One word. Butter. And lots of it. One of the thing I miss the most about living in Paris is the smell of freshly baked breads and pastries coming out of bakeries early in the morning. For a long time the smell of toasted butter from the boulangerie downstairs was my alarm clock right around 7 am. I would rush down the stairs (and almost tumbled a few times in my butter induced frenzy) and pick up a croissant or pain au chocolat for my commute to school.
On my days off I would have a croissant with café au lait for breakfast, sitting at a sidewalk table at the Café de la Paix near Opera, sipping a café crème and eating a croissant with confiture, watching the morning bustle and hustle of Parisian life. Those are hard to tame habits and as a result I think I’m forever doomed to a life of random cravings for warm buttery croissant. It’s not always that easy to find great ones here in the US unless you live in big cities so let’s make some, shall we?
Croissants aren’t as difficult to make as they seem. If you have experience making puff pastry from scratch you’ll find that the process is quite similar, the big difference is that it’s a yeast dough that requires a lot of rest in between turns. After shaping and proofing, the croissant are brushed with an egg wash and baked until puffed and golden, and believe me, the smell in your kitchen alone will be worth all the efforts. Give yourself plenty of time. Make the dough on one day and shape, proof and bake them on the next. They will be even better.
Croissants are made from layered dough that is made by encasing butter in a yeast dough, and taking it through a series of turns to produce many layers of butter in between sheets of dough. A perfectly rolled croissant dough has 81 layers. The key to success in this process is maintaining the integrity of each layer. If the lamination is successful and the layers are maintained the croissants will be light and flaky.
The leavening in croissant dough is derived mainly from the steam generated by the moisture in the butter and dough during baking. The laminated fat acts as a barrier to trap the water vapor formed during baking. As the steam expands in the oven it lifts and separates the individual layers to create a lot of deliciousness.
The only problem with this recipe is that you’ll end up with about twenty rich and buttery croissants and they will be right on your kitchen counter taunting you. And nobody, and I mean nobody, has enough restrain and self-control to resist this kind of torture. You better have an exit strategy to get rid of them. Call your neighbors, friends or family ahead of time and get-them-out-of-the-house while they’re still warm.
Or eat them all and spend a week on the treadmill. Enjoy!
- Makes 20 croissants
- Adapted from ‘Pastries’ by Pierre Herme except for rolling technique.
For the croissants:
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 7 tablespoons whole milk (68′F)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fleur de sel
- 6 tablespoons superfine sugar
- 2 1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
- 1 tablespoon dry milk powder
- 1/2 cup mineral water (68′F)
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) French butter
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 whole egg
- dash of fine sea salt
For the croissants:
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Sift the all-purpose flour, then incorporate the sea salt, sugar, very soft butter, dry milk powder, water and yeast dissolved in warm milk. Knead the mixture briefly. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and keep it at room temperature (ideally at 72′F) for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
- Punch down the dough to its initial volume and cover it with plastic wrap again. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Punch it down again and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the freezer. Pound the cold butter in between sheets of parchment paper with a rolling pin to soften, then knead butter with hands forming a rectangle. Place it in the refrigerator while you roll the dough.
- Sprinkle a work surface with flour and roll out a long rectangle of dough; it should be three times longer than it is wide. Place the pad of butter on one half of the dough rectangle. Fold the other half of the dough rectangle over the butter pad and pinch the edges shut around it.
- To make the croissants you will need to put 3 double turns into the dough. To make your first double turn, dust your counter surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle three times longer than it is wide.
- Visually divide the dough lengthwise into quarters. Fold the two outer quarters over the center axis, or spine, of the rectangle of dough, so they meet in the center. Then close the book, bringing one edge to meet the other. Double turn complete. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Repeat the operation twice more for a total of 3 double turns with one hour of rest in between. Make sure you start each turn with the center axis, the spine of the book, on your left.
- Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 8 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick.
- Cut out long triangles, each 8 inches long from the pointiest tip to the center of the side across it and 4 inches wide at the bottom. Roll each triangle tightly from the wide bottom to the tip of the triangle and give them a crescent shape.
- Transfer the croissants to two baking trays lined with silpat or parchment paper. Cover lightly with plastic and leave at room temperature to double in size, about one hour.
- Heat the oven to 450′F.
- Whisk the egg, egg yolk and salt together in a small bowl and brush the top of the croissant generously.
- Place the trays in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350′F.
- Bake the croissants for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they double in size, caramelize on the edges, and have a crusty outer layer. Eat them right out of the oven or at room temperature.