Today we visit Bien Cuit, Zachary Golper’s bakery in Boerum Hill, in search of a snack to fortify us on a blustery fall afternoon. Zachary’s suggestion? His artichoke and goat cheese-filled croissant – an item his regulars will not allow him to take off the menu.
So Zachary, tells us about this croissant.
Many bakeries offer savory croissants and sandwiches. You often find something with spinach and feta. Here, we always want to make sure we have things that are both delicious and interesting, so we took that basic concept of a savory croissant with a vegetable and cheese filling and created our own version of it. We came up with a goat cheese, artichoke, and scallion-filled croissant, and it’s become one of our most popular offerings.
We use a very nice goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts. It’s called the Capri. It’s a fresh chevre-style goat cheese that’s got a nice floral aroma and that citrusy goats’ milk tang running through it. We use Roman-style artichokes which add that grassy, nutty flavor. Those are complimented by the fresh, sweet, oniony flavor of the scallion and wrapped in the rich, buttery crunch of the croissant.
We make the croissant dough with a milk-based preferment that rests for thirty six hours. That does a lot for flavor and texture. Essentially what we’re doing is giving the milk and yeast and a little bit of sugar a lot of time to act on the flour, and little by little that really opens up the activity in that flour. The enzymes break down the starch, creating different types of sugars for the yeast to consume. In consuming those sugars, the yeast releases different acids, and those essentially give you different notes of flavor and aroma.
If you don’t use a preferment, you’re just relying on the yeast and the milk in a croissant dough to do the job. While that’s effective and you can make a bread that way, having a preferment is going to guarantee that you’ve got a really substantial background of flavor and many subtler nuances than you otherwise would have.
So once the milk-based preferment is ready, we mix it into the dough. The dough cools for twelve hours, and then goes into a freezer to stiffen. When the dough is very cold, but still a little malleable, we add in some butter and do the lamination process. We use a very high fat butter from Cabot Creamery in Vermont. It’s eighty three percent butterfat.
The butter most bakers use to make croissants is a commercial product called Plugra, which has eighty two percent butterfat. It’s a funny name. It’s really a kind of slang term. Plu is short for plus, which means more in French, and gra is short for gras, which means fat, so ‘Plugra’ is like saying ‘Mofat.’ [laughter.] It’s funny because it’s considered the most elegant of commercial butters but it’s got a pretty silly name. The Cabot butter we use only has one percent more but, but every little bit matters, and we like using it because it’s made in the region.
We use a lamination technique that gives you clean lines on the layers, like the pages of a book. It can be difficult in high temperatures or high humidity to achieve that, so we adjust the process according to the weather to get those clean edges like the pages of a book. That makes it crispy, and it’s nice to look at and nice to eat.
Once the laminations are complete the dough must rest for a few hours, and after that we sheet it out and shape the pastries. And then the dough rests again. We do a very slow fermentation here. So in addition to the thirty six hour milk preferment, it goes into a cool environment and stays there for an additional ten to sixteen hours. The flavor and aroma of the dough gets better and better and better as it ages, just like it does with wine.
And then it goes to the oven and bakes. Letting the preferment go for as long as we do, and letting the dough rest again for as long as we do is pretty abnormal, but we’ve figured out a way to make it work because it makes for a really exceptional pastry.
With the goat cheese, artichoke and scallion croissant, during the shaping process we take the goat cheese and some scallion and some finely cut cooked artichoke, blend them together and fill the pastry, then bake it.
The pastry absorbs some of the flavor of the filling as it bakes. The fat that’s in the cheese blends with the fat from the butter in the pastry, and the starch in the pastry absorbs some of that fat, so the entire pastry takes on some of the subtleties of the scallion and the cheese, and it’s very good. It’s extremely popular. We change the menu here seasonally, but when I’ve tried taking this one off the menu people always ask, “Where did it go?” So we keep it on.
How did you come to be doing this?
It’s a pretty long story, but I’ll sum it up as best I can. I’m from Portland, Oregon. I got involved in food and cooking as soon as I was legally old enough to work in a kitchen. I wanted to be in a kitchen and I got myself into one. Eventually I wanted to learn more about the source of food, and I ended up working on an organic farm for a year. I wanted to see all the seasons and how they all overlap. During that time there was a baker working at the farm, and the window of my room was just downwind from the flue of the baker’s wood burning oven. So I’d smell the bread baking and it was just…haunting. It pulled me in.
One day I asked the baker if I could watch him work. He said, “No, you can’t watch, but you can help.” So he proceeded to teach me the really ancient way of making bread, with no commercial yeast and no electricity – just a wood burning oven. We made bread the old way. And that was the foundation of my interest in and understanding of bread.
I began to pursue my career working for the best people I could, making pastry and bread, and very soon I found myself working for a series of Coupe de Monde champions. The Coupe de Monde is the world championship of baking and is a pretty serious affair. I ended up helping a gold medalist open a bakery in Seattle. From there I was recruited to go to Las Vegas where I worked for Jean Claude Canestrier, a winner of the M.O.F – an award given to the best craftsmen in France – for baking, and helped to open the M resort as the head baker. From there I was recruited to come out to Philadelphia to work with Georges Perrier at Le Bec Fin. I had always wanted to open a bakery in New York, and after all that I felt ready. The cards lined up, and we were able to make it happen.
I kind of discovered Brooklyn when we were looking for locations. Originally I had been interested in Manhattan, but once my wife and I were actually in New York, we began to see that there was a lot of appeal to Brooklyn. There was a lot happening here and we wanted to be a part of it. And here we are.
Bien Cuit is located at 120 Smith Street, between Dean and Pacific, in Boerum Hill.
Photography by Heather Phelps Lipton. All rights reserved.