Look at this picture. Look at this picture every time you think, “Well, I don’t really need to learn how to make croissants.” Imagine you have this magic at your fingertips – to transform blank, chilly triangles into exuberant whorls of pastry.
If “Rumpelstilskin” were set in a bakery, he would have spun dough into golden croissants. And he’d probably be less creepy and angry. Who could be angry surrounded by croissants?
As promised, this post is all about The Recipe. I’m adding a category of recipes titled “HG” or “holy grail,” meaning the recipe has exactly what I’m looking for to the point that it becomes my go-to. I know it’s common in food blogs to post many different version of one thing, for example, a chocolate chip cookie – but there are so many exciting desserts, I’d rather hang on to something great when I find it. This is absolutely an HG!
To make croissants from scratch, you don’t need expensive equipment. You do need a lot of patience, enough planning to start at least 24 hours before you want the croissants, and a willingness to try the recipe a few times to find out what needs adjusting for your particular batch. You’ll complete Part 1 (the dough), below, the first day, and Part 2 (shaping and baking) the second day.
They are best baked and served on the same day. However! You can save extra dough in the fridge for up to three days, then shape before you’re ready to bake. Longer, and you’ll have sourdough croissants on your hands. Technically, you can freeze unbaked croissants, but the tight structure of the dough means that it will take an overnight thaw and then a good few hours at room temp before they are ready to bake.
When an unbaked croissant is first shaped, it will still look pretty small and unimpressive. This is when proofing comes into the picture. I’m making a note of this because it is so, so important. Proofing is similar to rising, but croissants require more warmth and humidity to expand properly. If they don’t get it, they simply won’t expand into all those glorious layers.
In commercial kitchens, a proofing cabinet is a large chamber with a pan of water in the bottom, that maintains a temperature of 85-95°F, and a humidity of 75-80%. The interior feels like a room where someone’s just taken a very hot shower. It is hard to recreate this without a proofing cabinet, but not impossible! Or, you can ask for a home proofing cabinet (around $200-300) for Christmas, and get me one too.
Ok ok. Finally, the recipe!
Adapted from Nancy Silverton, Gourmet, 2000
Part 1: The Dough
Special equipment: A stand mixer (if available) with dough hook; pastry brush; French rolling pin (optional); ruler; clean spray bottle.
- 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk, gently warmed until 105°F–110°
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (from two 1/4-oz packages)
- 3 and 3/4 to 4 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) good-quality cold unsalted butter. I use Plugra or Kerrygold.
Assembling the dough:
- In the bowl of the stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, stir together the warm milk, brown sugar, and yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If the mixture doesn’t foam, start over – you want that yeast on your side!
- Add 3 3/4 cups of flour and the kosher salt to the mixture. Knead with dough hook for ~7minutes, until very soft but pulling away from the sides of the bowl, and starting to form a ball. You may knead by hand to achieve the same texture, but the timing will be a bit longer – maybe 15 minutes.
- Transfer dough to a work surface and knead by hand 2 more minutes, adding the remaining 3/4c flour slowly. The dough will still be soft and slightly tacky.
- Form dough into a roughly 1 1/2-inch-thick rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until cold, about 1 hour.
The butter block:
- After dough has chilled, place the three sticks of butter side by side, horizontally, between two pieces of parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap.
- Pound the butter with a French rolling pin (regular will work too, just more awkward) until softened enough that the three sticks start to meld into a single block.
- Begin rolling the butter block gently until it forms an 8″x5″ rectangle. Chill only as long as it takes to roll out the dough (no longer than 10 minutes or it will become brittle). You can check out my nerdy notes below for a diagram.
- Roll out dough:
- Unwrap dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as necessary and lifting and stretching dough (especially in corners), into a 16″x10″ rectangle.
- Arrange dough so that a short side is facing you. Place butter in center of dough so that long sides of butter are parallel to short sides of dough. Fold as you would a letter: bottom third of dough over butter, then top third down over dough. Brush off excess flour with pastry brush. You’ve now completed one turn. Each turn is building all those glorious laminated layers you’ll see in the final product.
- If the dough is still quite cold and there are no signs of butter escaping, you can roll the folded parcel out again until it’s 16″x10″ once more, then repeat the letter folds. This would be your second turn. If the dough is at all warm, however, chill for one hour before the second turn.
- Repeat the rolling, folding, and chilling three more times, chilling for one hour between turns, for a total of four turns.
Now you’ve gotta wait. Let the dough chill for at least eight hours, but no more than 18.
Part 2: Shaping and Baking the Croissants
- Roll out and cut dough:
- Divide dough in half horizontally. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and chill until needed. On a floured surface, roll the remaining half (dusting with flour as necessary) into a 16″ x 12″ rectangle. Keep the corners shaped by stretching the dough if needed. Brush off excess flour with pastry brush and trim around the edges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. This helps the dough expand better.
- Arrange dough with a short side nearest you. Cut in half horizontally. Then cut each half vertically, into 3 rectangles (6 total). Cut each rectangle diagonally in half to make 2 triangles, for a total of 6 triangles per half, and 12 triangles total.
- Shape croissants:
- Holding short side (side opposite tip) of 1 triangle in one hand, stretch dough, tugging gently with other hand toward tip to elongate by about 50 percent. You can also use a pastry roller or your rolling pin, gently.
- Arrange the short side of the triangle nearest you. Beginning with short side, roll up triangle toward tip. Croissant should overlap 3 times, with tip sticking out from underneath; you may need to stretch dough while rolling.
- Put croissant, tip side down, on a parchment-lined large baking sheet. (Curve ends toward each other – you can pinch the tips together if you want, it will expand during baking.)
- Repeat with remaining triangles.
- For filled croissants, place filling on the widest portion of triangle before rolling or folding the croissant. Pain au chocolat are traditionally folded into little bundles.
Proof the Croissants:
- Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature.
- Boil a pot or kettle of water, then pouring that water into an oven-safe roasting pan or skillet.
- Turn the oven off, placing the pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven.
- “Mist” the croissants all over with water, using a spray bottle.
- Place the croissants in the oven until they are puffy and wobbly, anywhere from 30-60 minutes. They may not double in size, but the consistency of the dough will noticeably change and grow. You can give the oven a few mists during proofing as well for good measure.
YOU MADE IT! TIME TO BAKE THE CROISSANTS!
- Adjust oven racks to upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 425°F. If you’re lucky enough to have a convection oven, reduce each temperature by at least 25-30°F.
- Spritz inside oven generously with spray bottle and close door. Put croissants in oven, then spritz again before closing door. Reduce temperature to 400°F and bake 10 minutes without opening door.
- Switch position of sheets in oven and rotate sheets 180°, then reduce temperature to 375°F and bake until croissants are deep golden, about 10 minutes more.
I’ve found that the timing, color, and final appearance of the croissant varies quite widely even with a reliable recipe like this one. Just trust that after a few attempts you’ll have a better idea of how all these factors come together to influence the final result, and then you can adjust proofing time/bake time/etc.
I’m just gonna put that photo here again to remind you why this exhaustive (and exhausting) recipe is worth it. Happy baking!
Till next time,
Pies & Pinups