Happiness is a few lazy hours at a café in Buenos Aires; a seat at a corner table, a cup of coffee, a tiny glass of seltzer water, and a plate with two or three medialunas. Your spot at that table is your very own piece of porteño real estate for as long as you like. Feel free to while away the hours in conversation, reflection or hunkered down with a good book – rest assured that no one will bother you.
It comes as no surprise that after a recent three-month stint in the "Paris of the South" that reader Betty, an American living in Munich with her German husband, was longing for a taste of Buenos Aires, to recapture, perhaps, those simple yet pleasurable moments that we associate with food. Betty bought some croissants from a bakery in Germany and tried to gussy them up with a sugar glaze, but they just weren't the same as the rich, pillowy, sweet medialunas that she and her hubby enjoyed here in Argentina.
Though medialunas have quite a bit in common with the world-famous croissant, they tend to be sweeter and a tad smaller than their French counterparts. They're a staple at breakfast with a café con leche or in the afternoon as a snack with mate.
There are actually two types of medialunas that are popular with Argentines: medialunas de manteca, which are made with butter and feature a sweet glaze, and medialunas de grasa, which are made with (brace yourselves) lard and tend to be flakier and more on the savory side. The basic dough for medialunas can also be used to make any number of Argentine pastries (facturas) including molinos, libritos, moños, etc.
When Betty wrote me to ask if I had a good medialuna recipe, I replied that I did not but that I would be happy to research one for her. After reading through a number of recipes, I had all the ingredients to prepare the medialunas save one: courage! Ladies and gentlemen, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. It requires a great deal of time and patience. There's a reason people buy these at the bakery. I must admit, however, that when I finally sucked it up and took the plunge, I was richly rewarded. These medialunas did not disappoint!
4 c. (500 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 c. (150 mL) whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tsp. (10 g) salt
1/3 c. (65 g) sugar
0.9 oz (25 g) fresh yeast [also called compressed or cake yeast]
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp. lemon or orange zest
2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp. (250 g) unsalted butter
egg wash [1 egg yolk plus 1 Tbsp. milk]
sugar glaze [see directions below]
Making the dough:
Combine the first seven ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix with a dough hook at low speed to achieve a dough that is soft and slightly sticky, about 15 minutes. If kneading by hand, continue for an additional 15 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes.
Preparing the butter:
While the dough is resting, place the butter between two large sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it slightly (you want the butter to be malleable but still cold). Roll out the butter until it forms a uniform rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and sprinkle the lemon/orange zest evenly over the butter. Chill the butter while rolling out the dough.
Rolling out the dough:
Turn out the dough and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface, lifting and stretching the dough and dusting with flour as necessary, into a large rectangle. Arrange the dough with the long side nearest you. Place the butter in the center of the dough so that the short sides of the butter are parallel to the long sides of the dough. Fold the dough like a brochure: the left third of dough over the butter, then the right third over the dough. Brush off the excess flour with a pastry brush. Roll out the top and bottom edges of the dough a bit, and then fold them over as well, completely encasing the butter.
Once again, roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Do your best to avoid tearing or puncturing the dough to prevent the butter from escaping. Fold the dough again in thirds, taking care to remove excess flour with the pastry brush. You have just completed your first "turn." Place the dough on a cutting board or sheet pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with a bit of flour, and allow the dough to rest for about an hour in the refrigerator.
Make two more turns in the same manner, chilling the dough about an hour after each turn, for a total of three turns. If any butter oozes out while rolling, sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. If the dough develops small cracks or tears (and it will, trust me), try to fold strategically so that the offending portion gets covered up by the top flap of dough. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill it overnight.
In the morning, roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Inspect the dough for any large clumps of butter. If you see that some of the butter has still not completely incorporated into the dough, do one more turn before proceeding with the next step. [Note: I wound up having to do an extra turn.]
Assuming that the dough is ready for the next step, using a chef’s knife, divide the dough down the center into two large pieces. Place one piece to the side (or chill it in the refrigerator) and cut the other in half horizontally. Then cut the dough into long triangles.
Shaping the medialunas:
To shape each medialuna, gently tug and stretch the dough to elongate the base of the triangle and then pull slightly to lengthen the triangle. Carefully begin rolling the base of the triangle toward the point. Continue rolling up the medialuna with one hand as you stretch the point lightly with the other hand.
Place the medialuna on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, making sure to keep the point tucked underneath. Bring the two ends together and press lightly to join them. As you form the medialunas, arrange them fairly close together on the pan (they should be touching). Repeat the cutting and shaping procedures with the remaining piece of dough.
Proofing and baking the medialunas:
When all the medialunas are on the pan, place them in a fairly warm, draft-free area. Allow the medialunas to rise slightly (you don't want them to double in size) and then brush them lightly with egg wash.
[For a version called a vigilante, roll up the dough but do not curve the ends inward. Place the vigilantes very close together on the pan (they will be touching). Brush lightly with water and sprinkle with sugar prior to baking.]
Bake at 400º F (200º C) for approximately 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. You may need to rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even browning.
Once the medialunas have cooled, brush them with sugar glaze for sweetness and an appealing shine.
Sugar Glaze | Almíbar
The ratio for the sugar glaze is two parts sugar to one part water. Feel free to adjust the following amounts, taking care to respect the ratio.
2 c. (400 g) sugar
1 c. water (200 mL)
a few drops of vanilla extract (Note: do not add vanilla to the sugar glaze if you opted to add it to the dough)
Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar completely dissolves. Bring the sugar syrup to a boil and continue cooking for about 3 minutes (do not stir the syrup after it comes to a boil and while it's cooking), until you reach the thread stage (230-233º F or 110-111º C).
[Note: Even if you don't understand Spanish, I highly encourage you to watch the following videos from myvirtualcook on YouTube: Medialunas de Manteca y Facturas Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I cannot stress enough how helpful it was to actually watch someone prepare the medialunas step by step.]
After all that work, sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Tip: Whatever you do, don't think about how many calories you're consuming.
Invite your friends and family over so you can bask in their unending praise for your baking skills. Well, that and the fact that you'll need some help eating since medialunas are best enjoyed the very same day they are baked.
[Opening photo credit: nathansnider]
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