the six-hour pastry {and friends} that are worth it

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It’s only when you open your heart — even if it’s a crack of light from a door slightly parted, opened just a touch, a hair — that love, the rush of it, the thrust of it, will come hurtling through. Eventually, the weight of others and the enormity of their love, will rip the door from its hinges. At first you’ll feel something resembling assault, but you’ll give in. Acquiesce. You’ll surrender, because the risk you take in letting people in is worth more than bolting up your body and living, loveless, alone. Every few years I have to remind myself of this. There are times when I’ve wanted to soft-knuckle doors, wanted to press send, wanted to open my mouth and let all the moth balls flutter out. But pride and fear always intercede; they’re old lovers you can’t quite shake, and they’re selfish and cruel in the way they want you all for themselves. And the more you prepare your break-up speech and practice it in front of mirrors and incant it like song on the subway, the more you assure them that it’s not about them, it’s about you, their grip on you tightens, threatens to enervate. You can’t abandon us, they say. We’re the only ones who never leave you.

This is true. But some departures are necessary, while others are utterly heartbreaking.

This week I found myself sobbing in the street, wiping tears on subways — and those who know me well know that my emotions are carefully guarded, controlled. Rarely do I ask for help. Rarely do I well up. Rarely do I lay my heart down on the table, knowing it’s the greatest hand being played. I’m intensely private, enormously proud, forever afraid, and isn’t it, well, sad, that all the doors flung open because I’m frightened of my cat dying.

This week a former coworker became a beautiful friend. She checked in on me daily, sent texts, emails and called, even as I recoiled, even when I assured her I was fine, just fine, but she pressed on. And part of me secretly wanted her to. When I was at the vet’s office on Friday, she helped me with the tough questions and held my hand, made me laugh and held Sophie close, and I stared at my friend with a look that resembled awe.

We spent the day together, eating pastry very much like this one, and when she left I quietly thanked her and sent her this brief note: Thank you for being a beautiful friend.

I’m trying so very hard to open up my heart, to let all the magic in. Let’s hope it’s not at the expense of my beloved Sophie, because there’s room! I swear it! There’s room for you, too.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe for Kouign-Amann adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too. Read my review of her cookbook on Medium!
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast, or .35oz/10g fresh cake yeast
2 3/4 cups/385g unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup/2 sticks/225g unsalted butter, at room temperature + 1 tbsp melted
1 1/2 cups/300g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and coating
Stand mixer, 12-cup muffin tin

DIRECTIONS
Mix the dough: Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let stand for a few minutes to dissolve and get frothy. Add the flour, salt and the tablespoon of melted butter, and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes, or until the dough comes together and is smooth. If the dough is too wet, add 2-3 tbsp of flour. If it’s too dry, add 2-3 tsp of water. The dough should be soft and supple and pull away from the side of the bowl when the mixer is on.

Proof the dough: to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour to allow the dough to proof. Then transfer the dough to the fridge and leave it for another hour.

Roll the dough: Transfer the dough from the fridge to a generously floured workspace. Roll it into a rectangle about 16in/40.5cm wide and 10in/25cm from top to bottom. You better believe I broke out a tape measure several times during this process because the dough is never as long or as wide as you think it will be. With your fingers, spread the butter directly over the right half of the dough, spreading it in a thin, even layer to cover the entire right half. Fold the left half of the dough over the butter, and press down to seal the butter between the dough layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the rectangle is about 10in/25cm wide and 8in/20cm top to bottom, and generously flour the underside and top of the dough.

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Turning the dough, part 1: Press the dough down evenly with the palms of your hands, flattening it out before you start to roll it out. Slowly begin rolling the dough from side to side into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. the dough might be a little sticky, so gain, be sure to flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Using a knife, lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Life the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then lift the left third of the dough and flip it on top of the middle and the right thirds (life folding a letter). Your dough should now be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom, and 1 1/2in/4cm thick. Rotate the dough clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 12in/30cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom with the folded seam on top. The process of folding in thirds and rotating is called turning the dough.

Turning the dough, part 2: Repeat the process once more, patiently and slowly roll the dough into a long rectangle, flipping it upside down as needed as you roll it back and forth, and then fold the dough in thirds. The dough will be a bit tougher to roll out and a bit more elastic. Welcome to the world of gluten forming.

The moment of glorious rest: Return the dough to the baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic wrap under the dough as if you were tucking a little kitten into bed (SOPH is clearly on the brain as I re-type these epic instructions). Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, allowing it to rest and to be rolled out yet again. Don’t leave it in for LONGER than 30 minutes as the butter will harden and you won’t be able to roll it out properly and you will likely throw it against the wall.

Turning the dough, part 3: Remove the dough and place it on a well-floured work surface (still with me? I know, it’s epic, but it’s worth it) with a long side of the rectangle facing you and the seam on top. Again, roll the dough into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough, and use the rolling pin to press it in. Give the dough another fold into thirds and turn it again as previously instructed. The sugar will spill out. DON’T FREAK OUT. Just shove it back in.

Turning, rolling, resting, the epic journey: Once again roll the dough into a rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough and press it in using your rolling pin. Give the dough one last fold into thirds and turn. Return the dough to the baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, liberally butter the cups of the muffin tin and set aside.

Another roll, you’re almost there: Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle your work surface generously with sugar, place the dough on the sugar, and sprinkle the top with more sugar. Roll the dough into a long rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom. The sugar will make the dough gritty and sticky, but it will also make the dough easier to roll out. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. You should have two strips of dough, each 12in/30.5cm wide and 4in/10cm from top to bottom. Cut each strip into six 4in/10cm squares.

Home stretch. You’re about to hit your last rise: STAY WITH ME. Working with one square at a time, fold the corners of the square into the center and press down so they stick in place. I didn’t do this correctly (click here for how they should ultimately look), but who cares because they were INSANELY DELICIOUS. Shape and cup the dough into a little circle, and press the bottom and the top into more sugar so that the entire pastry is coated with sugar. Place the dough circle, folded side up, into a cup of the prepared muffin tin. It will just barely fit. Repeat with all the remaining squares. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the cakes proof in a warm place (78-82F/25-27C is ideal) for one hour and 20 minutes, or until the dough has puffed up.

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Pre-heat the oven, kids: About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C and place a rack in the center of the oven. I would also recommend that you place a cookie sheet under your muffin tin when you’re ready to bake as there will be some spillage.

You’re hitting the oven!: When the dough is ready, place the muffin tin in the oven, reduce the heat to 325F/165C, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool until you can just handle them, then gently pry them out of the muffin tin onto a wire rack and leave them to cool upside down. They are extremely sticky and will stick to the muffin tin if you don’t pop them out while they are still warm. Let cool completely before serving.

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4 thoughts on “the six-hour pastry {and friends} that are worth it

  1. Sorry to hear that Sophie’s been sick and hope that you get good news from the vet at some point. Pastry-making sounds like a good distraction – funnily enough, I attended a Joanne Chang demo yesterday at a book store near my house. She’s an excellent instructor and her bakeries are to die for – my husband works above one of the locations, which is far too dangerous for me. How did you learn of her cookbooks? I think of Flour as being such a Boston institution. And for a baker such as yourself, I’d suggest her first cookbook, that’s where the majority of the baked good recipes can be found.

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  2. So sorry about your cat. We have one nearing the end too. Joanne is a buddy and any one of her recipes is worth the price of the book. If you haven’t made them yet, go for the Lemon Squares next. They’re sublimely tart. Ken

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  3. You remind me of me, but I think you’re much braver. I know I waste too many days hiding, but I haven’t felt capable of much else for a while now.

    I hope dear Sophie is/will be okay. She’s beautiful and I know how important she is to you.

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