The Art Of The Perfect Croissant

If you’ve ever enjoyed flakey, buttery layers in a well-made croissant, chances are you’ve longed for the tender pastry ever since. I remember childhood vacations to my mother’s homeland of Barcelona, Spain. Each morning, while we soundly slept in our beds, my aunt would tiptoe from her city apartment and buy croissants from the baker across the street. We’d wake to the smell of her espresso and the warmth of her smile. I’ve thought about those croissants for a long time. My yearning was at last quenched this May when Judy Capertina opened Haole Girl Island Sweets.

“The name is a spoof because I’m a wanna-be native,” says Capertina.

Laughter reaches her bright blue eyes as curls of red hair give a little bounce. “I wanted to offer a unique product on the island, so I decided on croissants.”

As I bring one to my mouth, I smell butter. My teeth break through thin sheets of crisp, golden pastry and find a tender center. Instantly, I travel to those summer mornings in Spain.

Capertina graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., and reopened the Princeville Resort after Hurricane Iniki. In 2004, she was the featured pastry chef at the James Beard Awards. In 2000, she was the executive pastry chef at the annual Cannes International Film Festival in France. She continues to attend every year, but as a chocolatier, which is her specialty. Last September, Capertina returned to Kauai after working with esteemed chefs such as Leanne Kamekona and Tyler Florence.

“My croissants are made with lots of butter and hand-rolled,” explains Capertina, whose tiny frame is surprising for someone who makes food with boatloads of butter. “I roll 64-pounds of dough twice a week and I love it because I don’t need to go to a gym!”

Capertina makes her pastry dough with flour, yeast, honey from Kapahi and Hawaiian sea salt. She layers butter between the dough, which is called “locking,” before she folds it in three, like a letter going into an envelope. After rolling it out, she lets it rest for 20 minutes, repeats the process two more times and lets the dough “set” overnight. Each croissant has about 150 layers.

“Since there’s only butter in this dough, it melts in your mouth,” explains Capertina. “Some people use shortening, which has a higher melting point than body temperature, and that’s why it’s gummy and tastes like a Crisco slick.”

After rolling out 4-ounces of dough, Capertina twists some into plain, butter croissants. The rest she fills with enticing combinations of fruit and produce that she’s bought at the farmers market. Popular flavors include roasted pineapple with basil; purple sweet potato and coconut milk; caramel apple banana with macadamia nuts; chocolate apple banana; ham and cheese with Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Mustard; star fruit compote and brie cheese; Hawaiian vintage dark chocolate and flaked coconut; caramelized portobello mushrooms with Havarti cheese and Thai basil, and sun-dried tomato and spinach with Kauai Kunana Dairy goat cheese.

Haole Girl Island Sweets are only available at Kauai Culinary Market at The Shops at Kukuiula (Wednesdays 3:30 to 6 p.m.), Kauai Community Market (Saturdays 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Namahana Market (Mondays 3:30 p.m. to dusk). You can follow them on Facebook for market specials, or call 822-0716 for special orders.

“I like working at the farmers market because you’re right there with the people that buy,” says Capertina. “Plus, I get mangos from Brian at Ono Organics, produce from Josie in Kalihiwai. Pua Kalo Farm has awesome basil and pesto. I get mushrooms from Keith at Lawai Valley Mushrooms and his sister-in-law sells apple bananas. The other day, I got avocados from Omao and I made croissants with fresh guacamole and turkey. I just love it!”

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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