The Goal: Flaky, traditional French croissants, with multiple light layers of butter and dough, and a delicate flavor.
This beautiful, flaky, buttery, delicious, horrible, awful, murderous experience was once more a perfect study in the laughable gap between my expectations and reality. Quite frankly, I’m still not sure I’ve totally mastered this recipe, or ever will.
However, four pounds of butter later (yes, literally four pounds) I have gotten my technique to the point where I can produce flaky, buttery, light croissants, delicious with nutella, fruit, as a breakfast sandwich or just plain!
It wouldn’t be Cuisine Clinic if I didn’t start off the process with a little completely unfounded optimism. Or, you could call it arrogance, your choice.
As usual, I started with finding the recipe. I wanted to avoid the injera fiasco, so I looked at several different ones to compare them all, and took a recipe that seemed to make sense to me. A yeast dough usually allows rising, right? So I chose one that has rising. But if all the other recipes except that one require chilling overnight, I’m going to choose one that requires overnight chilling. At any rate, by logic and process of elimination, I found one that hopefully will give me success the first try.
As you may have guessed, I did not find success on the first try. In fact, it was only by my fourth attempt I created a product I was content with. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the slightest difference in ingredients can make a huge difference, in general with baking but particularly with this recipe it seems. I have heard that the flour brand and type is one of the things that can make a real difference, so below is the brand I’m using, picked it up at a local grocery store.
Croissants start fairly simply, with a basic enriched yeast dough. It’s always better in recipes like this if you can weigh your ingredients, but I made do with cup measurements. I also spooned the flour into the measuring cup so it wasn’t packed down, which helps to get a more accurate measurement if you aren’t weighing.
The first dough I made was more of a wet, sticky consistency. A dough hook would certainly have made the mixing of it easier, but I managed to make it elastic and smooth without developing too much gluten.
I set the dough aside to rise at this point, and already I was starting to distrust the recipe.
Okay. Dough is rising for 45 minutes, and the ungodly amount of butter is chilling in the fridge. I have doubts regarding this dough, I think it’s a bit too wet, but I followed the recipe so I’m trying to trust it at the moment. From the pictures it looked sticky so maybe it’ll be all right. We’ll see after it proves.
Once the dough was finished rising, I punched it down, and proved it again as per the recipe (see the 1st attempt source). I now believe that it is this early rising, before shaping, that caused some later issues. The croissants didn’t rise as much later on, and I had a much lighter result when I skipped the early rise and just let them prove right before baking.
However, beautifully oblivious, I soldiered on. I found the dough very soft and sticky, difficult to work with, and when I started rolling it out on a floured surface, it would immediately rebound, perhaps due to too much gluten during mixing. After allowing it to rest for twenty minutes or so on the bench, covered with a tea towel, the anticipated lamination process began. It’s important to keep the butter and dough, and your own hands, as cool as possible during this process. After each fold, I returned it to the refrigerator before rolling out and folding again. Otherwise, the butter will melt right into the dough, and you won’t achieve layers later on.
7/8/17 (Or early morning on 7/9/17!)
I have rolled out and folded three times now. I am afraid I rolled the dough out too thin. It’s extremely difficult to work with, stretchy, but delicate at the same time. The main reason I’m afraid is that there are sticky bits where the butter is ripping through the dough. I’ve tried sprinkling flour on those spots as I rolled it out, and hopefully that will help seal it in and make layers. It will rest overnight in the fridge. Tomorrow morning, I’ll do the shaping.
Already I’m beginning to hope and fear that this will be as difficult as injera. 😀
The next morning, I woke bright and early, ready to shape my croissants. I took the dough out of the fridge, and it had risen very slightly again overnight. You may get some stray air bubbles in your dough throughout the resting periods, but I just popped them and patted the dough smooth, and it didn’t cause any problems. I rolled out the dough into a large 22 by 9-inch rectangle, and used a tape measure to mark every 3 inches horizontally on the top. I also marked every 1.5 inches on the bottom, offset, so that cuts between the marks would create triangles.
I did end up looking at a few videos to get a better visual on the process, and it helped clarify things greatly. However, below are some pictures of the process which may also help.
After shaping my croissants, I lined them all up on pans and set them aside to rise. I, in my idiocy, completely forgot to line the pan with parchment paper. Do not forget to line your pan with parchment paper!
Maybe I’ll say it again for emphasis. Do not forget to line your pan with parchment paper!
It made a huge difference as far as keeping the bottoms from browning, when I utilized it in later attempts. However, in this first one, I didn’t have such knowledge, and as usual, proceeded without attempting to rectify the situation.
The croissants, as I mentioned earlier, didn’t rise enough at this stage. As I learned later, when they are ready to bake, they should be light as air, spongy to the touch, and so delicate it falls apart in your fingers if you try to pick it up.
As soon as I took my croissants out of the oven, I knew something had gone wrong. They were way, way overbaked. At first, when I cracked one open it seemed a bit doughy and underbaked inside, while burnt on the outside, but as they cooled, they achieved a better internal texture, and some were even edible! I would say in general, the croissants were best served after being completely cooled.
Despite the first failure, I was not too dejected. I planned to purchase more butter, and to actually use parchment paper, and try again as soon as I was able.
I still think this method is a good method, I just need to adjust the cooking temperatures and times. Additionally when rolling them out I think I rolled them a bit too thin, I had a lot of excess pastry to trim. Maybe if they were thicker they would have cooked better at the prescribed temperature.
All lessons learned for next time!
After the croissants cooled, I could taste that the insides are actually delicious. It’s simply a matter of the burnt bottom. I have read that if you stack two pans on top of each other it can help with the burning bottom, but I’m sure a lower temperature would help too. It’s difficult to know exactly what changes to make to be successful.
I guess I’ll just have to experiment. The worst part of all this is the waste… Having to toss out a bunch of slightly burnt croissants because I can’t possibly eat them all and I can’t serve them to other people because of my pride. Damn burnt bottoms! They taste like the most decadently sinful piece of buttered toast I’ve ever had. I’m very excited for success. The layering process seems to have worked very well, too. All in all, I actually found this first attempt fairly encouraging.
That same day, after a quick trip to the store, I started another batch of dough. Using the same method, but rectifying some of the issues I had while at the same time, creating new ones. I decided foolishly to use salted butter, since I had purchased the wrong kind, and while the dough was rising, I let it sit on top of a hot oven, thinking the warm environment would be perfect. However, when I punched it down, it felt far too hot. It likely rose too quickly.
The next day, I had to work, so I let the dough rest in the refrigerator all night and all day. Again, I think this extra time didn’t do any wonders for the dough, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem was, but I wouldn’t repeat any of those decisions again.
The parchment paper did help with the browning, but I had croissants leaking butter in the oven. The texture inside was doughy, and the layers weren’t perfect. It was definitely discouraging, I wasn’t expecting the second attempt to be worse than the first! However, I determined that I should wait until the weekend next time, so I could follow the instructions more exactly on timing. I didn’t want to waste any more ingredients.
Third try on the croissants. I decided to use a different recipe with no rising until the end. Having done a bit more research it appears all the rising beforehand might be causing some of my problems later. Not sure what the deal was with the first recipe but most of the more traditional methods appear to have no rising in a warm space until the croissants are all shaped and ready to go. I have been having trouble with the croissants not rising once shaped. Dough rises fine in the beginning. Maybe this new recipe will fix it.
When making this new recipe, I was surprised to find the dough much thicker, using only just enough milk to bind it, rather than the gloppy consistency it was before. I was curious how this would change the end result.
I did make one major mistake in my first attempt at this recipe, which I now chuckle and shake my head over.
An ounce is a -lot- of yeast. I am curious if the granules will dissolve as it rests and gets rolled out? Right now the dough is almost… grainy.
It is, however, significantly easier to work with, holy crap. It doesn’t stretch back at all when I’m rolling it out, whereas the other stuff definitely did. I was thinking I’d have more trouble with gluten with a stiffer dough, not less. Just goes to show I know nothing about freakin’ baking.
I am finding the butter is not poking through as easily, in general this dough is a dream to work with. It still looks grainy, though, I’m nervous about all that yeast. We shall see.
Also instead of just 3 turns I’m doing 3 and then what’s known as a “wallet” turn which creates an extra layer.
The reason the yeast seemed so excessive is because I failed to read the “fresh” part in the recipe. An ounce of fresh yeast converts to about 1/3rd of that in dry yeast, which is what I was using.
However, despite this, the croissants turned out completely amazing. Light as air, fluffy, beautifully delicious. They did flatten a little when baking, so I decided it wasn’t quite good enough. I’d go for one more try, with the proper amount of yeast, and chilling a bit longer before the final bake, to maybe help it hold its shape better.
I may have even stopped there, to be frank, and been happy with the flattish croissants, but I was so excited, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. So, I decided to go for a final bake.
This time, I followed the recipe exactly, didn’t over-yeast things, rested plenty of time in between turns, but not too long. By the fourth attempt, I felt much more confident in the laminating, and the entire process. I think the lesson I’ve learned here is that no matter how involved and complicated a recipe may seem, if you do it enough times, it will become simple. Or at least, more attainable! I’m happy with the final product, and with the skills I’ve picked up completing it. I believe in the future, when the urge comes upon me to make flaky biscuits, croissants, or any other number of fun laminated creations, I will feel less intimidated, and more excited by the prospect. I hope you’re inspired to give it a try yourself!
1 oz fresh yeast (I substituted 3.5 tsp. dry active yeast)
3.5 C Unbleached Flour
.25 C White or Packed Brown Sugar
2 tsp salt
1 C Milk, or more
1 Lb Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp. Flour (for dusting work surface)
1 Tbsp. Milk
Mix together the yeast, flour, sugar, salt and milk, mix for 2 minutes. If necessary add up to 4 Tbsp. milk until moistened and smooth. Mix on high for another 4 minutes (I mixed by hand with wooden spoon, but a mixer would be easier).
Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured board, cover with a damp tea towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes to relax the gluten. Remove the towel and, using a French rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 by 9-inch rectangle 5/8-inch thick. Wrap in plastic then chill for 1 hour and up to overnight.
Next, prepare the butter by beating with rolling pin on floured surface (or between two sheets of plastic wrap) to soften, and roll out to a 6 by 8 1/2 inch rectangle. Set aside.
Roll the chilled dough on a floured work surface into a 10 by 15-inch and 1/4-inch thick rectangle. Brush any excess flour off the dough. Place the shorter side of the dough parallel to the front of your body on the work surface. Place the butter in the middle, long-ways. Fold the bottom up over the butter and brush off any excess flour and then fold the top down over the butter to overlap and encase the butter. Roll out the dough again to form a new 10 by 15-inch rectangle, patching holes with a dusting of flour. Fold into thirds like a business letter and wrap in plastic. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Repeat this process, called “Lamination,” three more times. Chill 1 hour between each turn. After fourth turn, let dough chill up to overnight, or at least 1 hour. Then, roll out into a 24 by 13-inch rectangle and begin to shape. Cut the dough with a sharp large knife into 6-inch strips then cut them into triangles, 4 inches wide at the base of the triangle (or for a more curved croissant cut the triangles 6 inches wide). Stretch these triangles again 9 inches long, then place on the work surface. Roll the triangles up towards you starting at the wide end and place them 3 inches apart on a parchment lined sheet pan with the tip tucked under and the ends slightly curved in to make a crescent shape. You may freeze the croissants at this point, or, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk and brush the croissants with this egg wash.
To proof the croissants, place them in an oven that is not turned on, with a pan of hot water in the bottom to create a moist environment like a proof box. Set aside to proof for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours until puffed up and spongy to the touch. Remove from the oven.
Spritz a preheated 425 degree F oven with water, close the door, and get the croissants. Place the croissants in the oven and spritz again, close the door and turn the oven down to 400 degrees F. After 10 minutes, rotate your pan if they are cooking unevenly and turn the oven down to 375 degrees F. Bake another 5 to 8 minutes until golden brown.