When I first started learning to cook, I remember reading an article that said, “You’re just learning, start with the basic, easy recipes. Don’t go trying to make a risotto or soufflé, because that’s like trying to run before you walk.” I always had it in my head that there are these “hard recipes” that are best left to the professionals. Well, thanks to the wealth of knowledge available on the Internet, I can now make a decent risotto (I still haven’t tackled the soufflé though), and I’ve always been on the lookout for things that are of increasing difficulty. This weekend, I decided to dedicate to the reputedly unforgiving pastry: the croissant.
This is one we had in Paris (I do not claim credit for this).
Normally my modus operandi is to read a recipe, give it a shot, then go for the allergy-friendly substitutions. But pretty much every post on croissant making I came across said, “You’re going to have to do this a few times before you get the technique right, so follow the instructions exactly until you can make nice croissants. So we’re back to the walk before you run advice.
It seems every article also mentions the shape of croissants, and how in France, only a pure-butter croissant can be straight. If it has any other kind of fat in it, then it must be curved into that crescent shape. I don’t know if that applies just to the layers though, or if it applies to the pastry as a whole – because a lot of them have an egg glaze, which would have fat in it. So I’m guessing it just applies to what you use to laminate the dough.
Anyway, on to the baking!
The recipe I used was this one:
Mostly because they also have a video you can watch of the process.
Ingredients for the croissant dough
500 g French Type 55 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour / plain flour (extra for dusting.)
(from what I can find, type 55 flour is flour with about 11% protein – I’m using the bread and pizza flour from the supermarket)
140 g water
140 g whole milk (you can take it straight from the fridge)
55 g sugar
40 g soft unsalted butter
11 g instant yeast
12 g salt
280 g cold unsalted butter for laminating (at least 82% butterfat)
1 egg + 1 tsp water for the egg wash
Tools you will need:
Ruler / measuring tape (if you care about exact proportions)
Pizza cutter (or knife, if you don’t have one, but I think pizza cutter is easier)
The recipe linked is done over three days, but I don’t have three days to spend making croissants, so I tried to compress it into two. I wanted to do two variations, one combining days one and two, and one combining days two and three, but the games club meeting today meant I didn’t have enough time to laminate two sets of dough in one day. :(
I don’t have a dough hook, so I had to knead the dough by hand. The recipe says not to knead it too much, as you want low gluten development or the dough will be too elastic and will un-stretch when you’re rolling it out. I think this part went OK, despite the lack of a mixer and dough hook.
Cutting butter into 1.25cm slabs wasn’t as easy as it looked, but the recipe does say to use 82% butterfat butter, and now I understand why. My personal policy has been if you can get away with crappy home-brand ingredients, then do it. I usually buy the store-brand butter, and haven’t had any issues with it so far, except when I need room-temp butter and I forgot to take it out, so end up trying to hack away at a rock-solid block of butter. I went with the good stuff this time, and even though the butter was straight out of the fridge, it wasn’t incredibly difficult to cut.
280g of butter is a lot!
Arrange it in a square on baking paper and smush it together.
Not the best square in the world… but I tried.
I tried to take a shortcut, and go for 17cm x 17cm right from the start, and I realise now why they do 15 x 15, go to 19 x 19, then trim down to 17 x 17. You want to give the slab of butter a decent pounding, so that it all comes together. I found that mine was a bit “holey” in certain parts, where the bits of butter were next to each other. Starting with a smaller square and working outwards probably allows you to compact the butter better before rolling out.
Since the video seemed to stress measuring, I got some baking paper, and measured out all the different sizes I’d need:
- 26cm x 26cm (for the dough envelope)
- 20cm x 60cm (for rolling it out for the turns)
- 20cm x 100cm (for the final roll out before cutting – it says 110, but they do that to allow for shrinkage)
- the 12.5cm notches for cutting the final dough
It’s a bit hard to see the lines, but you get the idea. Remember to turn it over and use the side that you didn’t draw on!
Now for the tough part: laminating. This is the process of making dough-butter-dough layers. From what I’ve learned from Yakitate Japan, the more layers, the better, but it’s a very delicate process. If you have too many layers, you risk tearing them when rolling, and if the dough layer is too thin, the outer layers may burn before the inner layers are cooked.
So you begin by rolling your dough into a square, and putting the slab of butter in the middle at a 45 degree angle.
Then you wrap it up in the dough like an envelope.
Roll it out gently to 20 x 60. I thought this would be easy, but it turned out to be the hardest part.
As you can see, this doesn’t look anything like the recipe I linked. My rectangle isn’t rectangular. At first, I tried smushing the fat bits back in, but that just caused butter leakage. I will need to do more research on how to get the pretty rectangular dough shape!
Fold a third over, then the other third on top (like a business letter). Stick it in the fridge for 30 mins.
Rotate 90 degrees, roll, fold, fridge. Rotate 90 degrees, repeat. I decided to stop at 3 folds, as it was my first time, and the dough was really starting to leak butter now. ;(
Here’s where you’re meant to stick it in the fridge overnight, but I wanted to get it all done today, so I did it for an hour.
Then roll it out to 100 / 110 cm (it says 110cm, then let it stretch back to 100cm, but I couldn’t even get it to go to 100).
My final rolled out dough (was roughly 90cm).
Using the 12.5cm notches you marked on the paper earlier, cut little notches, then use those to cut out your triangles.
If you want, you can save the end bits for danishes!
Roll the triangles up, starting at the long end – I decided to make mine straight, because I used butter, so I’m allowed to! If you want them curved, you can cut a notch in the middle of the long end, to make it easier to bend.
Put on a tray, coat with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tsp of water), and leave to rest for 2 hours (this is the proofing stage, and the yeast will work its magic. Allow space for the croissants to expand! Also, don’t do this in an area that’s too hot, or the butter will melt and leak out). Heat up your oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
Then into the oven for 18-20 mins. Enjoy the lovely croissant smell that will be wafting through your house! :D
Unfortunately, my first attempt didn’t turn out that great.
They were a bit soggy in the middle, and not very flaky at all. You can just barely see the layers, but They were pretty smushed.
The danishes I made with the leftover dough turned out OK though – as evidenced by the ones that mysteriously went missing while I was at games club, whose disappearance had nothing to do with Mr Fodder at all.
I brushed with the egg wash, and allowed to proof with the croissants. Then added a teaspoon of strawberry jam in the middle before baking. They had to go in the oven a bit longer, Probably because I cooked them at the same time as the croissants.
Going to need a second attempt at this. I’d say next time, my dough probably needed a bit more flour, as it was a bit sticky, to be honest. I didn’t want to end up with dry croissants, but unfortunately, ended up with super soggy ones instead. Also, it made the dough a bit harder to roll out, as during the last fold, the layers were so fragile.
Wish me luck!
Edit: After cooling, they turned out a bit nicer.