I have read in numerous blogs and recipe websites that croissants are the bane of any amateur baker's existence. A recipe that takes two days, several rounds of touching, rolling, and resting, and could possibly end in disaster for any number of missteps would have anyone shaking in their apron. Naturally I decided to throw myself in the deep end.
Sure, I've made a couple of yeast breads before, but never anything as unanimously daunting as croissants. Knowing I wasn't alone in my fear, I went to the blogs to consult my colleagues in the oven. I settled on the recipe at Not So Humble Pie and advice from Gabi on Mamaliga.com.
It wasn't as heart-breaking a process as I thought it would be. The only minor oops was nearly forgetting to feed the yeast. Woooow. I used to make cinnamon rolls at my university every Saturday morning for nearly a year; how could I forget something as basic as giving the yeast sugar to feed on? Well, I didn't really forget to, I just added it later than the recipe said to. I had mixed the dough and thrown it in the fridge when I realized I hadn't added any sugar. "Odd recipe," I thought. I mused over how there could be anything to fuel the yeast for a moment and then reread the recipe. I simply glazed over the word sugar and went about making a yeast dough without it. Silly. I took the dough out, sprinkled sugar on it, and spun it in the mixer for another minute before sending it back to the fridge for a good sleep.
The croissants actually came out nicely! I halved the recipe because I know the Resident Taste Tester and I do not need eleven full size croissants lurking in the kitchen.
When I took half the dough and made four croissants, I thought they seemed rather large even before they had gone through the last rising phase. They were absolutely massive by the time they came out of the oven. Unfortunately, the insides were a bit too moist (cooked, no doubt, but heavy with butter) while the outsides were beautiful. I decided to make eight croissants with the remaining dough and these proportions came out so wonderfully crisp and flaky on the outside while soft, fluffy, and buttery on the inside that several were consumed within minutes of hitting the rack to cool.
Yields 16 croissants
358g (1.5 C) whole milk, room temperature
14g (1/2oz or 4 1/2 tsp) yeast
453g (4 C) bread flour
56g (heaping 1/2 C) sugar
10g (1 1/2 tsp) salt (not in the original recipe, but I think it improves it)
40mL (2 T) molasses (substituted for malt syrup)
71g (heaping 1/2 C) butter, cold but pliable
226g (2/3 C) butter, cold but pliable
1 egg + 3 T whole milk, beaten
Flour, for rolling out dough
* Volume measurements in parentheses are approximate
1. Mix the yeast and room temperature milk; set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Pound the cold butter in a plastic bag (or between sheets of wax paper, etc.) with a rolling pin until pliable (you'll end up with a sheet of butter about a quarter inch thick). If butter becomes too warm, place in freezer until cold again.
3. Mix flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl (sift it if you like, but it's not necessary).
4. Add molasses to the flour mix and cut in the cold but pliable butter coarsely by giving it a quick spin on low with the electric mixer.
5. Pour the yeast-milk mix over everything and mix on low until the dough becomes unwieldy and begins to reach for the sky (it took about 30 seconds for my dough to start creeping up the beaters).
6. Replace beaters with dough hooks and continue to mix on low for 3 minutes, then turn up to high and mix for 2 minutes.
8. Cover with plastic wrap and press out all air bubbles (to prevent strange crusting) before placing it in the fridge for 5+ hours (over night is perfectly acceptable).
9. Place the cold butter for the roll in between sheets of wax paper or in a plastic bag and beat with the rolling pin until it is a pliable sheet about 9"x13" (slightly larger or smaller is fine). Return it to the fridge to keep cold until you're dough has finished it's 5+ hours in the fridge (you can do this just before you roll out your dough in the next step, but make sure it's cold).
10. Remove dough from the fridge (it will be less sticky and a bit more puffy than it was 5+ hours ago) and roll out with a pin to about 13"x18" on a well-floured surface (always have flour handy when rolling out the dough to prevent sticking).
11. Now begins the three-part folds and short rests section. Place your cold but pliable roll in butter on your dough and fold the sides of the dough over to cover the butter.
This is sort of what a four-fold looks like. Not perfect, but it will do.
11a. Roll the dough out to about 13"x18" and fold the ends to the middle and fold again like you are closing a book (see four-fold above). Cover and seal with plastic wrap and return to fridge for 30 minutes.
11b. Roll out dough again to about 13"x18" and do a three-fold like a business letter or men's wallet (see three-fold above). Cover and seal with plastic wrap and return to fridge for another 30 minutes.
11c. Roll out dough yet again to about 13"x18", repeat the three-fold, and place in the fridge for the final time for two hours.
12. Now you can begin to make pretty little crescent shapes. Roll out dough to about 9"x20" and cut into four equal size rectangles. Set three in the fridge (wrapped in plastic of course).
If Bob Ross was baking these, he would call them happy little triangles.
12a. Roll out one rectangle to a square (a bit larger than 9"x9") and cut in half to make two rectangles. Cut diagonally across both rectangles to make four triangles.
12b. Cut a 1" slit at the base of each triangle (the shorter side of the right angle) and roll tightly towards the far tip, stretching the dough as you roll.
12c. Place rolled dough on a baking sheet (I always line with silicone baking mats), turn in corners slightly to make a crescent shape, and brush with an egg wash. Repeat 12a-c for the rest of the dough, placing 8 or so croissants on each baking sheet and allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature (until nearly doubled in size).
13. Preheat oven to 375 F (191 C), do one more egg wash, and bake for 16-20 minutes until nicely brown.
14. Remove to rack and cool (five minutes is generally enough time to cool them so you don't burn your tongue, but use your best judgement).
Croissants basking in the Singapore sun.
I found that the amount of butter originally to roll in was waaay too much for me; the croissants bled butter in the oven partway through and swam in it until they finished baking. Not a terrible thing, just sort of horrifying. The amount of roll in butter I list is reduced by one third.
The original recipe also didn't have any salt in it; I used about half salted and half unsalted butter when I made them and I think they could use a teaspoon or two of salt (while using unsalted butter) to punch things up a bit.
You really have to get the portions and timing right to get perfectly crisp, flaky, brown croissants on the outside and fluffy, soft, layers upon layers of yum on the inside. Experiment a bit and granted yours don't burn, you'll have delectable, rich croissants and an air of buttery bread throughout your home for a couple of days.
Lovely flaky layers glistening in the early afternoon light. Perhaps all the butter will deepen that tan.