Time seems to have entirely gotten away from me! I promised more writing soon, then entirely failed to deliver. Here, at long last, is a little write up about the croissants I made a few weeks ago.
I’d always heard that croissants were incredibly difficult to make which made me determined to master them. Imagine my surprise to find that they were actually quite easy when it came down to it! The real issue is time; croissants are by no means quick and cannot be rushed if they are to be made properly. However, while it will take the better part of 24 hours to complete the whole process from start to finish, the actual active time involved is relatively short. Activity comes in short bursts interspersed with long periods of chilling the dough.
The temperature of the milk is particularly important, so please use a thermometer to double check that it’s in the correct range. Whenever a recipe I’ve used in the past has called for tepid/lukewarm liquid in a yeasted recipe, I’ve usually winged it and things have turned out fine. This time, I actually measured the temperature of the milk precisely. To my surprise, it felt a lot hotter than I’d assumed it would be. The yeast was much more active and foamy than usual and yielded much better results. I’ve concluded that I’ve been using water/milk that’s just a bit too cold to properly activate the yeast in past recipes, so I’ve now resolved to always measure of the temperature of the liquid before adding yeast.
I also recommend letting the croissants rise in a room that is not the kitchen, because the kitchen is a bit too warm (particularly if you’re preheating the oven) and this can cause the butter in the dough to melt and wreak havoc with the final product.
As one final note, do not halve the recipe; although you might not wish to make 24 croissants, the recipe relies on these exact proportions to make the laminated pastry dough. If you have more than you need, you can freeze the remaining croissants either before or after baking and then eat them at your leisure. The dough may also be used for pains au chocolat or for almond croissants.
Croissants (recipe adapted from Epicurious.com) – makes 24 medium sized croissants
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, warmed to between 105˚F-110˚F
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon and ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plain flour if you’re in the UK)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter
- 1 egg, beaten with a fork
- 1-2 ice cubes
Mix together the milk, sugar, and yeast and let stand for about 5 minutes until the top of the mixture has become foamy. Add the flour and salt, and then mix in a stand mixer using the dough hook attachment at low speed until you have a smooth, soft dough. This will take about 7 minutes. I don’t have a stand mixer, so instead used my electric beater that has special dough hook attachments – this seemed to work relatively well, though if the dough had been any stiffer it might have strained the motor.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for two minutes on a floured work surface. You may need to add flour as you go – up to an additional ¾ cup. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky after two minutes. Shape the dough into a 1 ½ inch (4cm) thick rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap, then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour).
Just before removing the dough from the fridge, shape the butter by arranging the blocks side by side and pounding them with a rolling pin so that it becomes more workable. Shape the butter into an 8×5 inch rectangle by placing between plastic wrap or kitchen towels and pounding/rolling it with the rolling pin.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it forms a 16×10 inch rectangle and orient it so that the short side is closest to you. Place the butter in the middle of the dough, with the short side of the butter parallel to the long side of the dough. Fold the dough over the butter like a letter, with one third of the dough going over the top of the butter, then the other third going over the top of that.
Re-orient the dough so that the short side faces you, then press gently down on it with the rolling pin working along the dough so that it flattens slightly. Roll out the dough into a 15×10 inch rectangle, making sure that the rolling pin does not go over the ends of the dough, but stops just at the edge. Fold the dough in thirds once more, making a 10×5 inch rectangle. If need be, stretch out the corners to square the dough so that the folded dough edges will be even. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
Repeat the rolling, folding, and chilling process three more times, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 8-18 hours. The dough must be chilled for at least 8 hours, but the chilling time must not exceed 18 hours or the rise may be impacted during baking.
The dough just after an 18 hour long rise in the fridge – look at all of those layers!
Divide the dough and half and place one half in the refrigerator to chill. Roll out the other on a floured work surface into a 16×12 inch rectangle. If need be, stretch the corners out to make the correct shape. Trim the edges with a knife so that the rectangle is uniform and the corners are square.
Orient the dough with the short side facing you, then cut in half horizontally and chill one of these halves. Cut the other half into thirds vertically, then cut each of these thirds diagonally to make a total of six triangles.
Shape the croissants by elongating the tip of the triangle until it’s about 50% longer by stretch it between your hands, then roll the triangle up from the short side up to the tip. The croissant will roll over itself about 3 times and the tip will be touching the base of the croissant shape.
Place the croissant tip down onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. At this point, you can shape the ends of the dough into a more crescent-like shape. Repeat the shaping process with the remaining triangles, and then repeat with the remaining dough in the fridge. Place the croissants two inches apart on the baking sheet.
Cover the baking sheet(s) with a plastic bag and lift the plastic away from the dough by placing glasses or other props inside the makeshift tent, then tuck the edges of the plastic underneath the sheet. Let the croissants rise for approximately two hours until they are puffy and a bit spongy to the touch.
The croissants just before going into the oven
Preheat the oven to 425˚F shortly before the rising time has finished and place a small, oven-safe dish in the bottom of the oven. Remove the baking sheet(s) from the plastic tent(s) and glaze them with the beaten egg, taking care to only brush the egg wash along the tops of the dough but not the sides as this can inhibit the nice, flaky layers from forming during baking.
Open the oven and toss 1-2 ice cubes into the small oven-safe dish in the bottom of the oven. Place the baking sheets in the oven, then decrease the temperature to 400˚F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the sheet(s) 180˚ degrees and if there are multiple baking sheets in the oven, switch the rack positions. Decrease the oven temperature again to 375˚F and bake for approximately 10 more minutes until the croissants are a deep golden color.
The croissants are best while eaten warm or within a few hours of baking otherwise they risk going stale. They can be crisped up by baking in a 325˚F oven for a few minutes.