I am so excited to share this with you today. I absolutely love it when I finally get something right. After my initial flops and then the tasty, but not quite the real thing attempt, it just makes me giddy to get it right. You should have seen me crouched in front of the oven the other night giggling with excitement as I watched these bad boys bake.
I've made three batches of these things in the last four days. The first batch was good, but wasn't folded enough (I'll talk about that later). The last two batches were a controlled experiment where I only changed the type of yeast (and I'll talk about that later too). All in all, after these three batches, I feel very confident that I could whip out croissants with success whenever I want. I like that feeling! I like it a lot. And now I am excited to share it with you so that you can jump right to that success part without having to eat croissants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four days straight.
Don't worry, it's a sacrifice I am only too happy to make for you! .:burp:.
The first step is making the dough. There is absolutely nothing strange about making the dough. It's like making any other basic bread dough. I like to use my stand mixer, but it's a dough that could easily be made by hand. Knead for about five minutes and then place in an oiled, covered bowl and let rise at room temperature for one hour. Knock the dough down by folding it over on itself two or three times. Cover it back up and refrigerate for 8-16 hours.
In my previous attempts at croissants, I tried too hard to simplify the butter process. For proper flakiness, you must follow this process exactly! Fortunately, it's not a hard process, just a little involved.
The first step is to prepare the butter packet. To make a well shaped butter packet, let a piece of parchment do the work for you. This is a half-sheet of parchment that I folded into a roughly 7x9 inch envelope. If you have a roll of parchment, that might even be better; the more overhang you have on your folds, the less they want to open on you while you are rolling the butter.
Once the packet if folded, open it up and place your butter. One batch of croissants requires two sticks, or half a pound, of butter. You want it cold, but not rock hard. If it's too hard, just let it sit for a few minutes. Now, these are the long skinny butter sticks; in some places you may have the short fat butter sticks. Don't worry, you just may want to cut them a little more to facilitate pounding them out. In this case, notice how the butter has no more than an inch to spread in any direction.
Fold the packet back up and place with the folds down. Get your rolling pin out and get crazy! As you might imagine, you may not want to do this while the baby is napping. It's noisy! My dog was very concerned at first. Pound, pound, pound! It may be necessary in the beginning to rearrange the parchment slightly to maintain your packet shape. Once it's pounded fairly flat, then you can start rolling the butter toward the edges.
It softens up as you work, so it ends up being fairly easy to make a nice flat packet. Once it's finished, stick it in the refrigerator to firm back up for at least thirty minutes.
After your butter packet is chilled, get your dough out. Dump it onto a lightly floured board and start to roll it out. Use flour as necessary to minimize sticking, but try not to use too much. Roll the dough into a rectangle of such a size that your butter packet will sit in the middle as shown. The nice thing is that you can actually use your wrapped butter packet to test your size. Once you have it right, peel off the butter from the parchment and onto the dough.
Fold over the ends so that they match evenly in the middle. Pinch together to seal. Also pinch the edges together to seal. Notice that the butter did not go right to the very edge of the dough; that gives a little room to press the edges together.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the sealed ends are now at your 12 and 6 o'clock position. Roll the dough out, again adding flour as necessary to keep the dough moving nicely, until it is about the width of your rolling pin and a little over two feet long. Don't forget to rotate before starting to roll! It is very hard to roll against the folds.
Once it is long enough, cut off the uneven edges. Cut off about one inch from each end. Not only does this tidy up the impending seam, but it ensures that the butter now goes to the very end of the dough. Discard or save the dough for some other purpose (more on that another day!).
Now, fold the dough into a tri-fold brochure. Make sure to keep the edges as even and neat as possible. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes. After thirty minutes (or longer), roll out again with the folds on the side and the open edges at top and bottom. Roll out to the same dimensions as before and make the same tri-fold brochure (called a "single fold" in the pastry world). Refrigerate for thirty minutes before doing it one last time. All in all, you will complete this roll and fold scheme three times. Again, work carefully to keep things as straight and even as possible.
After the last fold and chill routine, roll out the dough the same way as before, but this time, try to get it fairly thin. Shoot for at least 2 1/2 to 3 feet long (still less than a rolling pin wide). It will fight you at this point and will not want to get much thinner than a quarter of an inch. The gluten in the dough may also be making things a little challenging, but don't worry, it will all work out in the end. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut triangles out of the dough. You can experiment with croissant size, but a four inch wide base is a good starting point.
Cut a small notch in the base of the triangle and then stretch the dough out a bit. Place the triangle back on the counter and pull the two notched edges apart slightly and then start rolling toward the peak of the triangle. Place the now rolled croissant with the point down onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Brush the rolled croissants with egg wash and let sit to rise at room temperature until at least double. Depending on your household temperature, this process may take one to two hours. I recommend against covering since they are so delicate at this point. If they seem like they are drying out at all along the way, brush them again with egg wash. Once they are nice and puffy, brush them one last time with egg wash and place into a preheated 425° F oven to bake for 20-25 minutes. Do not remove them until they are nicely browned. The outside should not start browning significantly until the inside is well baked. Gently remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling. To store for less than 24 hours, simply wrap is a flour sack towel. If storing for more than 24 hours, place into an air tight container after they are completely cooled.
Now, a couple additional points of interest. This picture here shows what happens if the dough is not folded enough. See how the flakes of dough are very easy to see? Each time you complete a single fold, the dough between each layer of butter gets thinner, leading to more flakiness. These croissants were good, but the texture was not quite as flaky as you expect from a true croissant.
The other point I want to mention is yeast type. When making enriched and/or laminated doughs that have a lot of fat or sugar in them, it is recommended that you use osmotolerant instant yeast. (I got mine here.) Most of the literature I've read describes the need to use osmotolerant yeast in high sugar dough because sugar tends to rob the yeast of moisture, which can lead to uneven rising. While I've found no discussion on how osmotolerant yeast helps high fat dough, most of the professional formulas I've seen for high fat dough call for this special type of yeast.
How important is it? Well, as you can see from the picture below, in croissants, not hugely so. The croissant on the left was made with osmotolerant yeast while the one on the right was made with regular instant yeast. Notice that the crumb of the croissant on the left is a little more open? It did make a difference, but not enough that you should worry about making croissants without it. If you're an absolute perfectionist in the kitchen like I am, then you'll probably want to order some, otherwise, soldier on.
Yield: 8-16 croissants, depending on size
3 3/4 cup bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp table salt
2 tsp (osmotolerant) instant yeast
1/2 tsp malt powder (see note below)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 TBS butter
3/4 cup + 2 TBS warm water
Butter packet: 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
In a stand mixer, stir together the first five ingredients. Heat the milk and butter together in a microwave until lukewarm. Add the milk/butter mixture and the water to the mixer bowl and, using a dough hook, mix on speed 2 until it starts to form a ball. Once it forms a ball, mix on 2nd speed for another five minutes. Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for one hour. Knock dough down by folding it over on itself 2-3 times. Return to the bowl, recover, and place in the refrigerator for 8-16 hours.
Prepare the butter packet by folding a sheet of parchment into a roughly 7x9 inch envelope. Slice two sticks of butter in half the long way and lay into the middle of the parchment envelope. Close the parchment and pound and then roll the butter until it has evenly filled the parchment and is nice and flat. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured counter until it is a rectangle slightly larger than twice the size of your butter packet. Place the butter packet in the middle of the dough so that it is sitting long ways across the short direction of the dough (see photos). Fold the dough around the butter packet, pinching to seal.
Rotate the dough ninety degrees so that the folds are on the sides and the pinched edges are along the top and bottom. Roll into a long rectangle a little more than 2 feet long and about the width of your rolling pin. Carefully fold the dough into a tri-fold brochure, making sure the edges are nice and neat. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes. Repeat the roll out, fold, and chill routine two more times. Always be sure to place the dough and roll with the folds on the sides and the "open" ends at top and bottom.
After the last chill period, roll the dough out (folds on sides again) so that it is the width of the rolling pin and 2-3 feet long. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut into long triangles with the base around four inches wide (you can play with this dimension to adjust the size of your croissants). Cut a small slit in the middle of the base of the triangle and then stretch the triangle slightly. Pull the edges of the base of the triangle and roll up. Place with the point tucked on the bottom onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and let rise, uncovered, until doubled and puffy. Brush with egg wash again before baking. Bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 20-25 minutes, until nicely golden. Carefully move to a cooling rack to cool completely. If storing for less than 24 hours, wrap in a flour sack towel. If storing for more than 24 hours, store in an air tight container.
NOTE: While the malt is not technically required for this recipe, I think it really adds to the authentic flavor of these croissants. I used diastatic malt powder, but it doesn't really matter if you use diastatic or non-diastatic malt powder, as in this case, you are only using it for the flavor.