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The artistry of French pastry

March 15, 2010
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - An American breakfast might typically consist of a bowl of cereal, bacon and eggs, pancakes maybe. A French breakfast is almost sure to include bread and a special type of pastry called viennoiserie - croissants and brioche.

Marquette Baking Co. owner Peter Claybaker gave an overview of the process used to create those French breakfast pastries at a seminar Friday at Northern Michigan University, sponsored by the NMU French Club.

"Once people taste it, it sells itself," Claybaker said. "It's just letting people taste what a well-made croissant tastes like."

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Around 70 students and area residents got a chance to taste the different types of viennoiserie Claybaker's company creates each day and learned a bit about how each is made.

Although he began his career making bread, Claybaker became interested in viennoiserie while taking a class in San Francisco that was set in a classroom next to a pastry class.

"It was when I discovered what real viennoiserie tastes like," he said, adding that he returned a few years later to take the pastry class.

Viennoiserie, Claybaker told his audience, is similar to bread, but is enriched with butter, eggs and sugar, added to the basic ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast.

The viennoiserie fall into two categories - laminated dough, which involves many thin layers of dough and butter to produce a flaky pastry like a croissant or danish - and non-laminated dough, which has the butter mixed into the dough, such as a brioche.

To create the flaky croissants, a block of dough and a block of butter are rolled out together, then folded over many times, creating the thin layers.

"Eventually you end up with this amazingly beautiful dough," Claybaker said.

Croissants can be plain or filled with sweet or savory fillings. Danishes, while very similar to croissants, tend to have sweet fillings.

"There's really no set exact limit to what you can do," he said.

Brioche start with the same base dough as croissants, but instead of layering the butter with the dough, the butter is mixed right into the dough. The brioche is then shaped and painted in an egg wash.

"They're incredibly good, but incredibly fattening," Claybaker said.

This is the second year the NMU French Club has sponsored the baking seminar. Last year, Claybaker spoke about the typical French baguette.

"We're just trying to get French culture out there to the community," French Club President Amber Shumard said. "What we do with French food seems to draw people's attention."

Shumard said the club has also sponsored crepe sales in the past and would be sponsoring a French film at the Peter White Public Library in the future.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is



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