Sunday, February 14, 2016


I can still vividly recall sitting in a bistro in Paris and biting into a freshly made croissant. I also remember how I groaned with delight after taking my first bite. That crispy, flaky outer layer and all those light and airy butter layers on the inside. It was heavenly.

A couple of weeks ago, I made crescent rolls. Having had success with them, and knowing that the overall technique was similar for croissants, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and give them a go.

Now while there may be some similarities in how the two rolls are made, like layering butter, folding the dough, making triangles, etc., croissants are way more time consuming and persnickety. The recipe I used (courtesy of Fine Cooking) is four pages long and a three day affair. 

I had been forewarned by others who had made croissants that they swore to never make them again, due to the time commitment and challenge of keeping the dough really, really, really cold. Factor in that I was going to attempt this while living in a tropical location, and I probably should have backed away. But no, it was just too tempting of a challenge to not try.

So if you have the time and inclination, follow me around the kitchen for The Great Croissant Challenge.

Day 1 - Make Dough

This was an easy step. All that needed to be done was to combine flour, cold water, cold milk, some sugar, a few tablespoons of softened butter, instant yeast, and salt. 

The dough was mixed on low speed in my stand mixer for three minutes, then on medium speed for three minutes. 

All the ingredients came together into a beautiful, silken ball of dough. 

Per the recipe, I transferred the dough to a lightly floured plate, sprinkled some flour on the top, wrapped it tight with plastic wrap and refrigerated the dough overnight.

As I said, easy-peasy, so far.

Day 2 - Make Butter Layer

Knowing from the recipe of what was in store for this day, I enlisted David's assistance at various points.

The first thing that needed to be done was to cut 10 ounces of butter into 1/2 inch slabs to form a 5 to 6 inch square. The butter square was placed on and covered with parchment paper, then whacked with the rolling pin so the butter slabs would adhere.

Once done, the butter layer was put in the fridge, while we tackled the dough that was made the day before.

Laminating the Dough

The dough was unwrapped and rolled into a 10 1/2 inch square. The butter layer was placed on top of the dough so that the points of the butter were centered along the sides of the dough.

The dough flaps were then folded over.

The edges of the dough were pressed together to make a tight seal, so the butter wouldn't escape.

Using the rolling pin, the dough was pressed to make it a bit longer initially, then rolled some more until it was 8 by 24 inches.

When we reached the desired length, the dough was folded over so there were three layers.

The buttery dough was put on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and placed in the freezer, along with the aluminium rolling pin, for 20 minutes. It was a good time to take a quick break on the porch.

Once the allotted time was up, the dough and rolling pin were taken out of the freezer. The whole rolling out to 8 by 24 inches, folding the dough into thirds, and freezing happened two more times.

It's at this juncture that I should mention that as the dough is really cold (a good thing), it's also very stiff. That means you really need to exert pressure while rolling to get the dough to the right length. Needless to say, your arms, shoulders, and neck muscles get a workout. And when you have skinny, chicken-like arms like me, well, let's just say that Ibuprofen was my good friend later that day.

After all the rolling and folding was done, the dough was put back on the baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and popped into the fridge overnight.

Day Three - Divide the Dough

I was feeling fairly confident at the end of Day Two and even started envisioning the delivery of awesome croissants to our friends, not to mention wolfing down one or five on my own. But before that dream could become a reality, there was lots of work to be done.

The first thing that needed to happen was to "wake the dough up" by firmly pressing the rolling pin along the length of the dough. This is done to begin to lengthen the dough.

Next we needed to roll the dough out to about 44 inches. Yes, you read that correctly. Forty four freakin' inches.

Thank goodness our island counter top is long. As an aside, you might notice that unlike the day before, all the bits and bobs that normally live on that counter space are gone. We wanted and needed as much room as possible.

David and I took turns rolling out the dough and we had to stop from time to time, because the dough was getting too warm. We folded the dough into thirds, popped it in the freezer for about 15 minutes and got to rolling again.

When we hit the 44 inch mark, David took over for the measuring and making of the triangles. I am hopelessly math challenged, I knew he was the man for the job.

It was at this point that things started getting a bit out of hand. The dough seemed awfully thin and it was getting too warm. Because of the thinness factor, not to mention the length, it was impossible to fold and freeze the dough. There was nothing else we could do but soldier on.

Shaping the Croissants

Once the triangles were cut, David used a paring knife to make a 1/2 inch notch in the center of the short side of each triangle. Each triangle was gently stretched to about 10 inches and rolled up.

Proofing and Baking the Croissants

An egg wash was brushed on each croissant and the rolls were left to proof for two hours.

After the proofing time was done, I had another wave of concern because I didn't see the layers of dough from the side. 

With figuratively crossed fingers, the rolls were placed in a pre-heated 425-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

They hadn't browned as much as they should, so I let them go for another 5 minutes.

They seemed to look okay at that point.

After they were left to cool a bit, but still warm, we tested one. Let's just say I wasn't instantly transported back to that Paris bistro. The outside was flaky enough but the inside was too doughy. 

Figuring I had nothing to lose at that point, I popped the rolls back into the oven to bake for another few minutes.

It didn't help. 

While edible, they certainly aren't croissants that I would proudly offer to friends. After doing more croissant research that afternoon, my theory is that not only did we let the dough get too warm, it also got overworked. I also don't think it needs to be rolled out to 44 inches. Something along the lines of 35 inches might to the trick, with more frequent visits to the freezer.

Will I attempt these again? You bet. But right now I need to pop a couple more Ibuprofen, take a deep breath, and psych myself up that I can make these happen.

Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup

For the last number of days, we've been having a cold front hovering over us. Now a cold front for Belize means the nighttime temps can drop into the mid-50s, and the daytime temps may make it to the low 80s. Factor in gusty winds and most folks here have donned long pants, hoodies, and even put on socks! I know many of you in the States are suffering the effects of an epic cold snap, and will roll your eyes at our weather, but trust me, once you get acclimated to heat and humidity, the dip in the temps comes as a shock.

It's just this type of weather that screams for something warm and comforting to eat. And when I think of comfort food, homemade tomato soup comes to mind. The fact that I would be near the stove also helped, in order to get warm.

Casting around my pantry and fridge, I decided to do a bit of a riff on just plain tomato soup. The first thing I did was cut off the top of a head of garlic, placed it in some foil, drizzled olive oil over it, then wrapped it up and put it into a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Within no time, our kitchen smelled of garlicky goodness.

With the garlic baking away, I warmed a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and added some chopped onion, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes.

When the onions were tender, two 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (with their juices) were added to the pot, along with the now soft and delicious smelling baked garlic cloves, and about a cup of homemade chicken stock.

Everything got stirred around and was left to simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, then tasted for seasoning. It needed just a pinch more salt.

I dug out the immersion blender and whizzed it through the diced tomatoes. We like a bit of texture in our soup, so I left some of the tomato chunks.

At this point, about a 1/2 cup of unsweetened condensed milk was added (cream or half & half would also work), along with some grated Parmesan cheese. The soup then simmered for about another 20 minutes.

While the soup was doing its thing, I julienned some basil and fried up some slices of bread. Boy, is fried bread awesome!

I put a thin slice of Parm on top of the soup, along with the strips of basil.

In spite of using canned tomatoes, this soup was packed with flavor. The roasted garlic permeated every spoonful, and brought a back note of sweetness. The crushed red pepper flakes offered up their zing, but not in any sort of overwhelming way. And the cheese lent a saltiness that balanced everything out. 

All in all, a great soup for chilly weather no matter where you live.

Bacon Chicken Potato Casserole

It will come as no surprise that this recipe (courtesy of 12 Tomatoes) had me with the word bacon. Bonus points for it also having potatoes and being super simple to put together.

Now you may note that one of the early steps in this recipe is to cut the potatoes into wedges and place them in lightly greased baking dish. I would strongly suggest that you par-cook the potatoes, either by boiling or steaming them, beforehand. Don't know about your potatoes, but I've never had mine be tender in only 30-35 minutes in the oven.

Anyhow, with the potatoes out of the way, the chicken thighs get seasoned with some salt and pepper, then dredged in a spice mixture of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne. 

The thighs get browned on both sides in a large skillet, then are placed on top of the potatoes.

There should be some spice mixture left over from the dredging. Whisk it up in some olive oil and drizzle over the chicken and potatoes.

On top of that, place crispy, crumbled bacon. The recipe calls for 1 cup, but I may have used a teeny bit more than that (ahem).

Put the whole shebang into a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. When the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the potatoes are tender, remove from the oven and let everything rest for about 5-8 minutes.

To appease the Vegetable Gods and my husband, I steamed some broccoli.

We thoroughly enjoyed this meal. The chicken was tender and the spice mixture added some zip, but wasn't overpowering. The potatoes soaked up the spices too and as some of the potato edges were browned, there was a crispy factor. And the broccoli, well, it's steamed broccoli. What else can I say?

But seriously, this is good, quick meal for any day of the week.


I love hummus. To me, it's a lovely carrier for all kinds of flavors. The only problem I had, when making it from scratch, was that it would always end up with a slightly grainy texture. It didn't matter how long I whizzed those chickpeas in the food processor, the end result was always the same.

As luck would have it, I happened upon a cooking article that solved the grainy texture mystery. It's the skins of the chickpeas that were causing the problem!

Anxious to see if this was really the case, I soaked some dried chickpeas overnight.

The next morning, the chickpeas were drained, placed in large pot, along with some smashed garlic cloves, and covered with water. Now here's an interesting tip to facilitate the removal of the skins: add about a teaspoon of baking soda into the cooking water. 

Once the chickpeas are tender, reserve about a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the chickpeas.

Place the drained chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water.

Now this next part is kinda' tedious, but worth the time and effort. Agitate the chickpeas (I just used my impeccably clean hands), and the skins will come off. Some will float to the top, but some will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Scoop those babies out, wherever they are, and discard. 

After removing as many of the skins as possible, put the chickpeas and the garlic cloves, along with some salt, in the food processor and pulse a few times to start breaking them down.

Scrape down the bowl, then add about 1/4 cup of tahini and the reserved cooking liquid. Continue to pulse away until everything is combined and smooth. I found I need to scrape down the bowl a couple of times to ensure everything was incorporated.

After reaching the point of having silky smooth hummus nirvana, scrape the mixture into a dish, then make a well in the middle. Drizzle olive oil into and around the well, then finish with a dusting of paprika.

In future batches, I plan on using roasted garlic to give it a more pungent kick. And when my basil plants are ready, I foresee dabbing some pesto on the top. The possibilities are endless!