Cooking frozen croissants

Time saver: Phil responds to popular demand… (later he’ll be offering advice on how to cook toast, make tea, etc.)

OK, so this is a bit of weird one. For some reason though, people are ending up getting directed to my croque-croissant page when they search for “how to make frozen pre cooked croissants”. No kidding.

Because I’m a helpful guy (really) I figure I may as well give the people what they want. So here it is:

Your Guide to Cooking Frozen Croissants (pre-proved and otherwise)

Frozen croissants are essentially awesome. You get to make fresh, hot croissants, without any of the effort of making them. If you use a little imagination you can pretend you spent hours toiling away, preparing the pastry, and folding to perfection. And then you forgot all about it, et voila, beautiful smells and croissants out of the oven.

So, you’ve got hold of some of these frozen delights, but presumably they either didn’t come with instructions, or you lost them. Careless of you, but luckily Phil’s here to save the day.

First off, you need to determine whether your croissants are pre-proved or not. That just means you need to know whether the croissants have been left to rise already, or whether you’re going to have to do it yourself. If the packaging doesn’t say, then the best way to judge is simply by size. Un-risen croissants are surprisingly small compared to their final size. If the croissants look tiny, then you’ll probably have to prove them. If they look croissant-sized, then you won’t. (Note that just to make things fun it’s slightly trickier than that, since you can also buy mini-croissants. You’re just going to have to make a call, but maybe a sign of that would be the sheer number of them.)

For pre-proved croissants you normally don’t even have to thaw them. Just pre-heat the oven to about 180-190°C (355-375°F), then bake the croissants for around 15 minutes, till golden brown.

For the non-pre-proved croissants, you normally just lay them out on an baking tray (lined with baking paper) and leave them to thaw overnight (or for around 8 hours). After thawing they should expand a lot. Be careful not to leave them too long, or they’ll end up collapsing down on themselves. Pre-heat the oven to around 180-190°C (355-375°F) and bake the croissants for around 10-15 minutes, till golden brown.

For both kinds you can improve the appearance of the final product by giving the croissants an egg wash before you put them in the oven. Just whisk one egg together with a tablespoon of water, then brush over the croissants.

Five minute artisan bread

Time saver: the bread takes five minutes to make, and you want to save time?? OK, OK, Phil reveals a simple bread recipe that also doubles as a great pizza dough (and keeps for two weeks in the fridge!).

Sliced Artisan LoafWhen Mum last came to visit she raved enthusiastically about a new bread recipe she’d come across and encouraged me to make it. Actually, she’d started raving about it a couple of weeks (months?) before she arrived, so when she did she brought the ingredients with her and whipped up a batch in no time. And just as she’d claimed, the results were pretty impressive.

Mum didn’t invent the recipe, and neither did I – it “originates” here – but this is the version that Mum dictated to me from memory, with some minor edits by me. (I put originates in quotes because it’s a pretty simple bread recipe involving just four ingredients, and people have been eating bread for thousands of years. The odds of these guys having uniquely stumbled across this particular combination are pretty slim. There’s a separate discussion here that we’ll have to get into sometime – who owns/invents a recipe? At what point have you made enough changes to a recipe to call it your own? Most recipe books really just contain versions of existing recipes, and a pretty big part of cooking is reproducing things people can recognise, so there’s an awful lot of copying and duplication going on.)

The basic idea with this bread is that you mix up a dough, leave it to rise for a couple of hours, then stick it in the fridge where it will keep for up to two weeks. Whenever you want a loaf of bread you grab a lump of dough, let it rise for a bit then bake it. Voila, fresh bread. And as I’ve mentioned previously – the dough can also be used for pizza bases on demand. (Don’t underestimate the brilliance of this feature. Stuck for dinner ideas? Bust out some dough and whip up a pizza or calzone in no time.)

The loaves it makes aren’t huge, but enough to feed two people comfortably for lunch. They’re best eaten the day they’re made, but will keep for a couple of days. Towards the end of their life they’re probably best sliced and toasted – I find a bit of avocado on some toasted artisan bread pretty irresistible. The loaves are supposed to be round, but for some reason mine always turn out oval shaped – something to do with how I’m cutting the slashes into the top.

And did I mention that there’s no kneading involved?

Small Artisan LoafFive Minute Artisan Bread – makes 4 small loaves (or 5 12″ pizza bases)

  • 6½ c plain unbleached flour (not “high grade” – you want 10.5g -12g gluten per 100g, also, all flour in NZ is unbleached)
  • 1½ Tbsp lightly-textured salt (e.g. fine rock salt, salt flakes etc, fine table salt too fine, rock salt too rocky – roughly 25g salt) (UPDATE: I decided to experiment with iodised table salt to see what difference it made. It didn’t really make any, so feel free to use it. I used a little less, around 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp with no ill effect. If you’re worried about iodine deficiency, then it’s a good option.)
  • 1½ Tbsp dried yeast (any yeast will work including Surebake, you can reduce the amount of yeast if left to sit longer during the initial rise. I’ve been using about 2 tsp of dried active yeast.)
  • 3 c warm water
  1. In a large bowl, put warm water and yeast and stir.
  2. Add salt and flour and mix with a large wooden spoon. Should be a wet dough mixture, mix till combined – it should look rough and wet (for bread).
  3. Cover it with a non-airtight lid (e.g. lid or Gladwrap) until it rises up and then starts to flatten off and fall. This should take around two hours, but depends on the amount of yeast/ambient temperature etc. (It’s also fine if you forget about it and leave it overnight.) Then put it in the fridge.
  4. After 2 hours in the fridge (approx) it’s firm enough to handle. Sprinkle part of the top with a little flour. Grab a handful of the floured dough, pull it up then cut it off with scissors, for a lump of dough about the size of a large grapefruit.
  5. Have a bowl/baking sheet ready with some flour and drop the lump of dough into it, then “cloak”, forming into a rounded boule shape by stretching the top layer and tucking the dough underneath. It’s fine to use a bit of flour to do this.Dough Shaped Into Boule
  6. Put it on a sheet of baking paper and leave it uncovered for 40-90 mins. Flour the top, then cut six or so slashes across the top of it with a sharp knife – about 1-2cm deep.Artisan Dough With Slashed Top
  7. Place bread on a pre-heated tray (if you have a pizza stone, use it) in the middle of a hot oven (e.g. around 250°C with fan bake), with an empty oven tray beneath it (on a lower rack). As you put the bread in, add 1 cup of water to the empty oven tray. (This will cause steam resulting in a glossier finish.) Bake for around 25-30 minutes – you can check after 17 mins or so to see if the bread is cooking evenly, and turn it if not. The longer you cook it, the thicker and crispier the crust – you get a really good crust after baking for 30 minutes and after you take it out of the oven the bread will make a faint crackling sound as it cools. Smaller roll-sized loaves will still take about 20-25 minutes to bake.
  8. Allow to cool before eating.

Artisan Loaf Out of the OvenFive Minute Pizza Dough

Pizza baseDo everything exactly the same as for the artisan bread up to (and including) step 5. Then, after forming the dough into a round lump, just spread it out into a pizza base. (If you leave it on the bench for 30-60 minutes to warm up it will be much easier to roll out.) You can use a rolling pin, or just use your hands and stretch it like a real Italian. You’ll probably need to apply a bit of flour as you go to stop it from sticking. Once you’ve got the base spread out, smother it in your favourite toppings. Then bake in a hot oven (230°C) for around 14 minutes. You don’t need to wait for it to rise, just use it straight away. For a thin crust, use a bit less dough and stretch it thin. For a thicker crust do the opposite. Forget that bit about allowing to cool before eating too.

Tuna melt parcels

Time saver: Phil riffs on an old favourite with pastry. Cat is impressed.

Tuna melt parcels - with egg washSo last night I was making Spicy Pumpkin Soup and got hungry. You’d think that was the point of the soup, but for whatever reason I decided to make these as the soup simmered away.

Tuna melts are simple and tasty. Bread, tuna, cheese, a bit of pepper and a sandwich press are all it takes for a winning combination. But what if you don’t have bread? (Regular readers might wonder why I didn’t just whip up some artisan bread, but remember I’m using the stockpot I make the bread in to make soup, pay attention people.) Branching out I had no choice but to reap the health benefits of flaky puff pastry. Long term studies have repeatedly shown that flaky puff pastry is delicious and I guess the less said about the rest of it the better.

For the parcels I wanted to do a bit more than just tuna and cheese, so I whipped up a cheese sauce, threw in some blue cheese and then added the tuna to that. If blue cheese doesn’t appeal, stick with cheddar. If you want to make it a bit healthier, add some brocolli or spinach to the sauce.

One final point – tuna fish stocks are currently in danger of being depleted. With some species more badly affected than others. The situation will obviously change with time, but I think Pacific-caught Skipjack Tuna is currently OK. (While there’s a part of me that wants to say “It’s running out, make the most of it while you can”, I don’t think that’s really a position I can endorse. It would be a tragedy to overfish to a point where tuna can’t recover, and being aware of what you’re eating is what home cooking is all about.)

Tuna melt parcels – makes 4

  • 185g tin tuna chunks in spring water, drained
  • 2 square sheets flaky puff pastry
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • ½ c milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 80-100g (about 1 c) grated cheddar, or 40-50g (½ c) cheddar and 40-50g blue cheese
  • 1 egg + 1 Tbsp water for an egg-wash on the pastry, or just use milk
  1. Pre-heat oven to about 200ºC.
  2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  3. Add flour to make a white roux. Stir well to combine and keep from catching on the bottom. Cook for around 1-2 minutes.
  4. Gradually add the milk and stir well with each addition to avoid lumps. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk.
  5. After adding all the milk you should have a reasonably thick white sauce. Season with black pepper, then add the cheese, stirring thoroughly until it’s all melted.
  6. Add the tuna chunks (and any vegetables – strictly optional) to the sauce, and stir to combine.
  7. Cut each of the pastry sheets in half (giving you four long rectangles of pastry). Decide which end will hold the filling, then stab through several times with a fork. (This is to stop big pockets of air forming, causing the pastry to rise and push out the filling.) Don’t be afraid to get mean with it, but avoid putting any holes within about 1 cm from the edges.
  8. Put 4 Tbsp of the tuna filling in the centre of each of your fork-stabbed bases. Use a little water to wet the edges, the fold the (unstabbed) top half over and press down. Seal by pressing down on the sides with a fork. Make a couple of holes in the top of each parcel with a fork.
  9. Transfer the four parcels to a baking tray (lined with baking paper if you want to make it easier to get them off/clean up). If using an egg-wash, lightly beat an egg with 1 Tbsp of water then brush on to any visible pastry. (You won’t use even close to all of the egg wash. Maybe feed it to the cat, or make a miniature omelette.) If using milk brush that on instead.
  10. Bake in oven for around 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown.

Cooking tuna melt parcels - montage

Croque-croissant

Time saver: if you like a ham and cheese croissant, you’ll probably like this.

First things first: this isn’t a recipe for croissants – I’ve never even attempted to make them, for a couple of reasons: firstly, it’s a lot of work, and secondly, seeing how much butter goes into them might put me off eating them. Sometimes it’s nice to keep a few things you don’t make just so you can enjoy them when you’re out. (Sushi also falls into this category for me – although I think making it is less involved than making croissants.)

I’m not sure if a croque croissant is an actual thing in France. They might just be for foreigners and the French may consider them some sort of travesty. Who knows? A local French deli (Pyrénées – if you’re in Auckland and you like French food I highly recommend it) sells these and I love them. It’s really just a “Croque-monsieur” (these are definitely a thing in France) but made with a croissant rather than two slices of bread.

The basic concept with a croque-anything is some kind of bread with ham, cheese, and bechamel (white) sauce, put together then grilled (broiled) to perfection.

As you may have guessed, since I don’t make my croissants I have to buy them. You could use supermarket croissants (some are better than others) but if you’ve got a French bakery (or really, any bakery) nearby it’s probably worth picking them up from there. Another good option is to get frozen  croissants and use those. (For some reason the Asian Food Warehouse in Christchurch used to have an awesome deal on these, I think sourced from the French Bakery. Unfortunately the food warehouse is out of commission because of the earthquake, but they may return.)

Here’s the recipe, pictures to follow…

Croque-croissant – makes 4

  • 4 medium sized croissants (already baked)
  • 100-200g shaved ham
  • ¾ c milk approx – for a thick white sauce (or ½ c milk and ¼ c cream for a richer creamier sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp plain flour
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste
  • 4 slices cheddar cheese for tops (use Gruyère if you have it)
  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  2. Add flour to make a white roux. Stir well to combine and keep from catching on the bottom. Cook for around 1-2 minutes.
  3. Gradually add the milk and stir well with each addition to avoid lumps. It’s most likely to go lumpy if you add too much milk in one go at the beginning. You can use either a wooden spoon or a whisk for mixing.
  4. When you’ve added all the milk, remove from heat. You should have a very thick white sauce. Add the Dijon mustard (if you’re not a fan, use a ½ tsp, or leave it out altogether), cracked black pepper and salt to taste and mix well.
  5. Cut an opening along one side of each croissant to allow you to fill them.
  6. Spoon about 2 Tbsp of the Bechamel sauce into each one, spreading within the croissant.
  7. Divide the shaved ham into four, and put a layer on top of the sauce in each croissant, then push the croissants closed.
  8. Put another Tbsp of Bechamel on top of each croissant, spreading slightly, then place a slice of cheese on top of this.
  9. Grill/broil in the oven until the cheese has melted and gone golden, then serve.

Chicken and lemon risotto

Timer saver: risotto does not come in a box.

Chicken and lemon risottoWhen I first offered to to make my wife risotto (back in the days before she was my wife) she seemed a bit hesitant to accept. I told her it was delicious and she’d like it (I say that about all the food I like, I have a bit of a limited vocabulary in that regard) and she eventually gave in. It was and she did. Up till then though, she’d never had an Italian style risotto, and had only experienced the boxed kind. If you’re in the same boat, you need to ditch the boxes and bring on awesomeness.

Get this right and it’s so tasty you almost can’t stop eating it. I often find myself going to put the leftovers away and then just eating them before I can (we’re talking a whole extra bowl here, and I wasn’t skimping on my serving the first time around).

When I made this for my friend Marty he was shocked by the lack of vegetables, I tried to tell him it’s just the style, but if you feel the same way you do have options. I’ll often chop up a red capsicum and throw that in towards the end, or sometimes even some corn (½ c – 1 c). Marty was keen on baby spinach and that works too (in a green sort of way). Or you could keep it pure and just serve a salad on the side.

Risotto With ParsleyChicken and lemon risotto – serves 4

The first time you make this it probably pays to have everything ready to go before you start cooking. After you’ve done it a couple of times you can leave a bit more of the prep to do as you go. Stirring should all be done with a wooden spoon to help release the starch from the rice.

  • 1½ c arborio rice
  • 1 litre of good quality chicken stock (homemade is ideal, but most liquid stocks from the supermarket are fine)
  • 1¼ c white wine (major part of the flavour here, so skip that $6 bottle and splash out on something a little better –  say, an $8 bottle…)
  • 2 chicken breasts – for around 400-500g chicken, chopped into small cubes/pieces
  • 1 medium-large onion, or 2 small ones, peeled and diced finely
  • 2-3 sticks of celery, washed, sliced into crescents (1-2mm wide)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped finely
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil or a knob of butter (or a mix if you prefer)
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small-medium ones
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
  • 200g mushrooms (if buttons, chop into quarters/halves, if large flats cut into half slices) + 1-2 Tbsp additional olive oil
  • 1-1½ c grated cheddar cheese, or ½ c grated parmesan for the purists (plus more to taste)
  • (optional) parsley to garnish (sprigs or chopped)
  1. Put stock in a small saucepan and heat to just below boiling – maintain at this temperature throughout.
  2. Heat olive oil/butter in a stockpot (or very large saucepan) over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion, celery and garlic, and soften – probably around 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add arborio rice, stir thoroughly to ensure rice is evenly coated with oil. Stir for around a minute, the rice should make a slight popping sound, go opaque, and start absorbing any moisture in the pan. The clock starts now – you want to cook the arborio for about 20 minutes for optimal texture. (Too much longer than that and it will be mushy. Too much less and it will be too firm. You want “bite” – a kind of yielding firmness to each grain.)
  5. Add 1 cup of white wine, stir well till absorbed.
  6. Add all of the lemon zest, and ¾ of the lemon juice, and stir. (There’s a lot of stirring involved in this one I’m afraid.) Reduce heat to medium.
  7. Start adding the hot chicken stock, a ladle or two at a time. Stir in between each addition, keeping the rice moving and preventing it from catching and burning on the bottom. Add the thyme, and cracked black pepper.
  8. About ten minutes after first adding the arborio to the pot, add the chicken. This will poach it (leaving it tender) – but to make sure it’s well-cooked you want to add it ten minutes before the end.
  9. Continue adding the chicken stock and stirring.
  10. Eventually you’ll run out of stock, this should happen around the 17-20 minute mark. Add the final ¼ cup of wine, and the remaining lemon juice. Start testing the rice periodically, it should be firm but not hard. Continue stirring.
  11. When the rice is ready, remove the pot from the heat, and stir the cheese through. Put a lid on the pot and leave it to rest for around 5 minutes.
  12. While the risotto is resting, quickly fry the mushrooms in a little extra olive oil. I often just use the pot I had the stock in to do this (saves messing up another one). When cooked, stir them through the risotto then serve. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Bowls of risotto