Introduction: Croissants: a Weekend Baking
Croissants are one of those pastries that most people consider very difficult, something only a master baker can make properly. Most people in this case are wrong. Croissants are about time management. A single batch will take an entire weekend, but they are completely worth it. For anybody reading this who just thought "my whole weekend? Yeah right, I'll just buy a box at the grocery store", DON'T DO IT!! Please - you deserve better than grocery store croissants. Taste one made with real butter and you'll never go back.
Step 1: Planning
Few pastries require as much planning as a croissant. But, as mentioned earlier, croissants are all about time management. Here are all of the steps involved in making a batch of croissants and time approximations along with points where you can leave the dough overnight, so that you can map out timing to make these a success.
- Making/kneading the dough base: ~15 minutes
- Allowing the dough to mature: 4 hours or overnight
- Laminating the dough with the butter block: 1.5 hours
- Allowing the dough to set: 5 hours or overnight
- The dough can be wrapped and frozen for a month at this point
- Shaping the dough: 30 minutes
- Allowing the dough to rise: ~ 2.5 hours (this can be reduced by increasing the room temperature)
- Baking: 25 minutes
Make sure to plan for each of these steps and how long you have to wait in between. It'll mean you aren't up at 2 am trying to roll out dough and make the whole procedure much more fun.
Step 2: Ingredients and Tools
The tools you need to make croissants are actually really simple - you probably have all of them.
- A large bowl
- A rolling pin
- A small bowl
- A whisk/fork/spoon/stirring Starting your dough
- Baking sheets
- A large flat area to roll dough out on
The ingredients are similarly straight forward:
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon yeast
2 cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter (for later)
1 stick of butter = 1/2 cup = 1/4 pound
If you don't have bread flour, you can use all purpose flour for all 3 cups. It won't have as much gluten so your pastry will be a little softer and less structured but it will still taste good.
Note: I am making a double batch in these pictures, so don't worry if it looks like you don't have enough stuff in your bowl.
Step 3: Starting Your Dough
- In the small bowl whisk together your milk and yeast until the yeast is dissolved.
- In the large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, and salt. Cut the first stick of butter into small squares and distribute over the flour.
- Rub the butter into the flour until there are no pieces larger than a pea (can also be accomplished with a pastry cutter or a food processor, but I don't have those so this is the old school method).
- Pour the milk/yeast mixture into the flour/butter.
- Stir until combined, then knead for 3-5 minutes, until your dough starts to warm up a bit and becomes a smooth ball.
- Place the ball back in the bowl you used to mix it.
- Cut a deep x in the dough.
- Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Step 4: Butter!
The flavor in croissants comes partially from the yeasted dough, but lets face it, this pastry is close to half butter. This is where those other 3 sticks of butter come in.
Take the butter and slice each stick in half lengthwise. Place them on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, trying to make a squarish shape, and cover with another piece of parchment paper.
Grab your rolling pin and tenderize the butter. Tenderizing means whack it several times until it smooshes and gets a little softer. You can also roll the butter a bit with the rolling pin to help form it into a square approximately 8 inches by 8 inches. (Again, note I'm making a double batch, so the square you see above is 6 sticks of butter, not 3)
Step 5: Laminating the Dough
Laminating the dough is what makes all those beautiful layers in a croissant. And surprisingly it's not actually all that hard, it just takes some arm strength.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out into a rectangle approximately 8 inches by 24 inches. Place the butter block in the center and fold each side of the dough over it like you were folding a piece of paper into thirds.
- Take your rolling pin and press down hard across the corners and across the open
"seam" at the top and bottom of your dough.
- Rotate the dough 90 degrees (one quarter turn) and roll out into a rectangle again. The point of this rotation is that the open edge gets moved to a closed edge each turn.
- Fold into thirds as before (see pictures for more clarification).
- Cover and chill for half an hour.
- Repeat steps 2-5 two more times.
After you have folded the dough three times you can either chill for half an hour and move directly onto shaping, refrigerate overnight then bake, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to a month.
Notes: It is really important to let the dough refrigerate for a full half an hour. This is to let the butter chill so it doesn't melt into the dough as you roll it out. You are trying to make paper thin sheets of butter between thin sheets of dough, and the cold helps them stay separated into those nice layers.
Step 6: Shaping Your Pastry
Remove the laminated dough from the refrigerator and roll out into a 18"by 20" rectangle, or until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick.
Slice this rectangle in half so that you now have two rectangles, each 20 inches long and 9 inches wide.
Mark every 5 inches along the top and bottom of the dough (for those who don't want to break out the measuring tape, mark the dough along the top and bottom as if you were going to cut it into quarters).
Cut lines through the dough connecting the upper corner/marking with the next one on the bottom. This will cross the cut you made separating the dough into two rectangles.
Take each triangle and make a small slit on the short side.
Stretch the dough out a little on that short side then roll up toward the point. Shape into a crescent if desired and rest with the point tucked under. The little leftovers can be used for mini croissants.
This is where you get to be creative. You can add fillings to the dough in this stage - with this batch I did some plain, some with ham and cheese (shredded pecorino), some with chocolate (milk and dark, little bars of it along the short edge rolled into the center), and used the scraps to wrap around pre-cooked sausages for a fun sort of bun. Other fillings that would be interesting- white chocolate with fresh fruit, sweetened almond paste, herbed cheese, sweetened cream cheese with fruit, the list goes on as far as your imagination.
Step 7: Let Them Rise
This is the step wherein you walk away and do absolutely nothing. Seriously, don't poke, prod, or meddle with the pastries. Once you've shaped them, put them on a pan about 2 inches apart and place in a location where it is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (no warmer, warmer and your butter will melt). Then leave them alone until they are puffy and soft.
Here's an approximate time table:
Temp 70: 2 1/2-3 hours
Temp 75: 2- 2 1/2 hours
Temp 80: 1 1/2 - 2 hours
Temp 85: 1 - 1 1/2 hours
Temp 90: 1 hour
Step 8: Baking
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake the croissants for 12 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Rotate the pans in the oven.
- Bake for another 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Step 9: Enjoy!
This is by far the easeist and the hardest step at the same time. Croissants fresh out of the oven are a thing of beauty, but be warned that they are really hot and you should probably try to wait for them to cool at least a little bit.
Enjoy them with jam or on their own!
Pictured here are plain croissants, chocolate croissants (about 1/4 ounce bars chocolate, both milk and dark chocolate work well), and ham and cheese (black forest ham, thinly sliced with shredded pecorino). Smaller ones make a fantastic snack while larger ones are capable of being a full meal.