It takes two days to make an authentic French croissant. While a staple in bakeries and cafés around the globe, the croissant is deceptively complex, requiring attention numerous times across a 12–24-hour period. One must allow the dough to rise and rest overnight before layering with butter and folding no fewer than 12 times in order to achieve that coveted buttery and flaky texture.
Few pastries have caused an international sensation as much as the humble croissant when Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) ate one in front of a window display of the famous New York jeweller in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) based on Truman Capote’s novella.
Around a year ago, I gave a friend my copy of Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958, Random House) and lost him for two days. He came back to me, book in hand, and described how he’d devoured the novella in just a few hours and had spent the following day re-reading it, just in case, he’d dropped crumbs of plot or characterisation in his haste.
In the film, Golightly is a rising New York socialite and Paul (George Peppard) is a writer working on his next book. Their relationship delicately toes the line between attraction and obsession as Holly insists on calling Paul ‘Fred’, the name of her elder brother who is currently serving in the Vietnam War, and Paul finds a muse in Holly who inspires him to continue writing.
As they weave through New York’s social circles, layers of their hidden pasts are revealed to both each other and the viewer: that Holly feeds information to an incarcerated mobster, both Paul and Holly are paid for their companionship, though Holly often takes off with the money ‘for the powder room’, and that she was a child-bride.
Both characters lead delicate lives and possess a hope fed by delusion and desperation. As penniless Paul hopes to be a famous writer and falls in love with Holly, we learn that Holly will marry anyone who can give her a financially stable future – even if she doesn’t love him – and dreams of the day her brother will be home from war. There is an indulgence the characters allow each other that isn’t benefiting either of them, or their relationship, but that serves as a slither of empathy because in a world that’s as tumultuous as theirs, who wouldn’t seek out pockets of warmth with another?
Inspired by the film and the way a flaky pastry seemed to represent intricacies of plot and character, I decided to give making croissants a go. I used Emmanuel Mollois’ recipe and started on an early Sunday afternoon. My first attempt was a disaster: I had not dissolved the yeast sufficiently so it clumped together in my dough. My second attempt was better, and my dough rose overnight to triple its size. In the morning, I rolled it out and began gently spreading butter through the layers, before refrigerating again.
After work, I rolled out the buttered dough and began cutting it into triangles. There is a precise art to rolling a croissant: you need to both pinch and push on the tail as you roll outwards, working slowly enough that the technique is correct, but quickly enough that the butter doesn’t melt from being handled. Leave the croissants to rise on a tray, as per the recipe, and then bake for approximately 10 minutes.
Admittedly, my croissants came out slightly unravelled, which I look at not as a mistake on my behalf but as an artistic choice the pastry made while in the oven, without my knowledge. They were still wonderfully buttery and delicious.
While there are other culinary escapades in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the pressure cooker explosion is deeply ingrained as a legitimate fear for an entire generation – no other food entranced the world more than a single pastry, seen on screen for no more than 10 seconds.
These days, you can have a real breakfast at Tiffany’s. In 2017, a The Blue Box Café opened at Tiffany’s in New York – but those seeking a truly authentic experience need only purchase a croissant from any bakery or café, slide on a pair of oversize sunglasses, and wander past the vast windows to fall in step with Audrey Hepburn.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is currently streaming on SBS On Demand: