Jason and I made a deal a long time ago that our birthdays would be about experiences.
No more buying yet another material good neither one of us needs… we’d make each other’s birthdays about tangible memories we could cherish beyond any piece of jewelry or power tool.
What type of experiences do we give, you ask?
Well, I usually ask for a birthday party. [Because, let’s face it, I will take any excuse to hang out with my favorite people.] Thus, every year Jason finds himself planning, cooking, and bartending for a massive crowd of impeccable individuals. Some of the most memorable of these parties include an epic Snowmageddon tea-themed gathering in D.C. [featuring lots of shenanigans in the snow and attendees arriving by foot because all transportation had been shut down], a game-filled celebration at our favorite local brewery in Denver, and this year’s unforgettable Roaring 20’s themed party loaded with flapper costumes, signature cocktails, and candy cigarettes.
Jason’s birthdays, however, tend to be more eclectic. There was that one time when I tried to surprise him with a bowling outing with a couple of our closest friends [only to have the secret get out beforehand!]. Or that other time where we simply found ourselves eating mussels, fries, and chocolate in Brugge on his birthday. Then there was perhaps my favorite of all time — the one I know I will never be able to top — which included an excursion to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Annex, a surprise Indian food cooking class [with unlimited wine], and a surprise late night bar jaunt with his closest guy friends.
Yeah, I won that year.
This year, not so much. [Though not for lack of trying.]
This birthday, Jason was about to become firmly planted in his 30’s, so I was determined to make it full of a few of his favorite things, and to me that meant: croissants, Christmas trees, and another cooking class. Little did I know that each element would turn out quite differently than expected. Here’s how it went down:
Jason loves my croissants, and I rarely make them because of the massive amounts of work involved. But hot off the heals of my cookie exchange, I got to work rolling and turning those layers of dough because if my husband wasn’t going to eat cake, my goodness he was going to eat some croissants! The problem(s)?
1. I couldn’t keep it a secret from Jason because croissants require me to take over the entire kitchen.
2. Since he was aware of my plans, he then had to step in and help me frantically find solutions when the croissants refused to rise and started burning on the bottom!
Let’s just say they were not my best batch of croissants. [I blame the cold weather and old yeast, but I admit that by doing so I am simply just trying to preserve my dignity.]
Surely I would get the Christmas tree right, yes?
Well, yes. That part turned out okay, because it’s difficult get cutting down a Christmas tree wrong.
For those who aren’t aware… Coloradans go to the mountains to cut down their trees. Granted, they’re not as full as ones you might find in a tree nursery or at Home Depot, but the experience alone is worth it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is by far the most magical activity of the year. I mean, look at these faces of pure elation through the years:
2016 Christmas tree, cut down with our besties, Kate and Tyler, after an epic hut-trip!
It’s such a joyous experience that Jason actually asked to do cut down a Christmas tree on his birthday. [Much to my delight!]
We were even able to tag along with several of our church’s clergy and novices who basically chauffeured us to the mountains, helped us scout for the perfect tree, and took our picture when we found it. We even got a picture of Smokey the Bear in the mix.
I’d say it was a pretty delightful experience! Even if it was perhaps filled with a bit more socializing than Jason was apt to partake in that day. But don’t worry — we countered it all with some solid Netflix binging and delivery Chinese food, Jason’s ultimate guilty pleasure, that evening.
Finally, there was the culminating experience: a cooking class.
Jason and I have loved every cooking class we’ve ever participated in. We still use the recipes we learned at our Indian cooking class all those years ago in D.C. And God knows that my pastry baking is still a valued addition to in our kitchen adventures. [Hello, eclairs and fruit tarts!]
So this time around, I opted for a cooking skill we were both excited to put to use: pasta making. We’ve been obsessed with making our own pasta for awhile now, but it was time to fine tune our thus far self-taught skills.
Enter: Cook Street School of Culinary Arts and their Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! class. Unfortunately, we weren’t we huge fans of the class structure compared to other more hands-on classes we had taken in the past, but we can’t deny how impressed we were with the instructors’ enthusiasm and the deliciousness of our prepared dishes. From homemade gnocchi served with creamy fonduta and sautéed mushrooms and garlic, to delectable pumpkin ravioli drizzled with brown butter thyme sauce and topped with broccolini, it was at least a tasty meal! [And one we can’t wait to try recreate at home!]
In the end, Jason’s birthday weekend takeaway is this: perfection is relative.
I spent so much of the weekend worried that it wasn’t “special” enough or “perfect” enough. [I mean, who changes the car’s tires, tears down a fence, and decorates a Christmas tree on their birthday?]
But the reality is that the weekend was “just right”. It was a reflection of our interests, our passions, our people, and our pace. We accomplished so many things in a given day, and we had a lot of fun while doing it. Who cares if the croissants looked more like Pillsbury crescent rolls? Or if the winding, backseat car ride to the mountains was a bit sickening? Or even that our class had “too many cooks in the kitchen” so to speak?
Those aren’t the things we are going to remember. What we’ll remember is that butter + dough = deliciousness, no matter the imperfections. We’ll remember the infectious happiness of the car ride to the mountains and the company that made our Christmas tree escapades all the more memorable. We’ll remember the enchanting lights and ornaments of our 2016 Christmas tree and the teamwork it took to make it just right. And we’ll remember the fact that we learned how to make gnocchi for the first time in our lives… GNOCCHI!
I’d say that’s a birthday experience to remember, wouldn’t you?
But enough about my reflective, journalistic approach to recounting Jason’s birthday weekend. I know why you’re really here — you’re here for the croissants. And much to Jason’s chagrin, I have kept it from you far too long.
So without further ado, here is my tried-and-true [though sometimes finicky, as indicative of this week’s batch] croissant recipe. The time for preparation varies from 6 hours to several days, depending on how you time your turns and rests. It’s a lot of effort, but we promise they’re worth every buttery bite!
We suggest enjoying croissants when they are warm, right out of the oven. Though freshly baked croissants will also keep well in the freezer for two to three weeks if you need to make them in advance.
- 3 – 1/2 c. [1 lb] all purpose flour
- 1 – 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 c. [2 oz] sugar
- 2 – 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1/2 c. [4 oz] warm water
- 1 c. [8 oz] warm milk
- 1/2 c. [2 – 1/4 oz] flour — if needed
- 1 – 1/4 c. [10 oz.] butter
- 1/2 c. [2 oz] flour
Instructions – Part I: Prepare Dough
- Outfit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and water together, being careful to keep the yeast and salt separated at first. Slowly add milk and mix dough for a total of 3-1/2 to 4 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. It should be sticky, but if the dough is too sticky, gradually add an additional 1/2 c. flour.
- Turn out dough onto a floured surface and gently knead. Shape into a smooth round and place on a lightly floured sheet pan or bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature and 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. It should feel un-sticky on the outside but underdeveloped and rough on the inside.
Instructions – Part II: Prepare Beurrage
- In the same bowl you used to make the dough [no need to clean it], cream together butter and 1/2 c. flour until smooth. There should be no lumps of butter.
- Shape beurrage into a 5-inch square, about 1-inch tall. Refrigerate while the dough is resting.
Instructions – Part III: Assemble
- Once dough has rested, place on a floured surface and knock down slightly. Roll dough into a rectangle, 10-inches wide and 12-inches long, keeping the edges as square as possible. The dough should be about 1/2-inch thick.
- Use a rolling pin to shape the beurrage into a rectangle half the size of the dough, about 10-inches wide and 6-inches long. Place the beurrage in the center of the dough and fold both sides of the dough over the beurrage, sealing the edges.
- Turn the dough 90-degrees and roll into a 10-by-12 rectangle. Fold like a business letter, brushing off any excess flour. After folding, turn the dough. This is the first single turn. With every subsequent turn, you are further folding the butter and dough layers on top of one another.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
- Repeat the rolling, turning, and resting for a total of three single turns. After the third turn is complete, refrigerate or freeze until ready to shape. Do not refrigerator more than 2 days.
Instructions – Part IV: Shape and Bake
- Roll cold dough into a rectangle that is 3/16″ thick. To minimize waste, roll dough into a rectangle that is 12″ deep. Place dough in the fridge to rest if it is springing back.
- Cut the rectangle into two 6″ deep pieces with a pastry knife [or a pizza cutter!]. Put one back in the fridge while you work with the other.
- Working with the first strip, trim the edges and cut the dough into triangles which are 3″ wide and 6″ long.
- Work with each triangle on its own. First, elongate the triangle by pulling the three points. Then lay the elongated dough on a table and roll the first turn of the croissant, pinching to seal. [This is especially important if you are filling your croissants with pre-cooked ingredients like cheese, sausage, or Nutella — our favorites.] Continue to roll the croissant, elongating the arms as you go. Bend arms of the croissant toward the center and place it on a parchment lined pan with the point on the bottom and the hands facing away from the edges of the pan. Continue forming until all are complete.
- Proof croissants in an unheated oven until doubled in size. At moderate room temperature, they should proof in about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
- After proofing, egg wash croissants twice. Bake at 400-degrees for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375-degrees and bake until dark brown and very light weight. Smaller croissants will take about 15 minutes; larger croissants will take about 17 to 20 minutes.