What makes a perfect croissant?
The perfect croissant and how to make it. Producer - Tom McKendrick
Kate Reid is one of those people you’d love to be sitting next to at a dinner party. “So, you’re an aerodynamicist? Wow. And you’ve worked with Formula One racing cars? Gosh, that’s interesting. And then you trained with a Parisian master baker and now you run your own croissanterie?"
Smart, funny and utterly devoted to her craft, Kate Reid is the one-woman show of Lune Croissanterie. Every morning, she's up at 4am producing artisan, hand-made croissants the traditional French way, finishing her day at 7.30pm. “It’s a labour of love,” says Reid.
From 6.30am she personally delivers her products to a select group of six suppliers who order up buttery, flaky traditional croissants; pain au chocolate; icing-sugar dusted almond numbers filled with frangipane; fruit danishes; savoury ham and gruyere croissants; and Vegemite and gruyere escargot. They sell out within a couple of hours.
“Literally, they’re like my children,” says Reid. “They have to go to bed before me in the prover and I drive around in the car really carefully with them so they don’t slide around. They’re really important to me.”
She was trained by Christophe Vasseur at revered Paris boulangerie Du Pain et des Idees. Vasseur was awarded Best Baker in Paris by Gourmet magazine in 2008 and Baker of the Year 2012 by respected restaurant guide Pudlo Guide. “It [the training] changed my life,” says Reid, whose first love was racing cars.
“I’d been highly passionate about F1 since I was maybe 10 or 11,” says Reid. She completed a five-year Aerospace Engineering degree; was accepted into the prestigious Cranfield University in the UK, a "golden ticket to F1"; and did stints at Volkswagon in Germany, Williams F1 in the UK and Ford in Australia.
Everything was on track – so to speak – except for one small hitch: "I was starting to realise my heart wasn’t in Formula One and it wasn’t what I wanted to be.”
Spend 10 minutes with Reid and you'd know that such a half-hearted proposition would be unthinkable. She wrote to Vasseur asking for an apprenticeship and, unusually, he took her on saying he could see the same passion in Reid as himself.
“I guess the technical aspect of the croissants was really attractive to me,” she says, “You create something on a daily basis with your hands where you see the finished result but it’s such a technical, precise pastry.”
So what makes the perfect croissant? “It’s got a shine to it,” she says, looking intently at the lustrous, glossy curves of one unsuspecting croissant. “Pick it up, it’s as a light as a feather.” It is. Its top is crusty and flaky, its light interior curls like honeycomb and you can smell the French butter in it.
“If you don’t use good butter then your croissant is not going to taste like a good croissant,” she says. Reid uses two different types of butter: hand-churned Pepe Saya from Sydney and French butter Beurre d’Isigny. “The French have mastered the art of removing the moisture from their already cultured butter, which is more malleable, easier to work with and results in a better product.”
Reid uses only the best ingredients sourced, where possible, from Victoria, including Demeter Bio-dynamic Milk, free-range Green Eggs, and Laucke flour. “For me the measure of a good croissant is that you don’t need to add anything to it. If you feel like you need to slather on any jam or butter, then it’s a fail.”
It takes three days for Reid to make one batch of croissants, with resting between each of the processes to help the dough develop complexity of flavour.
On day one, the dough is mixed and rested for an hour before an 18-hour period of slow fermentation at a cool temperature.
On day two, she flattens the dough and laminates the butter into it, a process called beurrage, which takes up to five hours each day. The butter is folded through the dough and rolled out to create up to 27 layers. Between each fold and roll the dough must be allowed to rest or the gluten will overdevelop and ruin the flavour.
“At no point in the process do I sprinkle flour on anything,” says Reid, “I find that the more flour you add, the more it compromises the pastry.”
For the final rollout, the pastry is pressed to a thickness of about four millimetres, cut, and shaped. Once it’s at this stage, Reid must work quickly to get the croissants into the prover. Then, they are eggwashed and baked at 4am, and so the day begins again.
Her recipe is based on one she learned at Du Pain, adapted for Australian flour and milk, and to suit herself. “I felt like I wanted them to rise a little more than at Du Pain.” She’s also had to adjust the size for an Australian market, making them slightly larger than a typical French croissant.
“It shouldn’t be a monstrosity, it shouldn’t be flabby and big with no shine on it,” she says, and it should never ever be reheated. “A croissant should be enjoyed fresh, I believe, within two to three hours of coming out of the oven.”
Reid is saying no to wholesale requests on a daily basis and is at the point of deciding whether to grow the business or keep it small and artisan. “I think the products that I produce are a good representation of what Christophe was doing so I’m really proud of it.”
How do they taste? OH MY GOSH. For my money, these are the best croissants in Melbourne.
Reid’s tips for the home cook
- “Know you oven”. Her oven’s quirks require her to turn the trays to ensure an even bake, and lower the temperature after nine minutes.
- Top quality ingredients are the key. “If you start with a good foundation the flavours will be true.”
- When you’re rolling out the pastry, allow resting time between the folds, because it gives the gluten a chance to relax.
- Keep the butter and the dough at the same temperature. Cold butter and warm pastry won’t mix properly and the pastry will be patchy.
- You need to be firm but gentle with croissant pastry. If you’re tentative with it, it’ll melt in your hand. If you’re rough with it you’ll break it or damage it in its final bake-up. Show it firm but gentle love.
- French Beurre d’Isigny and Pepe Saya are stocked at Leo’s supermarkets and Thomas Dux shops.