For our final week on lessons learned through cooking, I made something that I’ve never felt skilled enough to try: croissants. (For more information on our month-long challenge, read the first post in our series, "The Perfect Sandwich Loaf." You can also check out our posts from weeks two and three: "Practicing Samosas" and "In Pursuit of the Popover (and other lessons)").
I think there’s only one bigger challenge that I’d love to try as a home-baker, and that’s French macarons. (As much as I’d love to have that experience, it’ll have to wait for a time when my husband, who is allergic to most tree nuts, is away, and my child doesn’t need my eyes on him almost every second.)
Baking is very different from cooking; it’s much more of a science. When you bake, there are certain rules that you need to follow if you want to end up with a particular product. There are ratios to be preserved. Cooking is more of an art. It’s adaptable. If you want more of this spice, add more. Don’t have fresh basil on hand? You can probably substitute dried or go with another flavor. Luckily, I’ve been building up some necessary components of baking, like using a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients and knowing when I need my dough to be a little bit tacky.
If you’ve never tried croissants, I want to give you a snapshot of the process.
(1) Prepare the beginnings of the dough. Let it sit so the yeast gets activated.
(2) Prepare the butter layer that will go inside the dough.
(3) Shape the butter into a square and chill.
(4) Complete the dough by adding the remaining ingredients. Shape it into a bigger square than the butter layer and chill.
(5) Take out the dough, roll it into an even bigger square, then put the butter square on top of it, wrapping the dough layer thoroughly around the butter (see picture). This is called laminating the dough.
(6) Roll out the dough into an even larger rectangle.
(7) Fold the dough into thirds, like you’re folding a letter. This is called turning the dough.
(8) Turn the dough again. Refrigerate.
(9) Turn the dough twice more. Refrigerate for longer. (There’s a great math problem in how many layers you end up with!)
(10) Split the dough in half and roll out one half of the dough (I froze the other half).
(11) Trim off the edges (this helps all those layers rise well).
(12) Cut the dough in thirds lengthwise and then in half. Take each rectangle and cut it diagonally so that it forms two triangles (see picture).
(13) Stretch each triangle, cut a slit in the center of the base, and roll them towards you.
(14) Refrigerate the shaped croissants.
(15) Let the croissants come to room temperature and expand.
(16) Preheat the oven. Brush the croissants with an egg and water mixture.
-I’d add: (18) Eat warm with butter, jam, or Nutella.
-I promise you that this is the recipe, in brief. If you want to read the more detailed version, here’s the recipe I followed (https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/bakers-croissants-recipe).
As a rule-follower, I tend to do a decent job with the things I bake. I’m a stickler, so I check and re-check the steps in an effort to get it right. By doing this, I had four key take-aways, three of which are related, so I’ll share those first.
(1) It is essential that you plan for, and include, enough time for the dough to relax and chill. In education, I think we can replace “dough” with “students.” Time to decompress, think, and reflect is necessary, not luxurious or wasteful.
(2) Asking the dough to stretch (by applying the pressure of a rolling pin) requires time, patience, finesse, and skill. When we ask students to stretch (over and over again), teachers need to give them time and be patient. Teachers knowing how to apply the just right amount of pressure (as well as where to apply it and when) asks them to have a deep understanding of their students (i.e., the finesse and skill).
(3) The laminated dough will let you know when it’s gotten too warm by literally busting open. The butter will come through the dough layers, and then it’s time to stop, tend, and repair. When teachers don’t give kids the time necessary to relax, pressure builds. They get anxious. Because human emotions are more complicated than butter, we see a range of responses. They might turn inward, they might get angry, they might be defiant; all of these (plus a host of other reactions) are entirely understandable. So when the pressure builds, it’s necessary for us to see what’s happening and stop trying to force them to stretch. We can’t simply keep going. We need to dignify and validate their feelings, tend to them, and then help them figure out what they need to do to return to a workable state.
I said there were four things, so here’s the one that isn’t like the others:
(4) We don’t ask our students to create enough. Around step 13, as I was trying to perfectly shape my croissants, I realized I wanted them to look like the pastries I could purchase at a bakery. I was trying to bring to life someone else’s idea. If we’re thinking through the lens of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was Applying, not Creating. And I realized, I wanted to Create. This thing that I thought was my biggest challenge actually isn’t. My biggest challenge is thinking of something that hasn’t been made before and bringing it into being.
So, in the spirit of loving learning, I’m giving myself a new challenge: I’m going to create a dessert. And because I see the connection between how parenting is a hugely creative endeavor (what a beautiful way to bring something unique into being), I’m going to create a brand-new dessert for Sully’s second birthday.
Stay tuned for the results!
Kris and I learned an incredible amount this past month by seeing what lessons we could learn about education by being open to new learning. Feeling inspired? Let us know what you’re trying!
Images by Sara Bailey