Croissant Chronicles: When the Freezing Morning is Embraced by the Warm Aroma of Fresh Dough

Living Journalism

Croissant Chronicles: When the Freezing Morning is Embraced by the Warm Aroma of Fresh Dough

At 5 am, you walk down the street, feeling freezing and barely awake. You start to wonder why you chose this job and why you can't work at a more human-friendly time schedule. But as you approach the bakery, the fresh-out-of-the-oven smell of bread is the only thing that accompanies you.

The regular workers, all women, are already there, and you can't understand how they can be so productive so early in the morning, but they seem to thrive. You change out of your casual black hoodie and baggy jeans into a white tee and navy blue apron that gives you a "I'm in Paris" feeling. To be honest, it helps a lot to move your body parts in this ungodly hour.The bakery's ambience feels warm and humid due to the burning ovens and condensation on the freezing windows. Tereza, the 35-year-old deputy manager, always has her hair up and perfectly manicured nails. Despite having flour dusted on her cheeks, her hands remain impeccably clean. Having worked at the bakery for six years, she shares, "I used to work as a grill girl making hundreds of steaks a day in a restaurant, but somehow I stuck with sweets," and we share a great laugh.

As we enter the croissant-making room, Tereza explains the complex and highly controlled process of making croissant dough. The first step is making an enriched dough with flour, sugar, warm milk with yeast, lots of butter, and a pinch of salt. The dough ferments for a day before Tereza, the most skilled croissant maker in the bakery, takes it out and begins lamination. This involves layering cold dough with cold butter. Tereza is assisted by a large French-made machine.Tereza chuckles as she puts the heavy kilos of dough onto the machine, saying, "It's funny that this lamination technique is called an 'envelope' because the weight of the dough is nothing like an envelope." As the machine rolls out the dough, she places a skinny rectangle block of special high-fat butter in the centre, cuts the exposed parts of the dough, and covers the top of the butter, closing the envelope.

The cold butter is pressed between two sheets of dough, and the dough is turned in the middle to create four layers of dough and two layers of butter. Tereza must work quickly because the friction between the machine rollers and dough generates heat, even at low room temperature. By the time she finishes, the dough has been turned twelve times, resulting in twelve crispy layers in the baked croissants.

Croissants are unique because their dough combines two classic pastry techniques: lifting with yeast, which produces gas chemically, and lifting with butter, which is a physical process. When the cold butter in the high-temperature oven melts, it releases a significant amount of water, which turns into steam and separates all the layers of dough, resulting in the signature flaky texture of croissants.After the lamination process, the dough is placed back in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Everything in the bakery is meticulously planned, and after the lamination process, Tereza takes out the dough that was prepared the day before, rolls it out, and places it on the large metal workbench. Using a ruler, she precisely measures every piece before cutting the dough into long triangles. This is the moment when we work together.As you touch the cold, firm but supple dough, you stretch and shape it into a witch's hat, then roll it into a croissant shape. This process is repeated throughout the morning, and though it may be a little repetitive, there is a lot to discuss with Tereza. The large window in front of the workbench means customers can see you, and sometimes one of the many children who visit the bakery taps on the glass to say hello.

Once the plain butter croissants are finished, you move on to creating various variations, including ones with cinnamon sugar, chocolate chips, and your personal favourite, ham and cheese. All of them undergo final fermentation and will be ready the next morning. The rolled treats are then placed in the huge refrigerators and chilled for two days, mainly for the proper final shape.​​​​​​​

After finishing work, still clad in their navy blue aprons, we find ourselves in the back of the bakery smoking a cigarette. "It's like a little treat," Tereza whispers, blowing the opaque white smoke into the freezing air.

As the morning rush subsides, the bakers take a well-deserved break outside the bakery, enjoying a brief moment of peace and the warmth of the morning sun. Tereza and her team have worked tirelessly to create the perfect croissants, each layer a testament to their expertise and dedication.

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