Homemade croissants deserve Great=Grandma’s china!
I have a soft spot for pastries made with butter. I love the way they make such a tender, flaky crumb. I crave the faint sweetness in the dough. I cherish the way they melt in your mouth. And of all the butter pastries, I would certainly say the ubiquitous croissant is my favorite. I’ve tried them both from a tube and on the streets in Amsterdam. Obviously, those bought from an elderly woman while on an extended lay-over far outshine those from the grocery freezer case, but I have been held captive for years in fear of making them myself in my own kitchen. I am not a culinary genius and have never had any formal training. Therefore, I could not possibly be able to make them myself. This is the kind of self talk that has been going on for years. However, this soft spot has slowly worked it’s way out of my heart and into my brain. Last weekend, I was seized with the desire to not only attempt, but master the croissant. My personal affection for the pastry is slightly overshadowed by my new-found appreciation of the art. I will forever be grateful to those Viennese bakers who brought the first croissants to the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. I can only imagine the response the first time someone bit into the flaky bread. I imagine those Victorian women fluttering about with their lace gloves stunned by yet another treasure from this tiny country. As grateful as I am to the original baker, I am even more in debt to the Parisian who decided that the simple yeasted dough would benefit with the addition of butter. Monsieur, vous est merveilleux!
Being an academic type, I laid out all my cookbooks with croissant references and recipes on Friday night. I cross referenced until I felt well prepared. Preparation really is half the battle. I was less concerned about my undertaking, but still slightly over whelmed as I began. With great anxiety, I began the sponge. I heated 2 cups of milk in a 2-quart pan until my candy thermometer registered 112 degrees (the recipe said between 110 and 115). Then I added in 1 Tablespoon of sugar, stirred it briefly and sprinkled 1 Tablespoon of yeast over the top. I covered the pot and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes while I paced around the kitchen. At the end of the time, I gave it a quick stir with a fork, noting that it was beginning to smell rather yeasty and recovered the pan to wait an additional 5 minutes. Once that time was up, the yeast had turned the milk into a bubbly, creamy mixture. With a small whisk, I added in 1 cup of flour and stirred until it was well combined. Once again, the pan was covered and I set the timer for 30 minutes while I gave my little boy a bath and then prepared the butter.
On cold surface (I used a ceramic pastry board), I sprinkled about a tablespoon of flour. I laid 4 sticks of slightly softened butter side by side, covered them with an additional tablespoon of flour and began rolling them out. I had to repeatedly cover the butter and my rolling pin with flour until the butter measured about 8 inches square. Once the desired size was acheived, I transferred the butter to a cookie sheet, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to chill. Little did I know, but the worst part was officially over.
In the bowl of my stand mixer, I put 4 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of very soft butter. I gave it a brief mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. Then, with the mixer off, I added in the sponge. Since this was my first time making a dough that involved a sponge, I was a bit surprised that the wateriness of it. When I went to pour it into the mixer bowl, it almost splashed out! Not something I was expecting. I mixed the bowl’s contents until the dry ingredients were combined and the mixture was smooth, about a minute. Returning to the pastry board, I floured it and laid my ball of dough down. I gave it a quick kneed, just so that I was sure everything was combined and smooth. Then, I patted the dough until it measured about 6 by 8 inches. The directions said to let the dough rest for 2 minutes, so I did. Then, with a rolling pin, I rolled the dough until it was about 12 by 16 inches (or roughly doubled if you aren’t measuring). I scooted the dough so that the 12 inch side was parallel with the edge of my counter and went to get my butter. The butter was centered as best as I could on the dough before I folded the dough over it as one would fold a letter. I pressed the edges together to seal
Dough encasing the butter packet, prior to any turns.
the seems as well as I could. Now it was time to make the “turns”. (Sounds ominous, no? It isn’t really, you just have to remember to count.) Turning the dough so that the seam was facing my right, I rolled the dough lengthwise until it measured about 21 by12 inches. Once again, I folded up the dough like a letter, making sure the edges were even. I placed the dough on a cookie sheet and covered it with plastic wrap. It then went into the fridge for 20 minutes. This was end of the “first turn” By this time, I was really beginning to relax. I had made it through most of the recipe and still nothing difficult had come up. The worst part was squishing all that butter together and the only that was awful was because my hand were unbearably greasy afterwards. Not really something worth stressing out over. While the dough was taking it’s mandatory rest, I scanned the recipe again, still looking for the caveat. Nothing.
The completed first turn.
I took the dough out of the fridge and returned it to my pastry board, which I had again floured. I turned the seam to my right, rolled it out to the 21 by 12 inch dimensions, folded it up like a letter and covering it once again returned it to the fridge. My evening ended with 2 more turns like this and a final covering of plastic wrap. I wrapped the plastic tightly and in 2 layers so as to make sure no air got in. The dough then was to rest overnight while I slept and in the morning had a date with my pastry cutter. I should note here that I foolishly placed the dough on the second shelf of my fridge, not thinking the dough would rise in the night. The next morning, I did have to take out the top shelf so that I could remove my dough without gouging it to death in the process. Don’t be fooled by the recipe saying the dough is “retarding” in the fridge. It will still rise, maybe not as much as it would if it were on your counter, but it will still rise.
Dough the next morning. Note how the rolling and folding of the dough has made beautiful layers.
I’m pretty sure that if my pastry board had emotions, it would have been shocked to see me again in the morning given this was the most time I had spent with it since acquiring it last winter. But I tell you, I may never work with a butter based dough on any other surface. Because the ceramic stays at a lower temperature naturally, it was very easy to work with my dough. (Case in point, I made some sugar cookies the other night and as the butter warmed in the dough, the resulting cookies were sloppier in appearance than the ones that I made while the butter was still slightly firm. The resulting cookies were not even close to being presentable for a shower favor. Instead of cute duckies, they could have passed for the Loch Ness Monster.) Anyway, this is now the fun part. With my board scaper, I cut the dough into 4 equal parts. Reading the directions again, I decided to freeze half the dough, since a full recipe would net 32 croissants and I didn’t know that I could should have that many in the house. So, I wrapped 2 of the sections up and froze them. (I’m planning to make them again maybe next weekend and will let you know how that goes.) I took each block of dough and rolled it out until it was roughly 16 by 8 inches. Then, I marked the dough at 4 inch intervals. This gave me 4 rectangles measuring 4 by 8 inches each. I then poked the dough with a fork to reduce the inevitable shrinkage and pulled the opposite corners of each rectangle so that when I cut it on a diagonal, I would have 2 isosceles triangles. (My husband is of the opinion that I should have made larger triangles and I would agree. The size that these produced was closer to that desirable for tea or breakfast. Should I make these for sandwiches, I will have to at least at an additional 2 inches to the width, if not more.) Each triangle was rolled up, starting at the widest portion and placed on a cookie
Rolled up triangles waiting for their milk bath.
sheet (lined with a silpat) with the tip tucked under. I bent each croissant so that I would have the traditional crescent shape once they baked off. I repeated this with each triangle until I had a total of 16 croissants on my baking sheet. Each croissant got a bath of milk brushed on with a pastry brush and then was allowed to rise for an hour in a warm part of my kitchen.
Milk with pastry brush.
I preheated the oven to 400 about halfway through the rising process so that they would be able to have a little extra warmth in the kitchen. January isn’t very kind to us weather wise, so I find I need to put in a bit more with the care of my yeasted doughs. Right before I put the croissants in the oven, I brushed them with an egg wash (1 Teaspoon of water whisked with 1 egg). It is important to note that you shouldn’t be too generous with the egg wash as you are brushing it on. Start at the bottom of your pastry and try to not let any of it drip on your baking sheet. Unless you want scrambled eggs with your croissants. If that’s the case, be sloppy! Bake the croissants for 10 minutes at 400 degrees and then reduce the heat to 350 and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. You can store your finished product once it has cooled for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Mine didn’t last that long… but to be fair, I did have company. I put them on my mother’s cake dish and displayed them on my dining room table. Every time I walked by I was again reminded that I could in fact, do this. That I made each and every one from scratch and they were good. Not just good… merveilleux!
Resources: On Food and Cooking, Mastering the Art and Craft of Baking and Pastry, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More.