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Croissants

November 12, 2011
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Among the baked goods that I have always wanted to make but have never felt capable of making at home are croissants.  Just thinking about making room in my fridge for a cookie sheet during all of that locking and turning and folding and turning and folding makes my eye start to twitch.  Thankfully, at culinary school (and at many bakeries), we have refrigerators with slotted sides to hold sheet pans as well as a sheeter, which is an indispensable resource for rolling out dough to exact thicknesses.  Oh yeah, and it spares your upper arms the torment of trying to take the croissant dough out of the fridge and roll it out to a precise length, all fast enough so that the butter doesn’t get too soft on you.

I’ve adjusted this recipe to use active dry yeast, which is the most common type in home baking, as well as cutting it down to make only 30 croissants instead of the original 120.  That being said, you’re welcome to make more croissants at a time; they’ll keep for a while if you  pack them tightly on a sheet tray, cover them well, and freeze them right before the first egg wash.  If you freeze your croissant dough, take them out of the freezer and allow them to come to room temperature before proceeding.  I haven’t adapted the method, but let’s do a quick croissant FAQ to make sure your croissants look like this on the first try:

Why is it important for the butter to be lump-free?

As you continue to fold and roll out the croissant dough into thinner and thinner layers, the lumps will remain hard and brittle, cutting through the gluten strands and thereby disrupting the layers in your laminated dough.

How do you know when the dough and butter are at the right temperature to roll out?

The butter should be firm but not brittle; the dough and the butter block should have the same consistency.  Press two fingers into the dough and compare it when you press two fingers into the butter block.  When they feel the same, you know that you’re ready to do your lock-in.

Why should you use European-style butter for the lock-in?

It has a higher fat content and is therefore delicious.  Unfortunately, this also means that it will be more temperature-sensitive, but you can do it!  I believe in you!

Why do you have to turn the dough 90º each time you roll it out?

You want to develop the gluten in all directions evenly.  Otherwise, your croissants will end up lopsided and will be very difficult to continue rolling.  To avoid confusion about turning, I think the best way is to decide beforehand to either turn the dough clockwise or counterclockwise; otherwise, it’s easy to set the dough down on the counter and think… oh, crap.  Which way do I go now?

What’s the correct way to shape the croissants?

Once you have cut the croissants into triangles, egg wash all three corners.  Pull the two corners of the short side away from each other and roll once towards the point of the triangle, pressing the edge into the dough to keep it in place.  While pulling on the point of the croissant with consistent pressure to roll it up tightly, continue to roll towards the point.  The croissant should sit on its own tail, and the crescent shape should be rolled so that the tip points IN towards the middle of the crescent, not OUT towards the outside of the crescent.

What’s with all that resting in the fridge?

The importance of resting the dough cannot be stressed enough; first, it helps the gluten relax, which makes the dough much easier to roll out.  Secondly, it keeps the butter in the correct temperature range so that your final dough will have distinct layers of dough and semi-solid butter, which is the only way to get this perfect flakiness.  Enjoy!

Croissants

Adapted from the CIA’s recipe

Yield: 30 croissants, 1 3/4 oz each

14 oz. milk, room temperature (about 80º F)

.233 oz active dry yeast

.375 oz salt

1.125 oz granulated sugar

2 oz unsalted butter, no lumps

9 oz bread flour

12 oz all-purpose flour

Roll-In:

15 oz unsalted European-style butter

1 oz bread flour

1. In the bowl of a mixer, combine the yeast with some of the milk, allowing it to proof (about 10 minutes.)  Add the remaining ingredients.  Mix on low for 2 minutes and on medium speed for 7 minutes.

2. By hand, roll the dough to the size of your sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill.  (Depending on the temperature of your butter, it may need between 15 and 30 minutes in the fridge.)

3. In the bowl of a mixer, combine the roll-in butter and flour, using a paddle on low speed just until the butter is broken up.  Then paddle on medium speed just until the butter is smooth: firm with no lumps.  Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the butter out to 2/3 the size of your sheet pan.

4. When the butter and the dough are the same consistency, place the dough on a floured counter and place the butter on the dough so that the right 2/3 of the dough is covered.

5. Lock the butter into the dough by folding the left part of the dough that is not covered by butter over the top of the butter lock-in; then fold the right 1/3 over the top of that dough.  Using your rolling pin, press the seams all around the dough to ensure that all of the butter is locked in.  Turn the dough 90º.

6. Roll out immediately to a rectangle twice the length of your sheet pan.  Brush off any extra flour and give the dough a three-fold (like the fold you just did: like folding a letter to be placed in an envelope.)  It will now fit on the sheet pan.  Press one finger into the dough to remind yourself that it has only received one turn so far.  Cover well and rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

7.  Repeat step 6 twice more, turning the dough 90º before rolling each time.

8.  Mark the dough with three indentations to indicate the number of three-folds that have been done, cover well and refrigerate overnight.

9.  The next day, roll out the dough to 3 mm thick and, using a croissant cutter or a pastry wheel, cut the dough into triangles about twice as tall as they are wide, with a 1/2-inch notch halfway across the bottom of the triangle.  Roll up the croissants as indicated above and place on a lined sheet pan, 2 inches apart.

10. Egg wash the croissants and then leave them, lightly covered to avoid forming a skin, in a warm, humid place to proof until they are nearly double in size.  Once the croissants are well-proofed, egg wash them again, using a light hand to avoid deflating all of your hard work.  Then bake them in a 375º oven until they are medium golden brown and your house smells like a butter factory, about 28 minutes.

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