Alex George’s latest historical novel, The Paris Hours, follows the lives of four characters as they each race against the clock one day in the city of lights in 1927. As the clock nears midnight, the lives of the strangers draw together and connect in unimaginable ways.
Set against the glittering and guttural background of Paris, France between the World Wars, the setting lends itself well to George’s bohemian cast of characters, including a starving artist, a refugee, a maid to Marcel Proust, a journalist, an acrobat, and more.
Still, the settings and characters work most effectively as a means for which George’s prose to soar. The mundane becomes fascinating and the ordinary is extraordinary throughout the novel thanks to the author’s inimitable flair.
The Paris Hours take place across one day, and I felt like I was living that day with the characters–not only because of George’s transportative writing, but because I devoured the novel in a single day, unable to put it down.
Please proceed with caution–these are not your French grandmother’s croissants. In fact, I think calling these “croissants” probably have Julia Child turning in her grave. These are not airy, light, flakey, classic French croissants. These are everything French pastry chefs caution against: chewy, dense, doughy, moist croissants.
When I first read Alex George’s latest historical novel, The Paris Hours, I was anxious about what I was going to cook. Certainly, there is no shortage of magnificent food mentioned between the pages. French food. These croissants were calling to me, beloved by the fictionalized version of Marcel Proust throughout the book.
However, as anyone who knows anything about French pastries will tell you, the croissant is a complicated, involved little viennoiserie that requires skill and patience. It can be tackled, but is not for the novice baker.
My recipe does require patience, but no fuss. If you like a doughy Americanized croissant (think Pillsbury, but better), this is the recipe for you. It pairs well with jam, butter, sandwich makings, or–my personal favorite–Nutella.
NOT YOUR FRENCH GRANDMOTHER’S CROISSANTS
Please don’t tell Julia Child.
Yield: One dozen croissants | Prep time: 1 hour | Rest time: 5 hours | Cook time: 40 min | Total time: 6 hours 40 min
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ tablespoon salt
- 2 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cup milk
- 1 egg
- Splash of water
- Whisk together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a very large mixing bowl.
- Cut cold butter into small cubes–about ⅛ inch thickness–and toss to coat and combine in dry mixture.
- Stir in milk until dough forms. Croissant dough is a little tough and drier than regular dough, so don’t be alarmed if it’s not as supple as other doughs you’ve worked with.
- Transfer dough to plastic wrap and enclose tightly. Allow to chill for 1.5 hours.
- After chill, remove dough from plastic wrap and roll out onto a lightly floured surface until you have a large rectangle shape.
- Single fold the dough (folding like a letter), rotate it 90 degrees, and roll it back out. Repeat this step four more times, working quickly.
- Wrap the dough once again in plastic wrap and allow to chill for another 1.5 hours.
- After the dough has chilled a second time, cut the dough in half and allow one half to continue to chill in the refrigerator while you work with the other half.
- Roll out the dough into a long, thin rectangle onto a lightly floured surface. It should be about 10”x18”, less than ⅛” thin.
- Trim the dough into a perfect rectangle, discarding the excess. Mark with a knife or pastry cutter every 6 inches length wise. Cut into three rectangles. Then, cut diagonally and evenly across each rectangle to ultimately form six triangles.
- Gently stretch out the triangle in your hand, then tightly roll forward starting from the widest side. Repeat with each croissant.
- Place croissants on a baking tray, covering with plastic wrap, a towel, or a wet paper towel, and place in the refridger to proof for two hours.
- Repeat steps 9-12 with second half of dough.
- Once croissants have proofed, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Make an egg wash by whisking together one egg and a splash of water. Brush croissants with egg wash.
- Bake croissants in two batches (remember when we split the dough in half?), about 20 minutes each.