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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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Grain Bowls with Miso Dressing

We recently discovered the wonder of the homemade grain bowl. With easy, relatively inexpensive make-ahead components, whipping up a week’s worth of quick meals is a snap. Even better than their simplicity, all those protein-rich grains, seeds and legumes are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you’re looking for nutritional bang for the buck, grain bowls are a great way to go. Oh, and they’re delicious, so there’s that!

A dish like a grain bowl is naturally variable. What goes into the bowl and in what proportions or combinations, is limited only by our imaginations. A grain bowl obviously calls for some sort of grain, but that could include any whole kernel or seed. If you need a plant-based complete protein, combining a whole grain like brown rice and a legume like lentils will do the trick.

We add a variety of fresh or roasted veggies to the bowl, depending on the temperature outside and what’s available in the veggie bins. For texture and color we like to include thinly shaved cabbage, fennel, or radish (or all three), as well as diced Persian cucumbers, roasted peppers, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

To keep it light on our bellies, we start with a base salad of chopped romain or arugula that we dress with a simple vinaigrette. After everything’s added to the bowl, the whole thing gets a little drizzle of a thick, aged balsamic vinegar. And then, if that weren’t enough, the top gets a drizzle of garlicky miso vinaigrette. It’s OK. The grains and beans in the bowl need the kick of flavor.

This may look like a lot to assemble, but grains are fairly quick cooking and require very little attention. With a couple of sauce pans, a measuring cup, and a kitchen timer (or two).

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Miso Vinaigrette
These are all approximate quantities. Every cook should personalize something like vinaigrette. Play with the flavors here and remember, that miso is very salty, so if you add salt, be careful with it.

1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons walnut oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
Sesame oil
Black pepper to taste

Add miso and vinegar to a salad bowl and mash miso with the back of a spoon, incorporating the vinegar, until it forms a thin paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to blend. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Grain Bowl Basics
These grain quantities, cooked and stored in the fridge, will provide approximately 8 servings throughout the week:

1 cup 11 grain blend, dry (or your choice of rice, wheat, millet, whole oats, rye, barley, etc.)
1 cup French lentils, dry (the little ones)
1 cup quinoa, dry
1 bay leaf

For the lentils:
Lentil should be sorted to help remove tiny stones and clumps of dirt, then rinsed under cold water to remove dust.

Add lentils to a small pot with enough water to cover them by a couple of inches and turn the heat to medium. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water and the bay leaf to the pot. Once water comes to a boil, turn stove down and simmer lentils over low heat for approximately 25 minutes. The lentils are done when they’re tender but easily hold their shape.

For the 11 grain blend:
Add 11 grain blend (or brown rice) to a medium pot along with two cups of water. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water. Cover and set pot over medium heat. The moment the water comes to a boil, turn heat to lowest possible flame and keep the pot covered. Cook grain for 40 minutes. Leave covered and remove from heat and let stand for at least 10 minutes.

For the quinoa:
In a mesh strainer, rinse quinoa well to remove dust and the slightly bitter resin on the outer coating. Add quinoa to a pot along with two cups of water. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water and set the pot over medium heat. Bring pot to a boil, reduce to lowest heat possible and cover. Cook for approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered.