Bagels for Sunday brunch have become altogether too easy, and while I keep telling people I no longer cook to show off, what I really mean is that I no longer cook only to show off. Of course there remains an element of demonstrating my mastery, to myself as much as to anyone else. What finer way, then, to do so casually than to conjure up a basket of proper croissants, here in the land of the oversweet, unbuttery cornetto?

I knew the principle already; essentially a sweet puff pastry, dough finely laminated with butter. And I knew, in theory, how to make it. Dan Lepard, whose recipes are generally really good, had a detailed one for croissants in Exceptional Breads. Best of all, croissants are, they say, equally good reheated from frozen, which would be easy enough in an oven already hot from bagels. So, on Friday evening, I made my dough, following the recipe precisely.

It was very stiff, stiffer by far than bagel dough.

I checked and rechecked the recipe and reaffirmed both that I had followed it to the letter and that 220ml of liquid for 500gm of flour was both correct, as printed, and very, very wrong. Naturally, I flew to the internets. Dan Lepard, who in the past has been very helpful, was MIA. Last Friday evening, his website read “14th October 2013 Working on a new website design, should be ready soon.” It still does.

Search engines were no help; nobody else appears to have even tried that particular recipe. Or if they did, they failed to publish their difficulties.

I searched further, for croissant recipes, and though there seemed to be lots of them, the vast majority were from the US and measured volumetrically, making any quick calculation of hydration a pain. At last, I found Jeremy Shapiro’s series of posts detailing his adventures in pursuit of the perfect croissant. Now, I’ve been slightly snarky about this other Jeremy before, and he took it in very good part, so I decided to ask his advice, even overcoming my reluctance to sign in to leave a comment. And, a true gent, he replied: 58% hydration, as against the recipe’s 44%.

Long story short, next morning I sweated and strained to work the extra milk into the dough, schlepped my way through the butter lamination, the rolling out, the cutting and the shaping, and baked the little buggers.

They tasted great — with that much butter, sawdust would taste great — but they had failed to rise and really were not presentable. With hindsight, they were destined to fail. As Jeremy S. told me (too late, alas): “Start over! Or the detrempe will be overworked!”

And that’s what I plan to do, half a batch at a time, until I have failed often enough to get them right.

The failures are still in the freezer; too good to throw away, too bad to serve to anyone else.

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