Wrong-time-of-year King Cake

First thing I want to start off this post with, is something very personal and revealing.

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This is the most cohesive recipe I’ve ever gotten from my mom. Everything else I’ve gleaned through my nose and eyes. A couple of times I’ve gotten a dictated recipe full of vague measurements like “enough” and “some.”

It’s definitely possible to learn from and work with stuff like this!

This is also a big part of why I’ve always been a little inconsistent in how I post recipes. I fundamentally believe that the ingredients themselves are inconsistent–no two jalapeños are alike, and it’s important to be prepared to handle the differences.

Even with baking, I follow the same ideas. I started out using recipes as a crutch, but I grew to trust my senses. All sorts of things–humidity, age of the yeast or flour, temperature of each ingredient and of the air–influence the dough, and it is more important to look at the dough itself than to look at a dead page with dead script on it. So now recipes are starting points, style guides. And the pictures help keep me in tune with what things should look like. Good descriptions help fill in my senses and build my expectations.

So with that in mind, I took a ton of pictures of the process and I’ll try to be detailed in all my sensory descriptions.

It wasn’t the right season, but I’m consistently out of town for Mardi Gras, so we made a King Cake anyway last time we visited.

We’re not big on excessive food coloring or sugar, so the toppings are a bit different than what you’d normally see.
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For our version, there are actually two recipes. One for the filling (which we also used as an icing) and one for the dough. Our filling is a basic fluffy-almost-cream-cheese, but you can use anything you like. The filling was whipped up too fast for me to get a good picture, so here’s the recipe:

2 cream cheeses
1 tub of mascarpone (8oz)
1 cup confectioners sugar
tap of vanilla

Mix these all together in a bowl until smooth.
Resist the temptation to eat it all while making everything else.

But as for the dough, that’ll be a bit more interesting.

Assemble the following:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 packages of yeast (or 4.5 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup warm water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 cups flour (we used bread flour, cake flour would be nice too)
1 1/2 tsp salt

your selection of toppings/extra filling (we used a mix of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

To start, we’re going to need to scald the milk.

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To do this, just heat the milk up on medium high. Keep an eye on it, because you don’t want it to boil, scalding is just before that. Stir it if you like, but it will slow down the process. When the milk starts to froth at the edges, you’ve reached the right point.

Take the milk off the stove, and pour it in your mixing bowl. Add your butter and allow to melt. Now that the pressure’s off of watching the milk, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375.

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Yeast is alive, and you don’t want to kill it. If you put it in the butter + milk too soon, you could murder it with heat. So let that cool until it’s cold enough that you would comfortably touch it, then add the yeast, sugar, water and eggs.

Lightly mix it. You don’t want to froth it up, but you want the ingredients to be equally incorporated. Top it off with the nutmeg.

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Then, add the flour slowly, about a cup at a time. Tap it into the mixer while it’s running, and add more once what was in there has blended in. Your dough will end up somewhat sticky, but not soupy. It’ll stick to your fingers, but that’s totally fine.

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This recipe makes three king cakes, but we only made two last time and that worked out well. You can play with this to see how many cakes you want and how thick they’re going to be. Once we grabbed as much dough as we wanted to use, we then separated it into two pieces. After the rolling and the filling, each piece will be a half circle for the whole cake.

Before rolling it out, prep the countertop and the rolling pin with more flour. Sprinkle liberally, but try not to have clumps.

As you roll it, if there are spots where the dough sticks to the rolling pin, just sprinkle more flour on. You’ll notice that it becomes easier to handle the dough once you start working it like this.

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Aim for a crust that is rectangular instead of square or circular, and make it around 1/4-1/2 inch thick. We’re going to roll it into a tube, and then make it a circle from there. But before that!
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Slap down some of the cream cheese filling and sprinkle your favorite things inside. We used mixed berries, but it works really well with any type of fruit, flavored cream cheese fillings, or even chopped up candy bars.

With your hands (not the rolling pin!), roll these flat doughs into tubes.

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You can see both of ours in the picture, back in the background is the second one. Once they’re both ready, curl one into a half-circle and make room to bring the other half over.

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We overlapped the dough a little to help seal the halves together.

Once the oven was ready, we popped it in, covered with high quality butter, and bake for 30 minutes. The butter isn’t strictly necessary, but it gives it a beautiful GBD color and texture.

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When the cake is done, let it cool on a cake rack until cool to the touch. If you try to ice it while it is still hot, the icing won’t set and will melt down the sides. We used the leftover filling for the icing, but you could definitely use something like a royal icing or a buttercream, or your favorite type of other-icing.

We sprinkled on the leftover fruit to finish it off, then chowed down.

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It was great as a dessert, but if you can manage, I recommend saving at least a little. It tastes great chilled (and I love the texture of the filling both hot and cold, so it’s good to try it both ways).

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A Tale of Two Icings

I’ve made butter cream multiple times in the past, but I’ve never been quite satisfied. (Except when I make it at work, which is extremely rare and lucky…) So I hesitated to use it on my precious, precious Halloween cupcakes. Consequently I decided to try to make two types and see which one I liked.

I made a small batch of royal icing, at the recommendation of a coworker, and it turned out amazing. And this time my butter cream came out really well too, so I feel I know what I’m doing now.

But since these are for a special occasion, I didn’t think any normal tasting icing would do, so I made them cinnamon flavored with the addition of a few drops of cinnamon oil.

For the Royal Icing I used:
1 large egg white
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
~2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
4 drops cinnamon oil

I had trouble using my stand mixer for this because it was such a small amount, so you may have to either do this by hand or use a hand mixer. Start by beating the egg white and lemon juice until combined.

Add the cinnamon oil then the sugar one half cup at a time and mix. How much sugar you ultimately use depends on how thick or runny you want it, so make sure you have a test surface. Wax paper works well, or even spare cupcakes. I had plenty of those since this whole endeavor was an experiment. Originally I was only going to use a total of 1 1/2 cups of sugar, but that was way too runny for what I wanted. I was looking for something thick that wouldn’t run off the edges too much and got pretty much what I wanted.

One thing that’s nice about royal icing is how pretty it looks. It stays very smooth and as it is exposed to air, it hardens slightly and makes a sort of glossy shell. It is perfect for pouring over something to make an immaculate cover, or for creating a clean look (as long as it’s not too runny). One danger though is that what you don’t use must be handled carefully if you don’t want it to try up and become useless. I put my extra in a bowl in the fridge with cling wrap directly on top, eliminating any air from touching the surface. That’s how you store it, but ideally you’d use all of it instantly.

Next was the batch of butter cream. For this I only used:
1/2 stick of butter (room temperature, or close to it)
quite a bit of POWDERED sugar
7 drops cinnamon oil

I put the emphasis there because I think that is where I went wrong in so many of my previously failed attempts. Also, I guess because of butters overwhelmingly delicious taste, more cinnamon oil was necessary for this icing, which was a bit disappointing.

I started by whisking the butter to a creamy consistency, dropped in the cinnamon oil, then added the sugar little by little (about 1-2 tbs at a time) until I had achieved optimal consistency and taste. It is integral to perform the finger-lick test periodically to ensure maximum scrumptious-ness.

What’s nice about when you have the right ingredients, there isn’t an exact stopping point; there is a wide range of how thick it can be and all of which work for cupcakes. Butter cream’s also pretty easy to spread, but it comes off looking a lot more informal, unless you take a lot of time making it look nice.

After tasting both of the end results, multiple times, I decided that for this event royal icing would suit the cupcakes best, with the butter cream saved for writing and decorating.

Honey Cupcakes

So this year some friends and I are throwing an awesome Halloween party and we kind of want to go over the top. We’re going to decorate her backyard with all sorts of props, have neat little party favors, and of course, incredible cupcakes. The party’s Alice in Wonderland themed, so a lot of the decorations and of course, food, are ridiculous and non-nonsensical. So I tried to come up with flavors that not everyone would have tried before.

The first batch of cupcakes I made were honey flavored. The cake came out very moist and fluffy, but not overly sweet. And super amazing.

What I used is:
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup cake flour (sifted)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup milk (I used whole)

Depending on how fast you work, you may want to preheat the oven to 350 now.

Start by creaming the butter and sugar.

Creaming the butter calls for the beater attachment to your mixer and mixing on the lowest speed until no clumps remain. Once that’s done, mix on medium for about ten minutes, while scraping the sides for batter periodically to ensure it blends well. Blend until fluffy, then add the honey.

Then beat until light and fluffy. This shouldn’t take more than a minute or so.

Next add the vanilla and eggs, then beat well to combine. After that, pour in half the flour as well as the baking soda and salt, then mix. You should be careful not to over-mix here, because overworking the flour can make cakes, breads, and biscuits (i.e. anything with flour) come out tough.

Add the milk, mix it in, then add the rest of the flour and mix until smooth. For this batch I tried to fill the cupcake containers to about 1/2 or 3/4 full, but some of them overflowed, so I’m going to try 1/2 full next time.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes then check on them. The toothpick test is one of my favorite done-ness indicators.

As for icing, I tried out two different types, butter cream and royal. But not just your ordinary icing–recipes coming soon!

Marshmallow and Cashew Popcorn

A while back I said I’d be experimenting more with popcorn and candy, and I that wasn’t a lie. This is the result of that epic essai.

First of all, to make something this tasty you have to pop your own popcorn. It’s not very hard and it’s really easy to turn it into something you really want instead of a buttery, artery-clogging pile of puffed corn.

I started with:
A tall stock pot (nothing out of the ordinary)
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Enough veggie oil to cover the bottom of the pan

Then cover the pan and heat on medium. As it’s cooking, shake occasionally and when the loud, scary popping noises become less frequent (when only one *pop* happens every 3-5 seconds) take it off the burner. I like to give it another good shake before talking off the lid. And then, wha-bam:

Isn’t it amazing?

Yes.

So what makes this special: before enjoying this wondrous bounty, I put it on a baking sheet mixed with marshmallows and cashews with a sprinkle of salt.

After the request of my roommate, I decided to put nutella on half before baking.

With the oven preheated to 275, make for 10 minutes, check, then 10 minutes again. The marshmallows on top get hard and dry, kind of crisp like the kind in cereal while the marshmallow under some popcorn becomes gooey and wonderful.

I ate all of it almost immediately.

Birthday Tarts

I’ve never really liked birthday cake. It’s sacrilege, I know, but there’s something so sickly sweet and terrible about the birthday cake and all that icing on top of it that just really turns me away from it. Don’t get me wrong; there’s always a time and a place for cake, just not on my birthday.

Because of this, at the joint birthday parties my sister and I would have, there’d sometimes be some alternative like a gigantic cookie cake or ice cream cake, but sometimes it was just so easy to go the the grocery store bakery and pick something up.

But a few years ago I moved in with my mom and for my 15th birthday we made this.

It was awesome. And ever since I haven’t been content with just any cake. It may seem silly, but at the same time I don’t care what you think! Hahaha. And for the most part I’ve been making my own birthday desserts, so it all works out.

One thing that’s hit me and really stuck was the tart.

For the longest time I’ve been making these with my mom and sister. We always followed the Martha Stewart recipes for the crust and the filling, but this time I wanted to try to make my own recipe. (Part was due to the desire to create from absolutely nothing, not even a recipe, part was due to the laziness encountered when faced with the task of looking up the recipe.)

I started off by selecting and preparing some fruit that I thought would go well together and look nice.

I chose blackberries, strawberries, kiwis, dragon fruit, raspberries and blueberries. Good stuff.

And for the crust, I used:
1/4 cup sugar (you can use less or none at all, as you wish)
2 cups flour
8 oz cream cheese
1 tbs water

This makes enough for one 9inch round plus a little extra. I used my handy-dandy stand mixer (thanks mom!)

to mix the dough but any sort of mixer (or even your hands) would work fine. You want it to have the consistency of a crumbly cookie dough.

I just put it in the pan and flattened it out with my hands, but it would also work if you rolled it out first. That’d probably look really nice, but at the same time, it’s about to be covered with cream so it doesn’t matter.

I didn’t bake it, I wanted to see how it would come out as is. So I just set it in the fridge to get harder and cold while I did the next parts. (I think I’m going to try baking it later, maybe into a pear-tart, mmm.)

***UPDATE***
So I tried baking them this time. They came out kind of crunchy and nice, so I definitely recommend it. If you want it to be flakier and lighter, try adding a little butter. Maybe even replacing some of the cream cheese for butter.
I preheated and baked at 360-375 (my oven’s not super accurate) for about 25 minutes. I checked on them every 5, so that may have let out a bunch of heat, thereby making it take a bit longer than it should have. They brown a little, but not very much; you don’t want them to be golden all over, just some on the edges. (If they cook too long they get kind of too hard.)
***

Next I made the filling. It was very simple and light because it doesn’t use cream cheese like a lot of other fillings I’m used to making.

It calls for:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar (powdered would be best, but in all honesty I used granulated)
16 oz cottage cheese (small curd)
1 tbs vanilla

Similarly, just whip until it’s whip-creamy. I think I got up to the 6th speed setting, and maybe let it sit there a few minutes. But you can play around with it some, like stop it for a “quality control taste test,” if needed.

Then when that’s done, just plop the whipped cream onto the tart shell, flatten it out with a spatula, and start decorating.

I had a couple of friends help me decorate, which explains the variety of designs. This is really one of those tangible manifestations of food-ing as a social thing. It’s nice when people can get together over something playful and delicious like this.

Tabbouleh, Hummus and Pita Goodness

For a few weeks I’ve had the urge to make tabbouleh, pretty ever since I noticed mom’s mint plants and tried to think of things she could make with them. Once I got back in town, I decided to experiment.

Turns out mine isn’t very authentic–I didn’t know what I was doing, ok?–but it’s still really tasty.

I used:
A box of couscous
1.6ish oz sundried tomatoes (you can go more or less–I was using leftovers)
12 kalamata olives
4 oz feta
1 tbs garlic
1 lemon’s worth of juice
Around 4 tbs olive oil
2/3 oz mint (the size of the package from the store)
2 oz parsley

Cook the couscous as per the instructions (boil water, stir in couscous, turn off heat and let sit for a few minutes).

And while that’s going, get all your cutting/chopping done. Though it may be prettier, it tastes better if the mint and parsley are chopped finely. I left them kind of chunky and every once in a while there’s an explosion of parsley that overpowers everything else.

Then toss everything in and stir. It tastes really good chilled, so while it’s chilling, you can make the pita bread and hummus.

I used my handy dandy super awesome bread machine to mix the dough and I got the recipe from an awesome book my mom uses and my grandma recently gave to me.

It’s very similar to your basic bread recipe and it’s easy to find recipes online. (I didn’t want to mess up anybody’s copyrights.)

It bakes in a super hot oven which, I guess, helps it poof and rise so much that it forms a pocket. I baked mine on the pizza stone my aunt gave me and it came out so fluffy and pockety that we finished it almost before I got to take pictures.

But the dough does take a long time to make, so feel free to do other things. If you don’t have a bread machine, it’s not impossible to make dough. Just mix/knead all the ingredients together then cover it and let it sit somewhere humid for about an hour. This helps to activate the yeast and distributes it evenly throughout the dough. If you’re low on humidity, cover the dough with a wet paper towel then with a cloth towel and if you can, take a shower and let it sit in the steam.

And to top it off, we made hummus. The process is very similar to making pesto: it’s all on taste.

Here’s what I used:
1 can of garbanzo beans (aka chick peas)
Tahini (about 2 tbs)
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Cumin
Garlic (optional but delicious)

Just blend it together, taste it, then add whatever you need until it’s done.

Mixing the three is really tasty and feels feasty. It’s definitely a social food.

Biscuit Pizza Trifecta

My friend’s mom showed me this idea the other day and it’s just so convenient and easy that I wanted to show everyone! Basically, instead of making pizza dough or buying a premade crust, you can use canned biscuit dough! The pizza’s don’t come out very big, but I’d say you could make three personal pizzas. An advantage of this is you don’t have to work with it a lot. Pretty much just mush the dough together and cut it into however many divisions you want, then cover it with a wet paper towel and a rag for 20 minutes to let it rise a little. It makes it softer and easier to work with. And because they’re so small, you don’t need a rolling pin to mold thing; a glass would work just fine (that’s actually what I’ve been using for most of my pizza making existence).

We took this opportunity to make some of our favorite pizzas.

Greek pizza, chicken mushroom pizza, and an imitation of the heart-attack breakfast pizza.

For those three we used:
1 can biscuit dough
Tomato sauce
Mozzarella
Spinach
Olives
Tater tots
Bacon
Sauteed mushrooms (video coming soon)
Parmesan (only because we some in the fridge)
Chicken (hoo-ray for leftovers!)

While the dough was rising, we baked the tots and cooked the bacon. (The mushrooms are from something I made the day before.) By that time, the dough was ready and we started the chicken mushroom pizza.

It’s pretty simple, about two tablespoons sauce, cheese, pile on the mushrooms, then the chicken.

Next came the breakfast pizza.

Again, a little sauce, some cheese, then pile on the tots and bacon. Yes.

And finally the redemption pizza; the greek pizza.

This one’s a little bit different. There’s no sauce, just spinach, olives, chicken and cheese (I didn’t show the cheese picture because it’s not as pretty).

And they were all super tasty.

The dough came out nicely. It seemed fluffier and flakier than normal dough (more biscuit-y in other words). But it was a little weird reheated. Not bad, just really biscuit-y. But I’d definitely recommend it as a quick fix.

Goat Cheese Toastlets

I don’t really know what else to call these. If you have a better idea, feel free to let me know.

Basically, I came up with these as an idea for finger food for my French class’ end of the year party. I did warm them up before serving, but after tasting them cooled, they worked fine that way too. They end up looking pretty and they’re not too hard to make. (Cutting the cheese to make sure it stayed spherical was the hardest, but I’ll give you some tips to make it easier.)

I made three flavors, one that I knew was really tasty (goat cheese and honey) and two that I was pretty sure would work (cheery preserves, and basil-lemon-pepper). And for this all you need is:

A loaf of mini toasts (I got mine from the grocery store deli)
Goat cheese (I had 4 4oz logs)
Honey
Cherry preserves
Basil
A lemon
Pepper
Olive oil

Before you start anything, make sure to refrigerate the cheese. The cheese must be very cold (but not frozen) to ensure nice slices. So I kept mine in the back of the fridge while I prepped the other ingredients.

I started by slicing the basil into strips.

Thinner would work too, but I was kind of rushing. I mainly wanted them to be straight so they’d be pretty.

Next I juiced the lemon,

laid out the toasts,

and started cutting up the first cheese log.

Cutting it is, like I mentioned above, kind of hard. You want to make sure the cheese is very cold, and the knife, hot. I kept the cheese in the back of the fridge until the moment I needed it. And I kept a bowl of hot water in the sink to use to warm up and clean the knife between every slice. I found that a very sharp, non-serrated knife worked very well, and there was a certain technique I used to make sure they came out ok.

I started by warming the knife, drying it quickly with a paper towel, then going straight into the cut. I didn’t pull back and forth, because when I tried that, the knife just crumbled the cheese along the horizontal. So I just pushed straight down, trying to hold the log and keep if from smooshing in on itself. Then I shimmied it off the knife because just pulling it off would have broken it in half.

I posted the video on my brand new YouTube channel, in case you’re having trouble seeing it here.
Perfect Goat Cheese Medallions
And if you happen to have a YouTube account, feel free to subscribe! I plan on adding more videos once I get a big enough memory card.

Most of the medallions were placed directly on the toasts, but the savory lemon-basil toasts were coated with a little olive oil first. I’ll start with the sweet ones because they were more simple.

Place cheese

then add toppings. For the jam, I topped the cheese with a heaping teaspoonish of cherry preserves.

And for the honey I just squeezed on a pinwheel shape.

The lemon-basil had a few more steps. After olive oil-ing and cheese-ing the toasts, I brushed on the olive oil and cracked on some pepper.

Now I topped them off with the basil before baking them, but it might be better to do this step after baking. The basil won’t crisp up and it will still look as pretty as when you plucked it.

Now for the baking, I popped them in a 350 degree oven until the cheese was a little melty and soft. I didn’t want too high a heat because I was worried about the toast becoming inedibly hard. And don’t worry about the goat cheese not melting; it’s not like other cheeses and it won’t melt much.

Goat Cheese and Jam Roll-ups

This sounds a little strange, but they’re super tasty. They’re also really simple.

All you need is:
1 sheet of puff pastry
Feta
Fruit Jam/ Jelly (I used mixed berry)

First you need to let the puff pasty defrost (it generally comes frozen). Make sure you do this step on a clean, oiled surface, or in the fridge with the wrapper still on.

Once it’s completely defrosted, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Now spread your jam on. I don’t know exactly how much I used, but it’s not an exact science. Do try to avoid putting on too much though, it’ll make all the rest harder than it should be.

I didn’t go all the way to the edges because I figured the excess would smoosh its way over and make up for it. If you’re worried, you can cover it all up, but if you do, be prepared for messiness.

Now sprinkle on the goat cheese. You want there to be enough so that you taste it, but again you don’t want too much because it’ll make it hard to deal with.

(And if you want some extra cheesines, take them out of the oven when there’s only a few minutes left, and sprinkle some cheese on the tops. I didn’t do this and they came out fine.)

Now roll them up and start cutting. And as with sushi, the tighter you roll it, the easier it is to cut and handle. I tried to make mine about a 1/2 inch to an inch thick. The thickness itself doesn’t matter, as long as they’re the same the whole way through.

Another thing you want to watch out for, is make sure your pan is well lubed. I completely forgot and they stuck hard to the foil. It was possible to get them off, but it took some elbow grease.

So now pop them in the oven. I checked on them after 15 minutes, but they needed about a popsicle’s worth more time (I’d guess 3 minutes).

The puff pastry came out fluffy and the sweet salty combo was super. I haven’t worked much with puff pastry, but so far I seem to like it more than fillo dough, which is nice, but way too fragile. But if you don’t want to work with either one, toast might be a good alternative. If you have some really delicious bread laying around that you want to use with this, I’d recommend toasting this first, then coating it the same, and baking it at 360 for about 15 minutes. I recommend a lower heat here because the bread’s already cooked and this will dry it out and make it crunchier instead of burning it. If somebody tries it out, let me know!

Bacon Cheddar Croissants

This one is really easy to make and not too hard either. And I can’t take the credit for it either; (it wasn’t my idea, you can thank トラ for this buttery deliciousness).

All you need is:
A pack of bacon (you might have leftovers, but who doesn’t love left over bacon?)
A pack of white cheddar (again, there’s a leftover possibility here)
2 tubes of croissants (or one, if you can’t handle all the deliciousness)

First start by cooking your bacon, but make sure you don’t over-crisp it because it’s going to be baked later.

Personally, I cooked mine in the microwave. It’s really easy and fast. All you need is a plate, a bunch of paper towels and a microwave. So that worked for me.

While that was going, I sliced the cheese and opened up the croissants. Also, I got the oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then, instead of rolling the croissants up like normal, I laid down the bacon strip, if it was too long, I folded it, then put in some cheese.

Then just roll it up like you normally would.

There was one that I set up differently.

And that one was easier to eat, but a little bit not as cool looking.

Now I baked them for about 10 minutes, took them out, and put more cheese on top.

After that, it took about three minutes in the oven, and they were done.

There were five of us there and we all had already eaten, but despite that, all of the croissants were gone before they had a chance to cool off.