Baking challenge: the one with the maple pecan bacon pastry plait

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challnge for week seven (patisserie week) of series two: a selection of three different types of Danish pastry, all made out of the same dough.

I didn’t think I was the kind of person who made croissants – but I made them! And apple turnovers, and maple-pecan-bacon plaits. All out of a single batch of yeasted, laminated dough.

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It turns out that the process of making laminated pastry is time-consuming but not hugely difficult or technical. You spend a lot of time waiting for dough to rise, so it’s definitely a weekend project, but actually the dough is extremely forgiving; in the recipe I used, you can leave the dough to rest periodically anywhere between one and eight hours. This is actually extremely flexible and you could fit making the dough around most activities. I used Anna Olson’s recipe for laminated dough, inspired by her show Bake with Anna Olson and the episode on croissants. I mentioned on Twitter that I was making the recipe and Anna actually responded, which sent my heart a-flutter! (Her tip was to take your time – a good tip for me since patience in the kitchen is not necessarily one of my virtues). My only gripe with Bake…as a show is that the recipe measurements are given in cups, whereas I’m certain that as a professional (and very precise) baker, Anna herself would use weight measurements.

Laminated pastry: where bread meets puff pastry
Laminated pastry: where bread meets puff pastry

I based the filled croissants on the divine Italian-style cornetti I’d enjoyed on a holiday in Croatia a few years ago. My boyfriend and I popped into a local bakery and got some croissants, only to discover, to our delight, that unlike the plain, buttery French-style croissants, these were filled with vanilla-flecked pastry cream (the flavour of the pastry cream can vary). I later discovered that they were in fact Italian, and were cornetti rather than croissants. Apparently the dough is slightly different: cornetti dough is sweeter, more enriched and less laminated, resulting in a softer, sweeter end product. Be that as it may, the ones I had were definitely pretty close to croissant dough and I recreated them as such. Sorry, Italy – but my heart truly belongs to France. My version was quite a bit smaller and less filled than the professional bakery version.

Cornetti with pastry cream
Cornetti with pastry cream (background shots of apple turnovers and maple-pecan-bacon plaits)

Where it all definitely got a bit more technical was in the shaping of the croissants; there’s definitely a knack to it and my efforts were certainly misshapen. The creme patissiere filling mostly squelched out of the sides – but enough was captured in the centre to make them deliciously gooey and comforting.

The apple turonver is a lonely hunter
The apple turonver is a lonely hunter

The apple turnovers were, as you might imagine, the simplest: make some applesauce. Stamp out rounds of the laminated dough, add a spoonful of applesauce, fold over, egg wash, sprinkle with demerara sugar, bake. Apple turnovers were some of my favourite childhood treats and, although the ones I made were bitesize rather than the palm-sized confections my father would occasionally buy me, they were definitely a step up from the Delifrance.

The maple-pecan-bacon plait, meanwhile, was inspired by one of my favourite pre-diet indulgences from the Tesco/Sainsbury’s/Co-op aisle. (Yes, I know that my penchant for these pastries – which, in their supermarket incarnation, aren’t even all that good – explains why I am currently on a diet). I added the bacon to the standard maple-pecan plait to counterbalance the sweetness – the supermarket versions are extremely sugary – and provide a textural contrast, as well as the intensely salty, savoury counterpoint that makes bacon pancakes drenched in syrup so luscious. The filling also contains cream cheese, which adds another slightly salty, savoury component which prevents the filling from being over-sweet while also adding a lactic creaminess. I made this as one large plait which was cut into smaller portions after baking, though I think, in retrospect, that they would have come out more neatly had I cut them prior to baking.

The plaiting was surprisingly easy to do and the technique could be applied to lots of baked goods . This blog has a detailed pictorial step-by-step guide which I printed out and followed faithfully when making the pastry braid, but I’ve also included some diagrammes and detailed steps, and a link to a video, in the instructions below in case you want to make this recipe or just use the braiding technique to any recipe of your own. The finish is surprisingly professional and will impress your friends and lovers.

While the shaping of the croissants was undeniably difficult, making a plait is pretty breezy. Try it – lots of fun.

Laminated pastry dough
From Anna Olson.

The measurements below are a conversion from the cups used to metric, which is why the amount of flour is a little odd!

For the detrempe:

  • 510g plain flour
  • 250ml water at room temperature
  • 125ml semi-skimmed milk at room temperature
  • 45g caster sugar
  • 2.25 (2 1/4) tsp instant dry yeast
  • 2 TBS unsalted butter at room temperature

For the beurrage

  • 285g unsalted butter at room temperature
  1. Using a mixer with a hook attachment (I used a hand mixer), mix the flour, water, milk, sugar and yeast on a low speed to blend. Add the salt. Increase the speed by one increment and knead for four minutes, adding the butter mid-way through (i.e. after two minutes). When properly kneaded, the dough should just clean the sides of the bowl.
  2. Shape the dough – which will be soft – into a rectangle and place it on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap (Anna Olson recommends a tea towel followed by plastic wrap but I hate how doughy and sticky this makes tea towels). Let the dough sit out at room temperature for 90 minutes, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to eight hours (see what I mean about it being forgiving?).
  3. Meanwhile, shape the room-temperature butter for the beurrage into a 20cm square. I did this by lining an appropriately-sized square cake tin with plastic wrap, then squidging the butter into the square and wrapping it back up. If preparing the beurrage in advance, chill it until ready to use, but remove it from the fridge before the next stage. It is important that the dough and butter have the same consistency when being combined – although their temperatures may differ.
  4. Once the first chilling time for the detrempe has finished, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and roll out to a square, about 35cm across.. Take the beurrage and place it in the centre of your square of dough, but rotated, so the points of the butter square point to the middle of each flat side of dough (think a Star of Lakshmi-type shape). Bring the corners of the dough together, wrapping the butter like an envelope; gently pinch the edges. Roll the dough out into a rectangle, about 50cm long, and fold the dough into third, using a letter-style fold. Return the dough to the baking tray, cover with the plastic wrap as before and chill for at least a further hour – and up to eight hours.
  5. Repeat this rolling out of the dough into a rectangle and folding into thirds a further two times. Each time you do so, rotate the dough 90 degrees. Chill the dough in the fridge between each turn, again between one and eight hours. Once you have completed the final fold, let the dough rest for at least four hours and up to twelve hours before using. Give or take, you will have around 1.5kg of laminated pastry dough.

Maple pecan bacon plait

  • About a third of the laminated pastry recipe above
  • 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
  • 50g dark brown/muscovado sugar
  • 80g plain cream/soft cheese
  • 120g pecans plus 25g for sprinkling
  • 50ml maple syrup, plus an extra tablespoon for brushing
  • 3 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon

    Fig.1
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. On a small baking tray, toast all the pecans for around 6-8 minutes until they smell nutty. Keep a close eye on them to ensure they don’t burn. (You will need the oven again but you can switch it off for now).
  2. Let cool. Finely chop the 120g pecans for the filling, setting the remaining 25g aside.
  3. Mix the sugar, cream cheese, 50ml maple syrup and 120g pecans.
  4. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle, about 30cm by 15cm. I measured out the dimensions by rolling it onto a silicone mat marked with ruled lines – it’s very handy and I bought it at Lidl (similar product here).
  5. Transfer the rolled-out rectangle to a baking tray lined with baking paper (do it now otherwise the filled plait will be heavy and will probably break when you try to move it).
  6. Cut two small triangles out of one of the short sides of the dough and cut the corners off the other short side. See Fig. 1 for an illustration of what your (former) rectangle of dough should look likeShape2
  7. Spread the cream cheese/pecan filling down the centre of the dough strip, between the triangles.
  8. Starting at the end where you cut the corner off, cut slanting strips into the dough in parallel to the cut-off edges using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, up to the filling. See Fig. 2 for an illustration of where the slashes should be. Cut all the way through the dough to the bottom, but don’t cut so far that the slashes meet.
  9. Fold the bottom end of the dough on triangle side to seal the filling in (effectively you are folding over the ‘notch’ between the triangles). Repeat on the cut corner side. Folding the dough over will prevent the filling squidging out of either end.
  10. Fold each strip over alternately into the centre of the dough strip. You will soon see that you are not really ‘braiding’, rather weaving, but that folding over the strips in this way makes it appear braided. See this video for the technique. Once you have reached the end, trim off any extra pieces of dough jutting out at the end.

    Quick, unglamourous action shot of plaiting/braiding
    Quick, unglamourous action shot of plaiting/braiding
  11. Preheat the oven to 200C. Let your braided plait rest, loosely covered, for 20 minutes. If your kitchen is cool it should be fine on the worktop, but if not, pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes and let it rest on the counter for the final 5. You may wish to cut the pastries now or do it after baking (I did it after). If doing it now, use a sharp knife and cut into 8 pieces.
  12. Once ready to bake, take your beaten egg and brush the top of the pastry. Bake the plait for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and firm and the bottom looks set.
  13. Meanwhile, cook up the bacon until crispy and let cool on a plate lined with paper towel. I cooked the bacon without any extra oil but you may wish to use a drop or two. Once cooled, cut the bacon up. Roughly chop the remaining 25g pecans.
  14. Once the pastry is cooked, let cool for around 10-15 minutes. Then, brush over the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup using a clean pastry brush and immediately sprinkle with the bacon and pecans. Let set.
  15. If wished, cut the pastry into eight portions.

Vanilla cream croissants
Method adapted from Anna Olson. Watch her video here.

If you make the pastry cream as below, you will have quite a bit left over, but it was a bit awkward to divide because of the egg yolks. You can use it to fill cakes, cream puffs or a blind-baked tart case. Dot the pastry cream with fresh fruit. Easy!

For the pastry cream
From Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’

  • 125ml milk (I used semi-skimmed, which is what we keep in the house)
  • 125ml double cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar (I really like that this recipe is not too sweet!)
  • 15g plain flour
  1. Over a gentle heat, bring the milk and cream to the boil in a saucepan. Once brought to the boil just leave it to cool down off the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar together until paler and creamy, then beat in the flour.
  3. Gradually add the warm milk and cream mixture to the eggs, whisking thoroughly as you go. Add the vanilla extract.
  4. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir or whisk gently over a low heat until it thickens.
  5. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin forming), and let cool.

To assemble

  • Approximately one-third of the above recipe for laminated pastry dough
  • One batch pastry cream (well, you won’t need all of it. but you’ll need some)
  • One egg, beaten, to glaze
  1. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. On a floured work surface, roll out the portion of laminated dough to a square, about 22x22cm. Cut the rectangle in half horizontally and cut 3 triangles from each half of dough.
  3. Use a pastry or pizza wheel to cut a small notch at the base (short side) of each triangle. Place a teaspoonful or so of the pastry cream at the base of the score mark. Roll up the croissant from this side (the base).
  4. Place the croissant on the tray so that the point of the triangle is on the bottom. Gently pinch the ends of the croissant down, so that the filling is held in place. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the croissants around 8cm apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a cool place for a final two hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 190C. Brush the tops of the croissants with the egg wash. Bake for around 15 minutes, until golden brown. Most delicious served warm.

Bite-sized apple turnovers
The important thing about making applesauce is to use cooking apples. In the UK, this almost always means a Bramley apple: their high water content means they collapse to a completely smooth puree with the application of only a little heat, and their high malic acid content means they retain a tartness that doesn’t disappear after cooking. Other apples can seem quite blandly sweet and insipid after the application of heat. You could also use Granny Smith apples, although they have a tendency to caramelise (and then burn), so I prefer adding a few tablespoons of water to the apples as they cook.

Applesauce freezes well and you could easily make a large batch and tuck it away in the freezer for use in muffins, cakes and as a topping for porridge. I made a smaller amount of applesauce because the pastries I made were pretty small and I needed only a teaspoon of applesauce per pastry.

For the applesauce

  • 1 large cooking apple, ideally a Bramley (if you are using smaller apples – Bramleys are typically very big – then maybe use two)
  1. Core and peel the apple(s) and chop into smallish, even-sized dice
  2. Take a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid and add the apples. If you are using eating apples, add a few tablespoons of water. Cover. Cook, covered, over a low heat until the apples have completely cooked down, stirring regularly. This will take 15-20 minutes, depending on the apple type. If you are using an eating apple, they can take longer.
  3. That’s it! Let cool

For the pastries and assembly

  • One-third of the laminated pastry
  • Batch of applesauce (see above)
  • One egg, beaten, for glazing
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

You will need a round pastry cutter. Mine was around 5cm, which sounds big, but once folded in half is pretty small.

  1.  Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. On a lightly floured work surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the laminated pastry to about 2-3mm thickness. Dip your cutter of choice in some of the flour and stamp out rounds. Set aside the remaining pastry  to re-roll and cut out again (note: re-rolled pastry won’t be as layered and flaky, but this is home baking. We can live with it)
  3. Place a teaspoon of the cooled applesauce applesauce (or more, depending on the size of cutter you used) on one half of the rounds of pastry. Moisten the outer edge of the pastry round with a little water – just dip your finger in a little bowl of water and run it around the edge. Fold over the empty half of pastry over the side of the pastry with the applesauce and press the edges of the pastry to seal; you can also use a fork to seal the edges.
  4. Place the folded-over pastries on the baking tray. Using a pastry brush, brush over the beaten egg. Sprinkle the pastries with demerara sugar.
  5. Bake for 8-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the bottom is cooked through.

 

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6 thoughts on “Baking challenge: the one with the maple pecan bacon pastry plait

    1. That’s so kind! It was surprisingly easy (especially if you’re used to making pastry) and, as Isaid, very forgiving because of the retsing time. The videos of Anna O were my ‘supervision’, I guess. Her show is a great guide.

  1. We do use cup measurements for baking in Canada and the US. Anna is baking for that population so that’s why she uses them. We have the opposite problem with British recipes which are in grams. You did a great job with the recipe. All the pastries look delicious.

    1. Thanks – that’s really kind of you to say. I’m happy to report that they actually tasted good too.

      I was under the impression that Canadian and US professional bakers use weight measurements, since it’s more precise and results in a more consistent product – I was recently reading ‘Good to the Grain’ and Kim Boyce says this. So I assumed that Anna has the recipes in weight and converts them to cups for the home baker (though I can’t be sure of course).

      I think it’s much easier to convert from cups to grams than grams to cups – but I am evangelical about my digital scale!

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