There is little better than biting into a flaky and buttery croissant that is just fresh out of the oven. Although several pastries try to pass themselves off as croissants, few would be worthy of gracing the shelf of a French patisserie. In fact, I think the essence of a croissant is best captured in a quote by the Association of French Bakers. They included this description in a letter to Kanye West after he lambasted French cuisine, and specifically the croissant, in one of his songs.
The croissant is dignified — not vulgar like a piece of toast, simply popped into a mechanical device to be browned. No — the croissant is born of tender care and craftsmanship. Bakers must carefully layer the dough, paint on perfect proportions of butter, and then roll and fold this trembling croissant embryo with the precision of a Japanese origami master.
One of my baking goals this year was to tackle the pastry making process. I’ve always been intimidated by the combination of yeast, dough, and rolling pins. My first foray into the pastry world was when I made mini choux buns earlier this year. With the technique for making choux pastry under my belt I decided it was time to graduate to the next level.
I signed up for a baking class with Zingermans Bakery. For those who aren’t familiar, Zingermans is a gourmet food business headquartered right here in Ann Arbor. Their slogan is: "You really can taste the difference," and they offer baking classes to educate consumers about the products they sell. My four hour class was called Ohh La La Croissants and was complete with demonstration, in-class participation, culinary education, and a final taste testing. After class, I was sent home with 15 croissants and some dough that I could either refrigerate and use right away or stick in the freezer.
If you’d like to make some croissants, be sure to set aside some time for yourself. These delicious morsels take some TLC to see through to completion. Croissant dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, in a technique called laminating. The process results in a layered, flaky texture, similar to a puff pastry. While making these is fairly time consuming, the results are truly worth it. You’ll never want another store bought croissant again!
Classic French Croissant Recipe
1 ½ cups whole milk at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons of salt
2 ¼ cups bread flour
Butter Block Ingredients
1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Egg Wash Ingredients
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1 tablespoon water
To Make the Poolish
In large mixing bowl, combine the milk, honey, yeast, and flour. Stir to dissolve. Add 1 ¼ cups flour and mix to combine. Beat until smooth. Cover with saran wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Mixture will double in size, therefore the container you use for the poolish should be 2 times as big as the amount of poolish. The poolish is ready after about one hour. You can then refrigerate if you want, but must use within 24 hours.
Creating the Dough
To the poolish mixture, add the salt and remaining 2 ¼ cups flour and mix using a wooden spoon. Mix until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix. Press on the dough to force the moisture into it. Remove from bowl and fold over a couple of times. If you pull on the bread dough, it should rip. Form dough into a uniform square. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before enclosing the butter into the dough.
Forming the Butter Block
Dice butter into 1 inch cubes and put in a bowl. Add the flour and salt to the butter and mix well until completely incorporated into butter. Add lemon juice to mixing bowl; beat with a wooden spoon until the butter is softened and the lemon juice is absorbed. Remove the butter from the bowl. Place on plastic wrap and form into a 6“ x 6” square with a plastic scrape or spatula. Wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Enclosing and Folding Dough with Butter
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; remove the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut a cross in the top of the dough and roll out the ball of dough in 4 places (left, right, up and down) so that it looks like a 4 “petal” flower. Need to leave a mound or lump in the center of dough. Note: Every time you roll out the dough, use a pastry brush to brush away the extra flour that has clung to the dough.
Place the chilled butter square on the center of the dough. The butter and the dough should be at the same temperature. Fold the 4 “petals” over the butter, from left to right and from top to bottom, to enclose butter completely. Make sure the corners are pinched so that the butter does not ooze out.
On a lightly floured surface, start the rolling process by tapping the center of the enclosed dough with the side of the rolling pin from the center out. Center to right and then center to left. Using the same technique, tap the dough from the center to top and center to bottom. This helps the butter move with the dough without tearing. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 8“ by 20”. Brush off the excess flour from the surface of the dough. Square up the corners of the dough as you roll. With the roughest side of dough up (this will help hide any imperfections), fold the dough into 4ths (book fold) and wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten in the dough.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, lightly tap the dough to start the rolling process. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 10“ x 24”. Brush off any excess flour on the dough. Fold the dough into thirds (letter fold) and wrap in plastic and chill. The dough will be ready to roll to the final thickness for the finished croissants.
Shaping the Croissants
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 10“ by 24” rectangle ⅛ inch thick. Note: It is important to get the rectangle very thin. Lift the dough gently (or aerate it) to keep it from shrinking. Take care not to spoil the shape of the rectangle. Brush excess flour from the top and bottom of the dough. Trim the edges of the dough to square it.
Starting 2 inches in from the left side on the bottom edge, with a ruler and a pastry wheel cutter, mark every 4 inches across the bottom of the dough for a total of 6 marks. You will have a scrap piece from each side. Using a pastry wheel cutter, cut into triangles, each with a 4 inch base. Cut a ½ inch slit in the center of each base (the wide end of the dough piece). Place the triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.
To shape croissants, place the dough triangle on the work surface with the long point nearest to you. Stretch the case of the triangle to enlarge the slit. At this point, you can add either small bars of chocolate up by the base end, or a rounded teaspoon of almond filling.
Fold the slit toward the outer sides of the triangle, covering the filling of your choice. Press down to seal. Roll the base of the triangle up and towards you, stretching the dough slightly as you roll. Tucking the center point underneath the croissant. Turn the two ends together to form a crescent.
Arrange the croissants on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush lightly with the egg wash. Proof for up to 2 hours covered with plastic wrap. Croissants should have doubled in size. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes on a cooling rack.
Heather's Helpful Hints
This is probably the most complex recipe that I’ve posted on Sweet Precision. I truly believe that the process is best learned through instruction, which is why I signed up for the baking class. I found a video on YouTube that does an excellent job of walking you through the process step by step. So before you break out your rolling pin, be sure to take a quick look here!