Guys, it’s true. I made croissants. Canyouevenbelieveit?
I did it! I made them! From scratch! From start to finish! And it took three days. Croissants are crazy.
Truth: I wasn’t working on them full-time from day one to day three, but there is a lot of resting time that you’ve got to factor in, so it is a pretty big undertaking. I started the process on Friday night and finished them up on Sunday morning. The hope was that I would end up with 15 beautiful, golden-brown, buttery, soft croissants, looking as if they came straight from a Parisien bakery/market/cafe. Something like this:
In actual fact, they were not so beautiful and were definitely NOT the best croissants that have ever been made. But more on that later… First, how did I go about making them?
When I attempt big, challenging baking projects for the first time, I like to read around on the subject. I peruse numerous different versions of the same recipe and study up on why each baker thinks their method is the best. Usually, this results in me combining several different versions of the recipe, coming up with my own take on it…with varying degrees of success. Often when I’m done, I end up kicking myself for trying to create my own method when I haven’t even tried the most basic version yet. Surely it would be better to try someone else’s tried-and-true version and then figure out what worked/didn’t work for me. So this time, I decided to find one recipe and stick with it from start to finish.
I found a good step-by-step tutorial at finecooking.com. Seriously, go check out that link if you want a really detailed explanation about how it’s done. Herein, I’ll give you my condensed version of the steps involved, and let you know how things turned out.
So you have a reference for what I’m talking about, here are the ingredients from Fine Cooking’s recipe:
For the dough
- 1 lb. 2 oz. (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
- 5 oz. (1/2cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold water
- 5 oz. (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold whole milk
- 2 oz. (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs.) granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) soft unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs. plus scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
- 2-1/4 tsp. table salt
For the butter layer
- 10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) cold unsalted butter
Day One: Make the Dough
On Friday night, when I got home from having dinner with a friend, I pulled out my trusty Kitchen Aid (which I transported from America to London as a piece of cabin luggage last summer – but that’s a story for another day) and put it to work.
I combined all the dry ingredients with the milk, water and softened butter. I let my mixer do all the kneading – working away with the dough hook for a good 6-8 minutes to get everything incorporated and activate the yeast.
After it was all mixed/kneaded, I put it in a floured baking dish and put it in the fridge to rest overnight.
Day Two: BUTTER, Rolling, Folding and Shaping
The next morning, after dragging myself out of bed and sipping a couple cups of coffee while watching crazy winter Olympians defy death, I got to work on the second stage. And the second stage is all about butter. Confession: I looooooooove butter. Anything using this much butter is going to be amazing, in my opinion.
I cut the butter into roughly even pieces and arranged it in a rough square on some parchment paper. Then came the really fun part. I folded the parchment paper over the butter and bashed and rolled it to create a homogeneous, giant butter tablet about 7.5 inches square.
I put the butter in the fridge while I rolled out the pre-made dough into a roughly 10 inch square. Then I placed the butter tablet at an angle in the middle of the dough square and folded the dough around it to make a butter/dough parcel.
Once the butter was enclosed in the dough, I tapped lightly on the whole package with a rolling pin to evenly flatten it all out and started rolling it in one direction only to lengthen it out. It’s all about keeping the sides straight and evenly rolling the whole out into a big rectangle (roughly 8 x 24 inches).
After that, I folded it into thirds.
It then went back into the fridge to rest for about an hour. I brought it back out and rolled it again into a long strip, starting with one of the “open” edges facing me. Then folded it again and put it back in the fridge to rest.
I did the same again one more time and then popped the dough back in the fridge to rest for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Since it was about 1:00pm when I was finished rolling and folding, I decided I would shape the croissants that night before going to bed since the dough would have rested for over 8 hours by then. I went out to a birthday party that evening and when I came in around 11.00, I pulled the dough back out of the fridge and got to work on shaping the croissants.
I rolled out the dough into a looooooooooong strip this time (about 40 inches) and then did some very scientific cutting using a ruler. I ended up with fifteen evenly sized triangles and two half-size ones. Starting at the long edge, I rolled each triangle up into the classic croissant shape.
They then went back into the fridge once more to rest and rise overnight.
Day Three: Baking and Eating
The next morning, I pulled them out a couple of hours before I wanted to bake them for a final little bit of “proofing” time and then gave them a wipe with an egg-wash pre-baking.
They baked at 425F for 18-20 minutes, rotated half-way through.
Aaaaaaaaand: TA DAAAAA!
So. How were they?
Weeeeelllll, they weren’t the most amazing croissants. And they certainly didn’t live up to my expectations as depicted in that first picture up above. But I think I understand why they didn’t turn out perfectly, which is the first step to making them better the next time around.
I seemed to have two problems:
1. I think my yeast was not active.
When I pulled the yeast out on Friday night, I noticed that it was basically at the tail end of it’s “use by” date, but I didn’t want to go back out to buy more, so I decided to take the chance. And basically, the dough just never seemed to rise like it should. It felt relatively springy and seemed to have the right type of stretch, but it never grew like you would expect yeasted dough to grow. In the end, I felt like I was just making regular puff pastry and not leavened puff pastry, which is what you need for those classic, airy croissants. Most crucially, the croissants really didn’t rise at all after I shaped them. So instead of puffy, large croissants, I had kind-of-dense, mini croissants.
2. My butter didn’t really “laminate” so much as break up as I rolled and folded.
With croissant dough, you’re aiming for layers of dough and butter – what bakers call “laminating” the dough. All the folding and rolling is supposed to built of distinct layers of butter and dough which result in the classic layered nature of a croissant and many other delicious pastries. Instead of achieving these distinct layers, my butter seemed to kind of break-up within the dough, so I had bits of butter throughout rather than thin layers of dough and butter. You can kind of see what I’m talking about in the rolling/shaping pictures above.
Even with those problems, they were still pretty tasty. I mean, nothing with that much butter is really going to be bad. Louise and I invited a couple of friends over on Sunday morning to help us eat them. Even though they were more like puff pastry mini-rolls than croissants, we polished them off pretty handily. There were only a few left over.
So now I can say I’ve made croissants! And even though it was a prolonged process, the steps are pretty simple. I might even go back and try them again some time soon to see if I can figure out a better method and achieve that perfect homemade, Parisien-market-style croissant I long for.
What about you? Have you ever made croissants or leavened puff pastry? How did it turn out? What’s your secret?