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Project Croissant: la farine graham et noix de coco

We leave for Paris tomorrow and we have croissants on the brain! Paris is so many things, but anticipation of the city’s beautiful boulangeries, coupled with our love of Viennoiserie, has our tummies growling. Friends are hosting us in Paris and plan to introduce us to new and wonderful things. We hope to introduce them to some of our Paris favorites as well.

This will be our second visit to both Paris and the Champagne region. On our first visit, we rented an apartment in Paris for ten days, using it as a jumping off point for visits to Versaille and Reims. We discovered, usually by accident, some fantastic little spots including one of our favorites, the cheeky Legay Choc. Thanks to a crazy Icelandic volcano, our April visit to Paris was unusually quiet with near-empty museums and barely crowded churches.

This trip comes courtesy of a gala auction indulgence, entitling us to a week in a country home in Orbais L’Abbaye, a short drive from Chateau-Thierry. We’ve decided to visit in the fall so that we can take part in the local grape harvest or vendange. Champagne’s wine growers are in the midst of picking which should mean that the area will be bustling when we arrive. Here’s hoping our effort to learn a little French with Duolingo will be enough to get by with the people we meet!

Our plan is to take a photographic journey through the countryside trying our darnedest to document the specifics of our experiences so that we can share them with you. And as if Paris and Champagne weren’t enough, we’re heading to Belgium afterward for a few days of tasting and touring.  We thought that since Belgium is a short train ride away, we should  visit the country famous for its excellence in all four of the major food groups – beer, chocolate, fries and mayo. We expect we’ll witness things like sunrises and sunsets that are so spectacular that a photograph will never be able to capture the magic of the moment. Food and drink will be the focus. Still, we’re going to give it our best shot.

Instead of simply teasing you with thoughts of late mornings in lovely little Parisian cafes, noshing on buttery, flaky pain au chocolat and sipping cafe au lait, we’re sharing this David Leibowitz-inspired croissant, made from graham flour and a mix of butter and coconut oil. Hardly traditional, their rich, satisfyingly crunchy exterior and soft, yeasty center makes them irresistible nonetheless.

Using coconut oil is a challenge. This recipe only works in cool weathered areas or in a well air-conditioned kitchen. If your kitchen is more than 75 degrees and you’re refrigerator is space-challenged, this could be an issue. Aside from that, working with laminated doughs is relatively easy if you follow a few basic rules.

Graham flour is a somewhat unusual substitute for the flour typically  used to create croissants. It has a rich, nutty taste. Think graham crackers. The flour is also extremely nutritious; high in both fiber and protein, magnesium and B6. The challenge in using graham flour in a croissant application is the large pieces of wheat germ it contains. Graham flour is a course flour which is generally not used when making laminated doughs because the germ’s sharp edges may cause little tears in the layers. But it is a healthy four and if you can live with smaller flakes and crunchy shards, you’ll love the flavors of the nutty flour and butter. While you’re at it, use some of the dough to make your own pain au chocolat or almond croissant. Your options for gilding the lilly are endless.

There will be future croissant installments as we share what we learn from our experimenting. In the meantime, don’t be shy and give these a try. If you can mix a yeasted bread dough, you can make a laminated dough.

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Graham and Coconut Croissants
Makes 6 pastries

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup graham flour
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup cold coconut milk
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Butter Square
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (highest European Quality) room temperature
4 tablespoons coconut oil (softened solid form around 75 degrees)

Optional Chocolate and/or Chocolate coconut
a few small squares of favorite dark chocolate
1-2 tablespoons small crumbles or chips of chocolate
1-2 tablespoons coconut butter (not oil)

Mixing the dough/Day 1
In a small bowl, mix the all-purpose and graham flours together. Mix the yeast with the milk and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or stir it together in a large bowl. Stir in about one-third of the flour mixture and let the mixture stand until it starts to bubble, 10 to 15 minutes.

Mix in the rest of the flour and the salt, and stir until all the ingredients are combined. Knead the dough on a lightly floured countertop a few times, just enough to bring it together into a cohesive ball. There’s no need to overknead.

Put the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 6 hours.

Making laminated dough/Day 2
Put the cold butter and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until there are no lumps in the oil. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, mix the two together with a wooden spoon.) If the coconut oil is too soft put the mixture in the fridge. If too cold, zap for a few seconds in the microwave. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the counter or in a square bowl and place the butter mixture in the middle. Enclose it and shape into a 4- by 4-inch square. Chill the butter for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll the dough on a lightly floured countertop, so it forms a diamond shape with four flaps – two on top, two on the bottom, leaving the dough raised a bit in the center. (See the photo in the post.)

Unwrap the chilled square of butter and place it in the center. Fold the flaps over the butter, sealing the dough around the butter completely, and whack the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it out. Roll the dough into a 12- by 9-inch (30 by 22cm) rectangle.

Lift up one-third of the left side of the dough and fold it over the center. Then lift the right side of the dough over the center, to create a rectangle. Take the rolling pin and press down on the dough two times, making an X across it. Mark the dough with one dimple with your finger to remind you that you’ve made one “turn”, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for 45 to 60 minutes.

Do the next turn of the dough the same way, rolling and folding the dough again, making 2 dimples with your finger in the dough, then chill it for another 45 to 60 minutes.

Do the last turn and folding of the dough and let it chill for an hour.

If there are any large pieces of butter or coconut oil, remove from the dough.

Shaping croissants
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured countertop until it’s a 15 x 9-inch rectangle. Trim the edges with a sharp chef’s knife and cut the dough into 4 rectangles, then cut each into 3 rectangles diagonally, making 6 triangles, or to make chocolate croissants, cut in half (see photo for process).

For plain croissants
Take one triangle and roll to lengthen it to 11 inches (28cm) long. Starting at the wide end, roll the croissant up toward the point, not too-tightly. Set it point-side-up on the baking sheet and roll the rest of the croissants the same way.

For chocolate and chocolate/coconut
There are two methods you can use. For chocolate croissants, cut rectangles in half and place a square of chocolate in the center. Fold over the sides and place the seam on the bottom of the croissants.

Small chocolate chips or crumbles and/or coconut butter (or really, a lot of things) can be added to the triangles and then rolled as described above. (See pictures for better description.)

Proof or Freeze
To proof the croissants, cover the baking sheet with a large plastic bag (such as a clean trash bag), close it, and let the croissants proof in a warm place until the croissants are nearly doubled and puffed up, which will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To freeze the croissants before baking. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap before proofing and place the sheet pan in the freezer. Once the croissants are frozen, you can take them off the sheet pan and store in a large freezer bag.

To bake the frozen croissants. Take them out of the freezer the night before and place on a baking sheet, cover the croissants with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. The next morning if the croissants have not yet doubled in volume, keep covered with plastic and place the croissants in a warm place until doubled.

Bake
Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC.) Mix the egg with a pinch of salt and brush each croissant with the glaze. Bake the croissants for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat of the oven to 350ºF, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned. Some butter may seep out during baking, which is normal.

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Camping: Breakfast, s’mores, and more

We’ve been away from our computers, road-tripping through the west to run a couple of half-marathon races hosted by Vacation Races in Teton National Park in Wyoming and West Yellowstone, Montana. After what felt like marathon drives through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, we got to spend a week with family in the hills, camping and touring the parks, fishing, and running.

It has been too many years since our last summer camping trip. So it was a great treat to start June with a week of camping in Island Park, Idaho. It was beautiful, if unseasonably warm, but that didn’t stop us from building camp fires, roasting marshmallows and cooking on coals and grills.

Our camp cooking included the essential s’mores, grilled fresh trout from the nearby Island Park reservoir and Henry’s Lake, a delicious breakfast for dinner cooked completely al fresco, and an occasional smokey reprieve from the darned mosquitos that drove us crazy most of the time.

The trout we cooked over the fire was delicately smokey. It was perfect all by itself, but a light squeeze of fresh lemon made it irresistible. Having just come out of the lake, it was as fresh and delicious as it ever gets! And it was made all the better eaten under the canopy of a pine forest.

As good as that trout was, the most memorable meal is a bacon, egg and potato breakfast we prepared exclusively over the open fire. Breakfast at any time of day is a treat. We eat breakfast for dinner all the time. After a day of running and driving around Yellowstone Park, we wanted something hearty and comforting. And as convenient as it was to have an indoor, camp trailer kitchen at our disposal, it was too warm to stand inside when there was a perfectly good fire pit with a grill and plenty of fire wood just outside. We opted for an outdoor cooking adventure.

Bacon and eggs never disappoint. We had potatoes, carrots and onions in the camper pantry, so we diced them up, seasoned them, triple wrapped them in aluminum foil (an essential camping implement), and tossed them onto the hot coals of the fire. The “hobo pockets” need to be carefully placed so as not to burn the crap out of the potatoes. Layers of foil should protect them from the harshest temperatures while the veggies steam in the pouch. If you get it right, the potatoes will be cooked and the rest of the veggies will have a tiny bit of caramelization and very few black bits.

Cooking bacon on the fire was a breeze. We placed a sheet of aluminum foil over the grilling grate on the fire pit, directly over the hottest part of the fire, and used it like a griddle. The bacon cooked perfectly. It did produce a lot of rendered fat which in turn caused some flare-ups that scorched the foil, but the bacon was unscathed.

Our nephew had the clever idea of creating little aluminum trays to cook our eggs. With a few easy folds, we had our egg “pans” which we sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. We sat them on the foil we’d used for the bacon, which added a needed layer between the eggs and the hot fire. The eggs turned out perfectly!

When we opened the hobo pockets, the vegetables were nicely cooked, with very little scorched bits. They were a complete success. We topped them with our “fried” eggs, helped ourselves to a couple slices of bacon, and sat out in the open air, tucking in to awesome camp food and washing it all down with a cold beer.

Our time in West Yellowstone included a volunteer stint at the s’mores table at the Yellowstone Half Marathon Expo. We saw a lot of toasted marshmallows that evening. There is no doubt of the s’more’s importance in the American camping experience, though there is some diversity of thought on the “proper” steps in the s’more ritual. We toasted our graham crackers on the fire grill with a piece of chocolate melting on it while we toasted our marshmallows. Our marshmallows are slowly roasted and tan, not extinguished torches, but we appreciate everyone has their own idea of the perfect fire toasted marshmallow, so no judgement. S’mores are best by a campfire. There’s no other way to get a smokey accent on that sweet mess. But there are endless ways to play with the idea of the s’more at home. More on that in future posts.

Happy Summer!

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Open Fire Fried Eggs and Bacon

bacon
eggs

For the bacon.

Spread a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil over the grill of an open fire. Cook the bacon until crisp. Careful of grease fires.

For the eggs.

Use aluminum foil to make a little tray to cook the eggs, spray with non-stick cooking spray. More aluminum for lids. Cook to one’s liking.

Hobo Hash Pack

2-3 potatoes
1 onions
2 cups root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, etc.
2 tablespoons or more olive oil or melted butter
1 tablespoon dijion mustard (optional — especially for 10 year olds)
salt and pepper
cooking spray
Heavy Duty Aluminum foil

Cut potatoes, onions, and root vegetables into similar sized cubes, and add to a bowl, add the olive oil or butter, dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Toss to coat and set aside.

Tear 8 square pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil about. Place a cup to a cup-and-a-half of the potato mixture to each of four of the foil packs. Fold the foil over in half and each pack on another sheet of foil and fold it over the pack, so you are double layering the aluminum around the potato mixture.

Place the foil packs in the coals of a fire and cook for 30-40 minutes. Turning the packs every 10 minutes or so to keep from burning.

s’mores

1 box graham crackers
1 chocolate bars, broken into pieces
1 bag of marshmallows

Over an open fire with a barbecue grill, place two graham crackers on the coolest side of the grill. Careful not to burn the cracker. Place a small piece of chocolate on top and watch to keep from burning. You just want a warm cracker with just a barely gooey chocolate.

With a marshmallow or two on a stick, toast over an open flame to one’s liking. I prefer just a barely toasty marshmallow. Gooey on the inside and a light toast on the outside. This will take patience. Go slow.

Once the marshmallow is toasted. Put on top of the graham cracker with chocolate. Top with the other one and enjoy the gooey, yumminess.