Croissant Bake Off!!!

There’s a Russian guy on my team at work who is also an early starter. He, and another Russian guy both meet up in the mornings for coffee, and I love hearing them speak. He asked me if I was interested in learning Russian, and I told him about my challenge to learn French. It turns out that he also speaks a bit of French (this guy is pretty amazing, he speaks Russian, Ukrainian, English, French and German, though only elementary level for the last two), so I repeated the few phrases that I knew at the time. I didn’t realise that Michael, a French guy who works on the same floor, was standing behind me. He corrected my pronunciation, and I explained that I was learning French.

It was nice having a conversation partner – especially one who didn’t go easy on me at all. He had no idea what I had already learned (which wasn’t much), and yet all of his responses were complex French sentences. He never explained anything unless I asked, which was nice, as it gave me a chance to figure things out on my own, and cement those memories in my head.

I felt a bit bad that the conversation was always so one-sided, due to my very limited French, so I suggested we have one conversation in English. He asked what I was planning to do on the weekend, and I mentioned the bread (anpan) I was going to make for redbeanpork (funnily, as I was making them, I kept calling them redbeakpork buns, instead of redbean buns, and MrFodder commented that I really was making them for redbeanpork). I asked if he baked, and he replied that at his last job, people kept asking if he could bake bread, just because he was French. He got so sick of it, that he ended up learning how to bake bread. I…. don’t entirely understand the logic of that, but hey, I’m always happy to meet new bakers.

He said he wanted to try one of the anpan, so I brought one to work to give to him. He said it wasn’t bad, and that I should try French bread. I showed him my horrible first attempt at croissant, and he said that his first attempt at croissants weren’t that great either. Then he suggested we have a croissant bake off. The winner would have the honour of being the best croissant baker on the floor.

A bit of background is required here. Every now and again, we’d have some sort of baking fundraiser in the office. People on the floor would bring in something for morning tea, and people could vote on which was the best. Cindy’s carrot cake always won. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t beat her. I’m not sure why, but we haven’t done anything like that in a while. Cindy, and all of the other talented bakers have left the floor, or the company altogether, and sadly, I feel like it’s just me left. So if there was another morning tea, I’d win by default.

I also felt like it was really important to learn to bake something pretty, because one day, I’d have to bake something for our kids to take to school for whatever random fundraising thing was required, and I’d be competing with all the other mothers, who have probably also spent years refining the art of royal icing. Not people who make dumpy Santa Claus gingerbread that looks like this:

So I have been craving some sort of cooking thing at work for a long time. Not that not having these morning teas has ever stopped me from bringing food to work. I think the people on my team have learned that if there’s a container of baked goods sitting on the shared food table, it’s probably from me.

One of the benefits of having lots of software testers on your team is that they’re really good at writing test plans. One of them volunteered to write a croissant bake-off test plan, which set out 5 criteria: aroma, texture, taste, appearance and artistic interpretation (I made her add the last category, because I felt like it was the only one I could win).

The plan was that we’d bring in croissants on Monday, put them on plates labelled A and B (so that nobody would know who made which ones), leave out scoring sheets for people to grade the croissants, and tally the results at the end.

Those were the two plates of croissants. Can you guess which one was mine?

Mine were on plate A, and I managed to win 7-0, although each of the scores were quite close. I felt like I had an advantage though, as I had help from tributed’s dad, who gave me lots of tips:

  • roll out your dough quickly, don’t worry so much about getting it perfect, because your butter will warm up too much in the meantime
  • after cutting the dough into triangles, use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch it out a bit more so it’s thinner
  • when rolling up the croissants, roll it tightly, otherwise they’ll break open while baking
  • let it proof for at least 3 hours before baking
Then I had help from redbeanpork and MrFodder, who picked out the prettiest ones to take into the office. Lastly, I had the help from the super giant aluminium rolling pin that I bought as part of my retail therapy when I thought I had failed the Java exam. I was able to put the rolling pin in the fridge between turns, so that meant the dough was kept cooler for longer.
Michael was very gracious about the outcome, and has now challenge me to a brioche bake-off, and we have suckered in someone else from his team. I wonder if the happy French man from the video will be proud of my next attempt at brioche. I hope I’ll do better next time.
Oh! And Intern Daniel, who is Italian, has challenged me to a pasta cook off. We always joke that I’m the better Italian than he is, and he’s the better Chinese person. He even calls me gweilo sometimes. Grad Daniel (also Italian) wanted me to make tiramisù, but when I asked him if he was also challenging me, he said no, he just wanted tiramisù, :(
Another interest thing that has come out of the bake off is that there are people on my floor who have never spoken to me before, and now they’re coming up to me and telling me that they want to try making croissants, or suggesting things that I should try next. It feels a bit weird, as I’m not really used to people coming up to talk to me, but it feels nice to have something to talk to with other people on my floor. A part of me is hoping that as word of this spreads, I’ll be challenged to make more and more different things, and I’ll have a good excuse to broaden my cooking repertoire.
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