By Mercedes Wilby
Last week I went to Chef Jacques Torres' demo on viennoiserie. I was curious to see what Mr. Chocolate would do. Obviously he is a brilliant pastry chef who made a name for himself before he opened his chocolate shop. Chef Jacques explained that other than chocolate, the first few units we study in the Classic Pastry Arts program (tarts, bread/viennoiserie, etc) are his favorite things to make. I guess it makes sense when you think about it. There is something incredibly satisfying and surprisingly relaxing about making a croissant or an apple tart. Plus is there anything better than a freshly baked pain au chocolat?
First things first, he talked about yeast. He likes using fresh yeast. It is sold in bricks and kept cold. As he explained, it should always be crumbly... if it's not, it's too old. For both the croissant and brioche recipes he used, he mixed all the ingredients together, not bothering to make a preferment.
Next, Chef Jacques showed us how to make croissant dough (which can be used to make pain au chocolat and danish, among other things.) The procedure was more or less what we learn in class. He did emphasize the importance of a long fermentation—you should always let your croissant dough proof overnight in the fridge, he said multiple times, as it helps develop the flavor and cut the sweetness. This wasn't news to me, but it was nice to have the concept reinforced. What was news was that you can replace about 10-15% of the sugar in a croissant recipe with trimoline, an invert sugar. This will give it a good flavor and a nicer color when it is baked. I'll have to try this sometime—I'm really curious to see how it works.
Then he showed us the process of turning the dough. His method is to cover 2/3 of the rolled out dough with butter, then fold the dough up in the equivalent of a single letter turn. Then roll out and make one double turn and then one single turn. That's it. Let proof overnight in the fridge, roll out, cut, bake, eat. Speaking of eating, he served fresh croissants and pains au chocolat. There is nothing better than a pain au chocolat fresh out of the oven—it's light and buttery and the chocolate is still melted. Gosh they were good.
For the bomboloni, he made a "light" brioche dough. Since the dough would be fried in oil, he explained, you don't need so much fat, so he cut down on the eggs and butter (but still added plenty). He showed us when to add the cold (but slightly softened) butter: once the gluten in the dough is developed enough that it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl and forms a ball. It takes a while for the butter to become fully incorporated into the dough, so you should add it cold to ensure it doesn't melt from the friction of the dough rubbing against the bowl—you should also use a sturdy mixer or you could end up burning out the motor (as Chef Jacques almost did).
To fry them, form them into tight balls and let them proof. Then drop them into a pot of 160°C oil and cook until they are golden on both sides. Take them out of the oil and roll them in granulated sugar then fill them, apparently any filling is acceptable. Chef Jurgen (who happened to be sitting in on the demo) suggested his favorite, apricot jam. Chef Jacques scoffed (jokingly, of course) saying that apricot jam is cheap and in France they use raspberry jam. His favorite filling is pastry cream—what he was using in the demo—because when you throw a pastry cream filled bomboloni at someone it will stick to them better than a jam filled one would. Good reasoning, I think!
Regardless of the relative merits of fillings and how they function in food fights, the pastry cream filled fresh bomboloni he served were incredible. (A shout out to whoever was in the kitchen assisting him. You all did a great job making a ton of them.)
Chef Jacques, interestingly, will not use pastry cream powder for his pastry cream, opting instead for cornstarch. He pointed out that no one really knows what is in pastry cream powder. Chefs Jurgen and Rudy tried to object but it was futile. Chef Jacques was right, they didn't really know exactly what was in it. Honestly, I couldn't taste a difference in the pastry cream, except to note that it was exceptionally smooth—partly because he enriched it with a bit of butter once it cooled slightly.
Overall an excellent demo; I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I can't wait to try out some of the tricks he showed us at home... and then eat the results!
Mercedes Wilby is a student in Level 3 of the Classic Pastry Arts program. On her blog, Pastry Place, she chronicles her culinary exploits at The International Culinary Center, throughout NYC, and in her own kitchen.