Oooh, la la: Take the French croissant 'outside the box'

January 22, 2014 10:52:17 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Who doesn't love a warm, fresh croissant right out of the oven? Some may say it's the best thing to come out of France. I would argue that there is the matter of the Statue of Liberty, Maurice Chevalier and Gilles Marini. That aside, we can love the flaky pastry even more on Jan. 30 -- National Croissant Day. We might even explore a few ways to use the buttery indulgence in ways we hadn't thought of before. 




First things first 


When it comes to a fine croissant, it's all about the layers. The yeast-leavened dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet in a technique called laminating. The process results in the sumptuous, signature texture.  


You can make your own croissants, of course. Although, after researching recipes, I'm thinking I'd rather be sent to work in a rice paddy. No, seriously. They actually don't require a ream of specialized knowledge or a counter-full of expensive kitchen gadgets. The ingredients are simple: basically, flour, water, milk, sugar, unsalted butter, yeast, egg. What is needed is time, focus and a good technique. The initial results may leave something to be desired, but when you're finally looking at a puffy, fragrant, golden pastry you made yourself, the reward (so I'm told) is worth it. 


May I recommend the site, which offers a good how-to video as well as an insightful log about their own croissant experiences? (Topping their list of advice, by the way, is to make the pastries when the weather is nice and cool, or at least make sure your surroundings are 68 degrees or a bit lower. Their recipe of choice is from Jeffrey Hamelman of Fine Cooking.) 


For the rest of us, our croissants will more than likely have to come from the grocery stores. I couldn't find a commercial bakery in the Golden Triangle that makes them.  






This culinary symbol of France was once traditionally eaten only at breakfast. But things changed in the 1970s with the advent of fast food, according to Alan Davidson of the Oxford Companion to Food. In an effort to stem the burgeoning popularity of the good ole American-style hamburger, the French created croissanteries, small eateries that served croissant sandwiches at breakfast and lunch.  


We've since filled croissants with everything from strawberries to feta cheese and spinach. We love them stuffed with chicken salad, or sizzling with cheese oozing over the sides. We fill the mini versions with sausage or crab and serve them as appetizers, or we bake the dough with chocolate inside for a luxurious treat. 


But, croissants can be a recipe ingredient themselves. They can go sweet or savory -- from a bread pudding trifle to a bacon and chive strata (layered casserole). Read on for those recipes and a change of pace. (And there's a smoked salmon salad recipe, just begging for a big croissant.) Thank the French on Jan. 30, s'il vous plait. And, naturally, bon appetit.  






Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes (50 minutes active) 


Makes 4-6 servings 




6 chocolate croissants, very coarsely chopped 


1 1/4 cups milk 


1/2 cup sugar 


1 tablespoon vanilla extract 


1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 


1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 


3 large eggs 


1 (6-ounce) box butterscotch pudding, cooked according to package directions 


4 bananas, sliced 


4 snicker bars, chopped fine 


1 (12-ounce) container whipped topping 




  • For the chocolate croissant bread pudding, preheat oven to 350 F. 


  • Put chocolate croissant chunks in an 8-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Pour mixture over croissants. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. Bake for 40 minutes.  


  • Let the chocolate croissant bread pudding cool to room temperature. 


  • Into the trifle bowl, add half the croissant pudding. Spread it out evenly. Scoop in half of the butterscotch pudding; add a layer of banana slices and half of the chopped snickers bars. Smooth on half of the whipped topping. Repeat the layers, ending on whipped cream, top with a final sprinkling of snickers. 


    (Source: Katie Joel, 






    Makes 6-8 servings 




    8 cups cubed croissant pieces 


    5 eggs 


    2 cups milk 


    1/2 cup cream 


    1/4 cup chopped chives 


    4 pieces of bacon, crumbled 


    Salt and pepper, to taste 




  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish, set aside. 


  • Fry bacon in a pan until very crispy. Allow to cool on a paper towel and then crumble into bite-sized pieces. 


  • In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream and milk. Season generously with salt and pepper. Mix in the chives and crumbled bacon. 


  • Cut up your croissants into about 1-inch pieces, a serrated knife works best. Toss the croissant pieces in with your liquid mixture and press down with your spoon a little so they absorb most of the liquid. When you push the croissant pieces to the side of the bowl, there should still be a cup or two of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. This will cook into the binding custard as it cooks. Depending on how moist (or fresh) your croissants are, you may need to add a little more liquid. 


  • Pour the mixture into your prepared baking pan, using the back of your spoon to smooth it down in the pan. There should be visible liquid around your bread pieces. If your bread looks dry once you smooth it out, I recommend topping the mixture with about 1/2 more milk, poured evenly over the top. 


  • Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes. To check if it's done, the top should look a little crispy and there should be no visible liquid in the bottom of the pan as all of it should have absorbed into the bread/custard mix while baking. 


  • Serve immediately. Pretend that this recipe doesn't really have as much fat as it does. Because then you'll feel guilty. And we don't want that. 










    4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces 


    1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions 


    1⁄4 cup thinly sliced celery 


    2 tablespoons mayonnaise (regular or light) 


    1 tablespoon plain yogurt or sour cream 


    1 teaspoon lemon juice 


    2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 


    2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill 


    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 


    1 croissant, halved lengthwise 


    3 to 4 thin slices cucumber, optional 


    2 to 3 thin slices avocado, optional 




  • In a small bowl, combine salmon, scallions, and celery; toss gently. In a separate small bowl, whisk together remaining salad ingredients. Pour over salmon mixture and gently stir until well combined. (This salad can be eaten at room temperature. If you prefer it chilled, refrigerate in an airtight container at least 30 minutes (or up to 1 day) prior to serving.) 


  • Open croissant and fill with salmon salad. Add cucumber or avocado, if desired.  


    (Source: "The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches," by Susan Russo; via

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.