Category Archives: Roommates


“Hold me, L!”

August was complete insanity. In the past week and a half alone, I’ve interviewed for, been offered and started a new job, put in notice at my old job, experienced my first earthquake, made poor life choices during a “hurricane,” had EG move in, CS move back to California, and most dramatically, L move out. Let’s just pause on that last point for a moment. I lived with L for six years. SIX YEARS. If our friendship were a child, we’d be starting first grade this week. From college orientation till now, we were never more than a hop, skip and a jump away from each other. We even accidentally studied abroad together! She now lives just 15 minutes away, but it feels like a chasm of infinite depth. I don’t quite know what to do myself. Last night when she was picking up some laundry at our house, I was all “Hold me, L! I’m lost without you!” Needy? Perhaps. but SIX YEARS. I just had a major sad scrolling through our entire friendship on Facebook to find this picture:

Who will I pose awkwardly with atop ruined castles now?!

But enough of my moping! If you’re clever with math, you will have noticed that

House – L – CS + EG = still one bedroom empty.

Time to find a new roommate! We used Craigslist to this end once before, but KS led the charge and he 1) put this weird, superfluous clause in the ad about K and I being vegetarians and 2) as far as we can tell, mostly chose to interview hot-sounding girls. But we got CS and it worked out great, until she RUDELY decided to move back to California.

So take two: K wrote up a nice little ad, this time without any strange comments about our eating habits. Now, if we were responsible adults, we would have posted the ad more than a week before we needed a new tenant. But of course we didn’t do that! Luckily, housing in DC is such a complete clusterf**k that we took the post down after receiving 100 responses in less than 24 hours. People of DC: if you are ever feeling sad about yourself, post an ad for your room on Craigslist. Housing here is so impossible to find that you will instantly feel like the most popular person in the universe.

Sorting through those hundred responses was a bitch. We came up with a semi-arbitrary ranking system (how old are you? do you currently have a job? do you sound like a crazy person over email? are you employed in such a fashion as to get me free drinks?). K sent emails to a dozen or so of the chosen ones, inviting them to come over to see the house and endure a grueling interview process. Unfortunately for our prospectives, I’m only semi-joking about the grueling bit, as we scheduled all of the house showings for Saturday afternoon just as “Hurricane” Irene was getting started. When showing your house on Craigslist, it’s best to add an element of danger to weed out the weak ones.

Sadly, I wish this was the point in the post where I would regale you with hilarious anecdotes about how terrible people from Craiglist are. But almost everyone was super awesome and nice and normal. There was only one potential serial killer in the mix, and even he wasn’t that bad–just a touch of the crazy eye and a love affair with banana bread. So as person after person showed up on our doorstep increasingly drenched, K, EG and I felt worse and worse knowing we had to turn all these people down. Many were soon to be homeless, and we briefly toyed with the idea of setting up a collection of lean-tos on our back porch so they could all move in (well, maybe not Banana Bread).

Here’s a Craigslist tip for you: don’t interview the foreigners because you’ll be wracked with guilt when you don’t pick them. We had two Germans, one of whom might actually be Simon from Misfits (though hopefully less likely to accidentally murder someone). When asked about who he knows in the city, he enumerated all of his friends who recently moved away (basically: everyone he knows here)I kind of wanted to adopt him. Worse still was his female counterpart, a bubbly woman who is currently living in a hostel in Dupont and had recently seen someone stabbed in Petworth. I felt like a terrible ambassador to this country for not inviting her to live with us.

In the end, though, there can only be one winner. Because that’s exactly what housing in DC is: a competition. Finding somewhere decent to live here has roughly the same odds as winning the lottery. Because we’ve all been through that agonizing process ourselves, it was that much harder to turn everyone down. We struggled between two front-runners for three days but finally made our decision.

K: Ok. I’m going to email New Roommate and invite him to live with us. What should I say?

Saddest part is, you’d probably be more likely to hear Bob Barker calling your name from his cozy retirement than to find an apartment in DC.


My Secret Shame

I have an addiction. It crept up on me… I saw some friends doing it, and it seemed harmless enough. I thought I’d try it just once to see what the fuss was about, and then before I could realize what was happening, it had taken over me. I tried to stop, but I only went through withdrawal. Obsessed, I kept asking friends where I could get my next hit from.  I even tried to convince other people to try it, when hours of my own life were missing. What’s my drug of choice?

I am a Korean Drama addict.

Continue reading My Secret Shame

The Blame Game

Oh sweet readers, I have neglected you. I haven’t posted anything in almost three weeks. I am falling so far behind on my Neville Longbottom goals that I had to return all the books to my library. I even hid behind KLang’s post instead of writing myself. I didn’t mean to do it! It just happened. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, in fact–just the opposite. THERE’S TOO MANY THINGS. I have three or four unpublished posts sitting in my drafts folder right now, waiting for time or photos or inspiration. And then there are all the things I haven’t started on, like The Hanson Project (epic!), or tubing two weeks ago (drunk!), or the Everton football game (epic and drunk!). And it takes time to do all these things I should be writing about. There are lasagnas to be made and beers to drink and Korean dramas to be watched–it all leaves very little time for writing!

You could blame me for not making time. You probably should. But it’s a handy family trait of mine to shift blame, so instead, let me tell you about all the other people you should blame instead.

A & Mr. A


Three weeks ago, A and her husband, Mr. A, descended upon me in DC, and like, expected me to hang out with them. Now hopefully there will be a forthcoming blog post about their insolence, but until then just know that they forced me go to a totally lame drunken tailgate + soccer game and take them to museums and eat meals with them and stuff. I would have way rather have been sitting at home in a cave if antisocial solitude writing a new blog post, but I guess when your oldest friend comes to visit, crappy social norms dictate that you should spend time with them.

KS, KLin, S-Dubs and Genghis Khan

GK hiding just out of frame. Rest of culprits pictured.

A & Mr. A had barely left when a new series of house invaders arrived. Again, they kept kidnapping me and taking me to places like Bob’s Noodles 66 (I love you stinky tofu!!), on a lengthy tubing trip, and to a remote island called Catan where I proved once again to be the most resourceful Settler. And GK practically held me at gunpoint until I made everyone oatmeal-cookie-cinnamon-ice-cream-sandwiches from scratch. I guess that’s what happens when you let a centuries-old, murderous lunatic sleep in your living room. And in a haze of Stockholm syndrome, I also made KS and GK lasagna, homemade goldfish, blueberry muffins, and more cookies. After that, there was simply no time left for writing!

My new Penpal

Ok, so there was a little time left for writing. Which is why you should definitely, definitely blame my new penpal. Several months ago, I signed up for a penpal on Forever Young Adult. I heard nothing for a long, long time, and then a few weeks ago, I finally received my freshly-assigned virtual bff. We hit it off, even if I cannot ever hope to compare to Penpal’s coolness. Just look at what she sent me most recently:

Yeah, that’s a page out of a custom fairytale book she sent me called “Alix is a Ballerina Princess.” So what if the plot makes less than no sense? It has my name on every page. Even my parents never loved me enough to buy me such a book!

In order to keep up with such generosity, I have been directing much of my writing energy into sending Penpal letters. And who can blame me? She also sent me a seriously excellent mix CD, WITH LINER NOTES. Except she forgot to put any music on it, so as an apology, she made me this sweet music video. Obviously, I had to reciprocate. I spent more time than I would like to admit making some elaborate stationery (it involved sewing), stenciling a t-shirt (you’ll hear more about this sometime before October 8), and making my own CD to send back. This, in turn, fueled another blame-riddled project…

KS and GK

A rare, non-food-related picture.

Yep, so guilty they got two separate bullet points! You see, after KS left us forever and refused to hangout on google+, he decided he’d swing back to DC to pick up his car and drive across country with GK. They are currently somewhere in New Mexico, and as far as I can tell, eating and sending us pictures of their food comprises the full extent of their road trip activities. That, and listening to the 14-volume mix CD set I made for them.

It has been my job to make CDs for family road trips ever since college, when L and I drove to K’s parent’s house with only the radio at our disposal. This was also the time when “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry came out, and it was literally all any radio station would play. We must have heard that song at least a dozen times during the short trip from Boston to central Connecticut before giving up entirely and listening to some Jesusy station. After that, I always take it upon myself to provide my own soundtrack.

Still, it’s a far cry from making a single mix tape for a couple hour drive to making 14 CD set for a two week road trip in which I’m not even a participant. This is where Penpal is partially to blame. See, I was busy making my mix to send to her when something like this conversation happened:

L: Alix is really good at making mix CDs. She makes them for all our road trips! I got a 6-CD set for our last trip to Connecticut!
KS: You’re going to make some for our Road trip, right?
GK: Yeah, you just bought a 25 pack of blank CDs just to make one. So now I expect no less than 24 mix CDs for our trip.

Being the idiot that I am, I actually went along with this plan. Ok, not all 24, but quite a few. I made one for each state they’re driving through (two for Texas) and then wrote liner notes for all of them. I also tacked on a “mistake” CD, because I made the mistake of letting my father see some of my notes. And then my entire family felt the need to criticize my musical choices and harass me about all the important state-related songs I “forgot to include.” I ignored most of their suggestions, but kept this one:

As you might imagine, this project took a hefty chunk of time. Which is why you should blame KS and GK for their selfish behavior. I, as usual, am faultless.

J.K. Rowling

Damn, these books are long! I’m in the middle of year four and it wasn’t until page 167 that our hero, Hipster Neville, finally made an appearance! I still have well over 500 pages to make it through, and then ANOTHER THREE BOOKS. Normally I would be happy about having so much to read, but not in this instance. I’m beginning to regret this whole Neville project. Not enough that I won’t do it, but enough that it’s going to take me much longer than expected to finish. The preservation of my sanity is a good cause–please forgive me Jo Rowling.


Since last Friday, I’ve been visiting my sister in Austin. Unfortunately, she just moved back into her house following some renovations and has not had the internet reconnected. This is not through any fault of her own, but I will blame AT&T, who scheduled the date to come and turn on the internet for THREE WEEKS after they initially called. As a result, there is still no internet. No internet makes it hard to blog. I am currently loitering in a coffee shop, where I think a mumblecore drama just took place in line behind me. Make sure to read this in your most expressionless voice:

Boy: What’s that?
Girl: Quiche.
Boy: That’s a quiche?
Girl: Yes.
Boy. Is that French?
Girl: Mm.
Boy: Oh. Because I think saw something like that at La Madaleine.
Long pause…
Boy: Can we get on the internet here?
Girl: I think so.
Boy: Cool.
Another long pause… boy points at menu.
Boy: You know how they like, write stuff? I couldn’t do that.
Girl: Me neither. My handwriting is so bad.
Boy: You wouldn’t be able to read it if I wrote it.
More Pausing.

At that moment, the barista finished ringing me up, so I missed the rest of that riveting conversation. Lucky, too, because another minute of that and I would have had to strangle myself on one of the many decorative lamps hanging from the ceiling here. Now all I have to endure is the emo cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back” that’s currently assaulting my ears.


But in the conspiracy for my negligence, the entire city of Austin is clearly the biggest offender. It’s just too distracting! There are too many tacos to eat, bats to visit, fried avocados to eat, movies to see, pools to swim in, fried avocado tacos to eat… mostly there’s a great deal of eating. It’s a good thing I don’t actually live here because I’d weigh about 300 pounds, and it’s just too hot for that level of obesity. But for now, I never want to leave.

Fried Avocado = Best Invention Ever


Top Chef is kind of a big deal in my house. When KS still lived here (before he moved away and started REFUSING my invitations to hangout on google+), it alternated with The Office and Scrubs in the line-up of shows playing perpetually on our TV. So natch, when we heard twice-Cheftestant Mike Isabella was opening a new restaurant, Graffiato, in DC last week, we had to go.

Everyone has been talking about Graffiato. Besides being a Cheftestant, Mike Isabella already has a DC name for being former executive chef at Zatinya, a tasty Greek-ish restaurant that has brought me such delights as olive oil ice cream (best) and turkish coffee (worst). So when L made reservations for Graffiato, she couldn’t get a table for more than four. I was one of the lucky three to sign up first, so Wednesday night, K, KLang, L and I sauntered down to Chinatown to try it out. Still in their first week, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re still working out some kinks, because not all of my first impressions were positive:

  • There is a guy whose only job seems to be opening the door for people. As in, he just stands there looking happy to be opening the door all night for a bunch of reality TV fans. Besides being kind of degrading, I’m not sure this position is strictly necessary. The restaurant is just not that fancy. It’s got that upscale casual dining feel. Most of the staff were in jeans, and Mr. Doorman himself was wearing jeans and a black Graffiato t-shirt. I think they still need to figure out just how posh this restaurant is and adjust accordingly.
  • It was REALLY loud in there. Eventually, it died down and we could hear ourselves talk, but we also started dinner at 8:30. To their credit, the is bar downstairs and the eating upstairs, so that keeps the dinner noise down a little bit. More restaurants in DC should subscribe to this model.
  • Mike Isabella needs to work on his temperature control, because Graffiato is the coldest restaurant in the world. To make matters worse, the chairs are metal, so the second we sat down, all four of us exclaimed things like “OHMYGOD MY ASS IS SO COLD OHMYGODOHMYGOD.” Seriously, it felt like I was sitting on a chair that had just been pulled from the freezer. Mikey dear, this is summer in DC. We are city built on a swamp. It is hotter than hell here. We do not wear a lot of clothes in the summer. So while I do want to be welcomed into your restaurant by the cooling hum of modern technology, I do not want to get hypothermia of the ass from your metal chairs. Please turn the thermostat up a few notches.
Things looked up when we checked out the menus. It’s a pretty simple affair, which I love because I hate having too much choice in a menu. Maybe it’s all those years growing up vegetarian in South Carolina when all I could eat was a house salad, but too much menu choice gives me anxiety. The perfect menu has approximately three things I can eat, all of which are delicious and none of which are salad. Anywho, the drinks menu was more extensive than the food menu, but this was my favorite part:
If you’ve read anything about Graffiato, you probably know that they sell prosecco on draft (which, what?! How??! I’m confused and excited?!). But did you know that they ALSO sell champagne in a can? Bet no one mentioned that. I was torn, but of course I had to order the Champ Can, for several reasons:
  • I have been on the lookout Champ Cans in DC for a year, ever since I started reading Forever Young Adult. The writers proselytize for Champ Cans on an almost daily basis. Here was my chance at last!
  • Francis Ford Coppola makes decent wine, right?
  • KLang ordered the prosecco on tap, so I could at least try hers.
  • It comes with a straw. Oh right, and it’s champagne. In a can. How could I possibly turn that down?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to not sound like an idiot when ordering champagne in a can. “I would like the champagne in a can, please.” But it came and I was the happiest person in the world. Just look at this unbelievably awful picture K captured of me, mid-laughter with mirth:
But my happiness was short-lived. In a statement that will surprise exactly no one, turns out champagne in a can does not taste good. In fact, it tastes kind of like high-class André. Although the lovely ladies at FYA might be inclined to disagree with me:
The saddest part was that instead of getting the best of both worlds as I’d planned, KLang’s prosecco just served as a reminder of what decent alcohol tastes like. Oh well. Let’s go back to that picture for a second:
Two important things in this photo: 
  1. That rack of knives looks awfully dangerous hanging right above where people are sitting! (Clearer picture here)
  2. YES! That is Cheftestant Mike Isabella behind me!
Mike Isabella was doing the rounds, asking everyone how their food was, etc. We didn’t have any food yet on which to comment (although, if he’d been interested in our opinions on beverages, I might have asked why he was tempting idiots like myself with Champagne in a Can when it clearly does not taste good), so he might have passed us by entirely. But he stopped for a second at our table to say “Hi, Ladies,” before leaving again, possibly because L flashed him a terrifying smile and said “Helloooo” in the creepiest manner imaginable. It was enough to make anyone run away.
In due time, we ordered and received food. We started with breads and cheeses, both of which were tasty but not mind-blowingly delicious. Your standard cheese plate and breads. However, the cheese came with this bizarrely delicious garlic caramel sauce that should not have been good but was. 
Our entrées arrived strangely not at the same time (leftover habit from Zatinya, tapas place extraordinaire, perhaps). My hand-cut spaghetti came first and was fantastic. Simple, understated, and fantastic. Shortly after, K and KLang’s pizzas appeared, as did L’s gnocchi. L’s gnocchi/pork dish was supposedly very good, too, but as the rest of us are vegetarian, we’ll have to take her word for it. The pizzas were a different story. My personal pizza preference is flat and crispy (Rustik does an awesome job with this), but these were flat and almost doughy, with very puffy crusts. Some people would love this, but alas, I am not one of them. K ordered a Vermont but replaced the bacon with arugula. It mostly tasted like greens on salty bread, but I can’t fault Graffiato for that since it was K’s choice. We encouraged KLang to get a “Countryman,” consisting of black truffles, fontina, and duck egg. Intriguing, right? L loved it, but the rest of us were unconvinced. I think KLang was right in saying that it was not the duck egg that went awry, but the meeting of the truffles with the duck egg. Something was off in the flavor combination there.
Meanwhile, we waited for Mike Isabella to come back around to our table and ask how our food was. If he had any intention of returning, however, he was probably scared away by our maniacal laughter. KLang had been doing a spot-on impression of L declaring her love for the Countryman Pizza, and L was accusing us of driving Mike Isabella away with our lack of enthusiasm. We also had had several awkward run-ins with our waiter by this point, where he would sneak up behind us whenever we were saying/doing something not strictly restaurant-appropriate. He might have tipped off Mike to keep away.
Dessert arrived. We ordered raspberry gelato, nutella cookies and a chocolate tart with sea salt gelato. The raspberry gelato was delicious, though sorbet-like, the nutella cookies were ok, and the chocolate tart… oh, sad little chocolate tart. Like many things that night, the chocolate tart suffered from Weird Menu Syndrome. WMS is an affliction suffered by foods which you see on a fancy menu and think, “Wow, that is so weird sounding! But I bet it’s good, because why else would they put such a weird food on the menu? I must try it!” And then you try it, and unlike the olive oil ice cream at Zatinya or the garlic caramel sauce, it’s not good. It’s just weird. Such was the case for the chocolate tart with sea salt ice cream. I have had sea salt ice cream before, and it was awesome. This one was almost too salty and had a strange aftertaste. The tart was not quite sweet enough to be coupled with the salty ice cream, but also not bitter enough to eat on it’s own. On the whole, it was kind of “wah wah.” I don’t think we even finished it, while the raspberry gelato and nutella cookies were gone in a flash.
We sat around for a little longer, finishing our drinks and chatting. Eventually, we had to face facts. “Guys, I have bad news,” said L. “I think Mike Isabella went home.” She was probably right. It was already 10:30 or so. We paid and followed suit.
Overall, I’d give Graffiato a B. It had a nice atmosphere, and I’ll wager they change many of the things I disliked after it’s been open more than a week. The food was hit or miss, but the hits were really delicious. I’d definitely go back, but I’m not dying to return, either. If you go, take my advice: skip dessert, order the pasta, avoid the pizza and whatever you do, don’t get Champagne in a Can.

5 Socially Unacceptable Things to Do at a Party

I haven’t written lately because the past two weeks have been pretty lackluster. Since I hurt my ankle, my day usually goes something like this:

  • Wake up
  • Work
  • Watch Veronica Mars
  • Look for some jobs to apply to
  • Wallow in self-pity
  • Paint nails
  • More Veronica Mars
  • Go to sleep
These activities are punctuated by shuffling back and forth to the kitchen to switch ice packs and, occasionally but infrequently, to eat. Showers and eating have become fairly optional. On an exciting day, I’ll move from my bed to the living room couch, although this puts me farther from the bathroom. It’s a tragic and self-perpetuating cycle; the more I stay in bed, the more I wallow, and the more I wallow, the less I want to leave. Also, all that Veronica Mars has been seeping into my dreamspace and making me paranoid. I wake up every morning feeling awfully suspicious of everything around me.
So really, the only thing I have to show for the past two weeks is crackpot dreams and my new and improved nail art skillz, and while I could write about that, it’s been done.
By the way, it’s impossible to take attractive photos of
your own hands. But crossword puzzles, yeah!
On the bright side, L & K have been doing their best to get me out of the house. Saturday was a Big Day because they convinced me to go to two different parties. Unfortunately, I was apparently not fit to be taken out in public by the second party. Due to my newfound geriatric tendencies, I was tired and boring. Furthermore, I had been hoping to impress KS’s summer roommate replacement, CS, with her first post-college, East Coast, white people party and was pretty cranky that this particular party seemed determined to be decidedly average. All this combined into the perfect storm of social unacceptability as I morphed into the most awkward party guest since the Great Harvard Debacle of 2008 (story for another day). The only silver lining was that L was pretty complicit in most of my bad behavior, so at least I wasn’t the only one.
5 Socially Unacceptable Things to Do at a Party:
1. Get in a debate about the differences between plaid, gingham, check and buffalo check. Any topic that requires you to fire up Wikipedia during a kegger is probably a topic best avoided. Spoiler: gingham is a fabric, not a pattern. Buffalo check does not exist on Wikipedia and ergo I deny its existence in real life.
2. Whine about the music selection, try to commandeer the iPod and then fail. I got really tired of hearing Robyn that night. At one point, I marched up to the speakers, took control of of the iPod and… only succeeded in finding more Robyn. I gave up and put on “Dancing On My Own,” even though it had already been played at least 5 times. Then L complained loudly about how many times she heard that song already.
3. Within earshot of the party host, complain about the amount, quality or variety of alcohol. The endless Robyn playlist might have gone over better if they hadn’t run out of beer around 12:30. L and I were unimpressed, especially as the low-key barbecue we’d visited in the afternoon had a better selection and supply of alcohol. Several conversations went like this:
L: I wish I had another beer.
Matt IV: If this were my party, this would be the point where I’d send someone to find more alcohol.
A: Just sayin’, all of our parties have hard liquor.
L: Oh wow, we’re listening to this Robyn song again. And everyone’s dancing to it for some reason.
A: Maybe you would be, too, if you were drunk.
L: But I’m not.
A: Nope.
L: Wow, this party really cleared out fast.
A: That’s what happens when you run out of alcohol.
Unfortunately, the party had cleared out immediately following the lack of alcohol, so I’m pretty sure a party host heard at least one of those conversations over the lack of people around. Which officially makes me a bitch.
4. Criticize someone’s baking skills. In my defense, I wasn’t trying to criticize someone’s baking skills. I made a badly-timed observation that was misinterpreted as an insult. After all the beer was gone, there was nothing left to consume but a cake some guy made.
Party Goer: Man, this cake is awesome.
Party Host: Yeah, Joe made it!
Party Goer: I mean, it’s totally from a box. No cake is this moist without some artificial additives in it. I mean it’s really good! But it’s definitely Duncan Hines or something. Definitely from a box.
Party Host: I mean, yeah, but he like doctored it up and stuff! And he made the icing from scratch!!
A: Yeah, I doubt it. This icing is definitely from a mix or something.
Party Host: No it’s not!
A: I think it is.
Party Host: What do you know, anyway!?
L: Actually she makes wedding cakes.
Party Host: Oh.
Longest Pause in the world
Party Host: But it’s totally from scratch!
5. Harass the neighbors. After we left, K discovered her metro card was missing. I remembered seeing one on the bathroom floor and went back to get it. The door was locked. I rang the bell seven or so times before realizing that I was actually at the virtually identical rowhouse next door to the party house. Oops. I ran away in shame and L had to go retrieve the metro card. My only hope is that the Ke$ha dance party on the back porch would have woken up the neighbors long before me. Meanwhile, the rest of us got harassed by some cockroaches and a clown.
So there you have it. K & L can’t take me anywhere. Only two weeks of infirmity and I may have to become a recluse. I’m officially the worst party guest ever.

Butter, Butter Everywhere (aka In Which You Learn to Make the Perfect Croissant)

When I turned 21, I was at the end of a 9 month vacation in Paris. Some people might call this time “study abroad,” but I would argue that the only studying I did was a lengthy empirical study of wine potability and pastry quality, punctuated by brief moments of class at the Musée D’Orsay. Not very convincing as I was supposedly doing half my coursework in Economics. Luckily, my parents seemed to fully embrace this hedonist lifestyle and for a 21st birthday present, they gave myself and L a class in croissant-making.

Absolute genius on my parents’ part. Croissants are delicious and notoriously difficult to make; the ones we can find in this country are complete crap 99% of the time. Mastering croissants would be an awesome addition to my pastry-making repertoire, something with which to impress people at parties for years to come.

The class was held at a massively posh cooking school nearby and proved to be pretty intimidating for both of us. L may know her way around a spice rack and a grill, but she is not historically a baker. And while I am a pretty successful baker, I’m really, really bad at following directions. I despise measuring things and always have this arrogant idea that I can improve a recipe, even if I’ve never tried it before. Unfortunately for me, the cooking class was run by the Anal Retentive Chef.

I wish I had the original recipe to share, but I think it’s at my parent’s house in South Carolina. However, it closely resembled the following (L can confirm that I am not exaggerating in the slightest):

250 g #56 Flour
325 g #62 Flour
16 g of cake yeast
250 g of water
330 g of butter
2 t salt

The combined temperatures of the flour, yeast, and water should be 102.5 degrees centigrade. Adjust the water temperature until the temperature of water + temperature of yeast + temperature of flour = 102.5 degrees

AND THAT IS JUST THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS! This recipe is insanely detailed. So it’s no surprise that when I got back to the states and tried to recreate it, it did not go well, not least because I was trying to find american substitutes for the flours and cake yeast. My mom can attest that several tries ended in abject failure and tears.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever making edible croissants when I found a recipe for pain au chocolat in Jacques Torres’ A Year in Chocolate. This is noteworthy for two reasons: pain au chocolat is just a croissant cut in a different shape with chocolate stuffed inside, and I trust Jacques Torres because he momentarily hosted the most useless (and also my favorite) show on the Food Network, “Chocolate with Jaques Torres.” If you did not have the good fortune to ever see this show, it usually began with a sentence like, “Bienvenue à ‘Chocolat weeth Jacques Torres.’ I ahm Jacques Torres, and today we weell be makeeng a meeneeahture Las Vegas out of chocolat!” And then he would make a miniature Las Vegas out of chocolate. It was both marvelous and pointless, and ergo extremely French. This is why Jacques Torres is a trustworthy source.

Not only did his recipe use readily available American ingredients and quantities, but it tastes the damn same as the Anal Retentive Chef’s recipe up there. After one last failure based on an extremely egregious typo (T of yeast does not equal t of yeast, you lazy frog!), I think I have finally mastered the art of croissant making. And now I will impart my knowledge onto you, so you can skip right over the tearful years of heartache that I spent trying to get it right. But be warned, the amount of butter you’re about to witness may stop you from ever wanting to eat a pastry again.

Croissants/Pain au Chocolat 
adapted from A Year in Chocolate by Jacques Torres

This recipe makes approximately 48 mini-croissants or 24 mini-pains-au-chocolat.
Prep time takes forever; normally I begin making the dough the morning before I plan to bake it. I’ve only made the recipe straight through once, and that was a week and a half ago at a former coworker’s house. It took most of the day. This was ok because I got to play with her six-month-old baby in between steps, but I would not normally recommend this course of action.

For the dough:

1 c (two sticks) plus 5 T unsalted butter
2 envelopes (2 1/4 t each) dry active yeast
1/2 c plus 1 T water
3 1/3 c bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup sugar
2 t salt
1/2 cup plus 1 T milk
9 oz dark chocolate, chopped

For the egg wash

1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1 large egg

Even with this recipe, some of the ingredients look like the Anal Retentive Chef got to them. But this recipe works! This is one of the only times I will carefully measure things when cooking, and you should do the same. Note: the following assumes that you understand basic principles of baking, like how to roll out or knead dough. If these are not things you already have a handle on, this is probably not the recipe for you.

1. Set out butter to soften. Add yeast to the water, which you can use at any moderate temperature you like so long as it’s not particularly hot or cold. Melt 3 T of the butter and set aside.

2. Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter and milk, and stir briefly with a wooden spoon (about 5 seconds). Then, add the yeast and water. Mix until the dough begins to come together, and then begin to knead with your hands. After kneading for a couple of minutes, dough should come together easily in a ball, with moisture consistent throughout. Don’t worry if it’s still a little lumpy–the gluten in the flour has not relaxed yet (this means that the gluten has not had a chance to form long, tidy protein ropes, which makes though dough smoother and more elastic). Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface (always use a lightly floured surface for the rest of this recipe). Roll out into a rectangle approximately 8 x 15 inch rectangle (not an exact science–I roll it out to about the same size as my small silpat). Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and carefully spread the softened butter (2 sticks + 2T) over two thirds of it, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch around the sides uncovered. Once you have an even sheet of butter spread, fold the uncovered third over the middle third, and the final third over the uncovered third. This should look like an envelope:

5. Carefully roll out the dough again, into a slightly bigger rectangle this time. Take the shorter sides and fold them in, meeting in the middle. Fold one more time along the middle crease. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, although 8-12 hours works best.

6. Remove from the refrigerator and roll out into a rectangle again. Fold into thirds one more time like in step three. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate one last time for two hours or overnight. The reason for all this folding is that you are creating thin sheets of butter in between the layers of dough. In the oven, the butter will melt and separate the layers of dough. This is what creates the flakiness of a croissant.

7. Roll out into a large rectangle until about an 1/8 of an inch thick (my rectangle is about 16 x 24). Trim off all the edges with a sharp knife. This may seem wasteful, but it allows the layers of the dough to separate more, creating a flakier pastry. When you cut the dough, you should be able to see the striations of butter in the edge:

8a. For croissants, cut into small isosceles triangles. You can experiment with sizes, but I like mini-croissants, so my triangles usually have a height of 4.5″ and a base of 2.5″ on average. To shape, take the base of the triangle and roll towards the tip. This should not involve effort–you do not want them to be either too tight or too loose. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, tip down. Tuck in edges so it looks like a croissant.

8b. For pains au chocolat, cut in to rectangles, about 2.5″ x 4.5.” Just inside the first short edge, place a line of chocolate. Roll the dough over this first line, and place another line of chocolate. Finish rolling and place seam-side down on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Note: no matter what size pain au chocolate you are making, there should always be two sticks of chocolate involved. Anything else should be called “sham au chocolat.” In fact, if you are ever in a French pâtisserie and see that they are hawking one-stick pain au chocolat, turn around and leave immediately because it is clearly an inferior establishment.

9. Cover cookie sheet loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until they’ve doubled in size. This depends entirely on the temperature of your kitchen and will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

10. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, mix the egg wash together and brush the pastries right before they go in the oven. For the pains au chocolat, cut two diagonal lines with a sharp knife in the top of each pastry.

11. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack and eat while still warm.

Stray notes:

  • Often, I only make a third of the recipe at a time. After step 6, I will cut the dough into thirds with a sharp knife and freeze the dough I’m not going to use immediately. When you’re ready to make the rest of the dough, remove from the freezer the day before and thaw in the refrigerator.
  • If you are wondering why I didn’t suggest you use dark chocolate chips instead of cut-up chocolate. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I choose not to use chocolate chips because they tend to have more emulsifiers and less cocoa butter so as to hold their shape when cooked–that is, they don’t melt as well as normal chocolate. And in general, I like to stick to the rule with chocolate the fewer ingredients is better. I usually buy my baking chocolate from that posh stand next to the cheese in Whole Foods with those big, rough-looking blocks of chocolate. They may look exorbitantly priced, but when you do the math per ounce, it’s not much more than buying Ghirardelli baking chocolate. In France, they sell sticks of chocolate expressly for the purpose of making pain au chocolat, but I have never seen such a thing in this country. One time, I carefully melted, tempered, and cut chocolate into my own pain au chocolat sticks. This is a huge waste of time and I cannot recommend it.
  • After that marathon baking day, my coworker asked how long they would keep for. I laughed because mine have never lasted more than 12 hours. (ok, more than two hours. Maybe only one.) If you do have any leftover, my best bet is to put them in an air-tight container and eat them within a couple of days.
  • I also use this recipe for the crust of my Springtime Ramp Tart, the food with which I terminated my brief foray into veganism. Most delicious thing ever. I will post the recipe for that sometime, but this is already way too long so I’ll hold off for now.