Hammett.
Few of you, I’m sure, escaped the summer without hearing about the infamous cronut. The internet was lousy with stories about crazed New Yorkers lining up at 5:00 am for the pastry du jour or selling them for $40 on the black market. The summer’s hottest hybrid inevitably made its way out here to San Francisco and it’s just the kind of thing that the San Francisco foodie crowd would go bananas for. This is a group whose love of cheeky hybrid cuisine has lead to the burritoization of almost everything—on any given day you can get a sushi burrito, a Filipino sisig burrito, a bibimbap burrito, and an aloo gobi burrito.
But I am not a trendy person, food-wise or anything else-wise. I prefer a plain glass of whiskey to an artisanal cocktail; I live in the Haight-Ashbury (a neighborhood that, while boasting other lovely qualities, has not been cool since 1968), and my personal fashion sense has been described alternately as “sexy grandma” (thanks, Casey) and “dorky” (thanks, friend-who-shall-remain-nameless). Regardless of how others describe it, I prefer to think of my taste as classic, and while hybrids can be great, sometimes you just want the original. Maybe I am getting a bit curmudgeonly, but mostly I want my sushi to be sushi and my burritos to be burritos. Likewise, I am perfectly satisfied with croissants and doughnuts as they have always been.
This August, tired of hearing about the cronut, I decided it was time to learn to make the un-cronut, the original: the croissant. In my normal life, I have very little time for baking or even cooking (this is where San Francisco’s burrito glut comes in handy), but at my family’s remote cabin on a beautiful lake in Maine, there is no electricity and no phone and no internet. Our annual summer trip is the only time all year I get to cook for cooking’s sake, and making homemade croissants seemed like the perfect kind of impractical endeavor I would never undertake anywhere else.
And it turns out that unlike some other old-school French items, making homemade croissants is not as hard as it sounds. It is very time consuming, but it does not seem to be a terribly delicate process (basically if you’re willing to put the time in, it’s tough to screw it up). The basic premise of constructing the croissants is that you make a simple yeast dough and wrap it around a massive block of butter. Then you repeat a process of rolling and folding to create alternating layers of dough and butter that give the croissants their flakey texture.
The baking process similarly involves multiple steps including letting the dough rise in a tented garbage bag, and spritzing both the unbaked croissants and the oven with water to keep everything moist. But after all the rolling and the chilling and the measuring and the rising and the baking, the croissants came out great! They were deliciously simple, nostalgic, and very, very French—just how a true classic is meant to be.
And while the results were musical-number-worthy, the process of making them was also surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe it’s the architect in me, but the process of following very specific instructions, taking the time to carefully complete every step, and finally pulling croissants out of the oven that were so perfectly croissanty-looking was nearly as satisfying as eating the finished product. [Editor’s Note: I feel the same way about assembling IKEA furniture.]
We are living in an era of increasingly short-lived food trends and approaching a time when we will be able to just print our dinners. Just as it was refreshing to take a break from San Francisco (which perpetually has its collective face buried in its collective iPhone) and visit technology-free rural Maine, it was a relief to eschew trendy foodie endeavors and engage in a process of old-school, patient, craft-oriented baking.
Now slip into your sexiest grandma apron and give it a go yourself: take the weekend and follow this classic croissant recipe from the renowned chef and baker Nancy Silverton.
Abigail Hammett is a San Francisco-based architect who still bleeds Boston red and blue when it comes to sports. When provoked, she can eat and drink her weight in seafood and whiskey.