It should be immediately apparent by the clean, geometric lines and bright red candy stripes of dough that the chocolate raspberry croissant at Epicerie Boulud is unlike any other croissant in the city. It's not like the pillowy specimens found in many a coffee shop, and it's not the sort of croissant that will rain flakes all down your shirtfront. It has a crisp outside and a tender, buttery sweet inside, and layers so precise you can count them like tree rings. In place of the firm rods of chocolate found in most pain au chocolate, a generous blob of silky raspberry chocolate ganache flows.
This striking pastry, which appeared on the counter of Daniel Boulud's uptown cafe about six months ago, is the work of Francois Brunet, who took charge of the bread and viennoiserie (French for any sort of flaky, yeasted pastry like a croissant) at all of Boulud's restaurants about a year ago. Here Brunet and his sous chef, Melanie Legoupil show Eater the three-day process behind this killer croissant.
The process starts with making two doughs, a "white" one (just plain croissant dough) and a red one. Normally the kitchen churns out 40 kilos of dough at a time. Brunet has scaled down for the sake of demonstration, but he'd rather stick to giant batches because he knows the timing and the measurements by heart, and because the dough mixes faster and stays cool longer. As much Brunet's work relies on precision, it's also guided by intuition. So many factors can affect the process — the size and speed of the mixer, the temperature of the ingredients, the temperature of the room, the humidity — and an expert baker can sense them all. "We know when it's going to rain about six hours before," Brunet explains.
Both doughs are made with a mix of flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter, and lots of cake yeast. For flavor and more rise, they also get a dose of levain, a bubbly natural yeast starter that has been kept thriving as long as the Boulud restaurants have been making bread. Brunet also throws in a leftover chunk of dough from his last batch of croissants, which he says adds extra flavor and complexity.
The red dough uses a raspberry levain, and has some raspberry flavoring and a hefty dose of food coloring added to it. When all is mixed, folded, and baked, it will form a single, paper-thin layer of each croissant.
This sort of multicolored fruit croissant is relatively unheard of in the U.S., but Brunet emphasizes that he's not the one who came up with the technique. That's the work of David Bedu, a renowned French baker who now has a shop in Florence, Italy. The style is popular in Europe, and croissants in every color are a common sight.
"You can also do this with chocolate," Brunet notes as the red dough churns away, slowly turning a uniform shade of Barbie fuchsia. "You just use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of food coloring," he explains, and pulls up an Instagram photo of some chocolate pistachio cream croissants he's been developing to show the result (those will hit Epicerie Boulud counters later this fall). Don't expect to see other crazy colored fruit croissants, though. "I don't like the food coloring," Brunet says, shaking his head at the thought of a bakery banking on novelty, turning out green and blue and rainbow croissants.
After mixing, Brunet divides the dough in half and quickly, deftly, tucks and rolls it into two smooth ovals.
The red dough is divided into smaller pieces, based on Brunet's intuitive sense of proportion. These rest for about 10 minutes so that the gluten relaxes and they're easier to shape, then Brunet gently rolls, pats, and stretches them into rectangles.
The corners must be "very square," because in the morning Brunet will roll the dough out by passing it through the heavy rollers of a dough sheeter, which will amplify any slightly uneven edge into a wildly malformed shape. The dough slabs go on a sheet tray, get wrapped in plastic, and sit in the fridge overnight.
On day two it's time to roll out the dough. Operations move to a cold room where a dough sheeter the size of an operating table occupies one corner. Brunet has already beaten and rolled out a large chunk of butter into a perfect, thin square.
He runs the dough through the sheeter until it's just the right size to wrap all the way around the butter like a present.
He pinches the dough together, and lets the butter hang out either side to make sure that every inch of dough has a layer of butter between it.
This is so that, as the dough is rolled and folded like a letter, then rolled and folded and rolled and folded again, the alternating layers of butter and dough are clean and even and always exactly the same thickness. Brunet is a stickler for precision and has an eye for geometry (just look at his Instagram), which explains the unusually clean lines of all his viennoiserie. "If I don't have my layers, I'm very upset." As the croissants bake, the butter melts and the dough puffs, leaving behind that perfect stack of flaky pastry layers on the outside and an airy, honeycomb structure on the inside.
Each time the dough is rolled and folded, it has to rest for an hour before it can be rolled again, otherwise, the overworked dough can tear.
It's a long, tedious process, but after the third roll and fold, Brunet rolls out the red dough to fit over the layered slab.
He rolls the whole thing to an even thickness, then cuts it in half and stacks it so he can cut two pieces at a time.
Finally with a divider that looks like a row of pizza wheels and a series of quick cuts, he slices the whole thing into tall, skinny triangles.
Quickly, with just his fingertips, Brunet rolls each triangle into a tiny croissant.
These will rest in the fridge again overnight, then spend two hours in a warm, humid proofing chamber, where they'll rise until they look like slightly greasy pink and white marshmallows.
Before the croissants go in the oven, Brunet uses a heavy duty spray bottle to spritz them with beaten egg. Then he loads the trays into an enormous, floor-to-ceiling convection oven, which has a rack inside that rotates slowly, like a vertical rotisserie, as the pastries puff and turn golden. About 13 minutes later, they're done.
Meanwhile, Legoupil has made the ganache to fill the croissants.
She brings a pot of cream to a boil, then pours it over a bowl of chocolate discs. The chocolate must be 61 percent cocoa, she says, "otherwise it's too sweet." As she whisks the chocolate and the hot cream together, the whole thing melts into a smooth, thick liquid. This will thicken as it cools, and Legoupil lets it sit for a few hours, stirring occasionally, until it's the texture of frosting. Only then does she stir in the raspberry jam because, as she explains, the taste comes through better that way. If you mix the jam in while the chocolate is still hot, it dissolves into the mixture, and is masked more by the chocolate.
Once the croissants have cooled a little, Brunet takes a knife and slices a little hole in the bottom. With a pastry bag, he squeezes in a blob of ganache, and within a second the croissant is filled. After three days this croissant is ready to be sold, for a few dollars, as someone's breakfast.