What do you think would be the ultimate croissant experience?
Eating a croissant (or more) in Paris, perhaps? I wouldn’t know. I’m not an authority on croissants or things French, but I did eat my first ever croissant in Paris. This was ages ago while I was a teenager, with very little interest in food beyond knowing good food from bad food, and being frequently hungry and able to put away huge quantities of food which never showed on my then skinny frame. However, I have memories of buttery, flaky and light croissants that have haunted me ever since.
I never had a chance to eat croissants again for a long time since we lived in parts of the world where the average person on the street had probably not even heard of or seen croissants. So it was a very happy me that discovered croissants in a couple of local bakery windows when we moved to Goa. They looked huge, all puffed up and flaky but were a big disappointment when I bit into them. All I was left with was a fatty mouth feel one invariably gets in baked/ fried foods that are made with solid vegetable fats or margarine! Even the more expensive “butter” croissants were a disappointment.
That’s when I decided to try my hand at making croissants at home. My first couple of attempts were a disaster enough to make me think I was never going to succeed at them until a third attempt at them turned out passable croissants
I still dreamt of the day when I would make almost perfect if not perfect croissants. It took the coming of this baking group for me to venture at them again using a recipe of Jeffery Hamelman at Fine Cooking. I had this recipe saved simply because I’ve seen so many home bakers wax almost lyrical about how good a recipe this is and how their croissants turned out great.
So this month at “We Knead To Bake” we made Jeffrey Hamelman’s Classic Croissants. I adapted the recipe a bit and I’m one more home baker who has found this a Croissant recipe worth keeping. It’s also a reasonably forgiving recipe provided one doesn’t mess up the lamination or let the butter melt!
I have even made these Croissants with just 210gm butter against the original 280gm (my adapted version uses 250gm) and have them turn out great. For one batch of Croissants, I rested the laminated dough in the fridge for just 2 hours (instead of overnight refrigeration suggested) before shaping, proofing and baking them. I still had a batch of excellent Croissants. You can also use this dough to make Pain au Chocolate.
Croissants are basically yeasted puff pastry that is baked in the shape of crescents. If plain, they’re shaped into crescents (Croissant ordinaire/ croissant au beurre) but usually left as straight rolls if filled with chocolate (Pain au Chocolat), almond paste (Croissant Amande )or other fillings of choice. Like other laminated doughs like puff pastry and Danish pastry, the process involved enveloping a slab of butter with the dough, rolling it out and then folding and resting the dough repeatedly before shaping it.
It turns out that Croissants have been around for a long time, and they came into France from Vienna. The Croissant is thought to have been adapted from the Viennese Kipferl (a crescent shaped pastry). A Viennese baker called August Zang is supposedly credited with introducing the modern day Croissant to Paris sometime around 1830. Before this Croissants were made in Vienna where they were crescent shaped pastries which bore very little resemblance to the Croissants we know today.
Of course there are more colourful stories about the Croissant’s origin. One tells of a baker who was working late at night in Vienna during the 1683 siege by the Ottoman Turks. He apparently heard them tunnelling under the city, alerted the military who managed to collapse the tunnel and save the city. In commemoration of this triumph, the baker supposedly made a crescent shaped pastry resembling Turk’s Islamic emblem (the crescent moon) so that when his fellow Austrians ate the Croissant, they would be symbolically devouring the Turks! This story is also told in Budapest, Hungary with appropriate changes of names and places.
Yet another story attributes the Croissant to Marie Antoinette. Having left her home in Austria at 15, she apparently asked the royal French bakers to make her favourite Austrian pastry, the Kipferl. They in their wisdom went on to create the Croissant form her descriptions of the Kipferl, which then became indelibly connected to France.
Making croissants is not very difficult, but it takes some time, a lot of attention to detail, tremendous patience, a lot of rolling out dough, and making sure that everything is cold – especially the butter.
The recipe looks long because it is detailed. Once you go through the recipe slowly and watch the video on croissant making, it will become much simpler and easier to approach. I have made this recipe quite a few times now and can almost laminate the dough in my sleep!
This dough is made over 3 days but only a small part of each day is spent on working with the dough. The rest of the time the dough sits in the refrigerator and does its thing. I made my dough at about 9:00pm the first day. I did the lamination over 2 hours on the next day after lunch, and shaped and baked my croissants after lunch on the third day in time for tea.
If you’re comfortable using eggs, you can use an egg wash on your croissants for the deep colour and shine. Otherwise use milk or a mixture of cream and milk (this gives a better browning and shine)
You could use this dough to make Croissants with chocolate (Pain au Chocolate), almond frangipane, apple pie filling or something else before baking them. The filling should be added just before you roll/ shape the croissants. For pain au chocolate, instead of triangles, just cut out straight long strips of dough, place the chocolate at one end and roll them up into “logs”. You could try Danish style pastries too. You can find some suggestions for fillings here.
After lamination and overnight refrigeration, you can cut the dough in half and bake them in two lots if you like if you don’t need 15 croissants at one go. I baked one batch of 7 croissants and some minis with the scraps and refrigerated the remaining half (you could wrap it and freeze it too) after 2 days.
Some tips that could your Croissants turn out right:
Ensure that your butter is cold – cold enough that it is pliable enough to smoothly roll out; not hard (or it will break) or soft (it will melt). If the butter is too hard and breaks while rolling out the dough, you will not get the layers in the croissants.
Do not over-knead / develop the dough too much, too much gluten will not help during the lamination process. The lamination process itself is a kind of stretch and fold anyway and will strengthen the dough. So keep to the 3 minutes the recipe says. You want a soft dough, not an elastic one.
When you cover the butter square with the dough, make sure you seal the dough well, otherwise the butter will leak out when you roll out the d
ough, and there’s no way you can manage to put the butter back in. You will also end up with butter leaking during the baking.
Always, always make sure your dough and butter inside it are cold. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Once the butter has melted, it is difficult to get the dough to produce layers because the dough tends to absorb the butter and will make greasy croissants. So, while working with the dough, or when rolling it out, if at any point you feel the dough becoming warm and soft, put it back in the fridge immediately. Also work as quickly as you can so the butter stays cold.
During the lamination of the dough (rolling and folding repeatedly), chill the dough in the freezer and NOT the fridge. The overnight refrigeration is to be done in the fridge NOT in the freezer. Resting the dough is an important part of the croissant making process.
Plan ahead and make sure you do all this when you have the time for it. You will need more time than you think you, believe me. You cannot leave this and attend to something else, unless you want to set yourself for failure!
You also need a lot of patience to keep rolling out the dough with just enough pressure to stretch it. The rolled out dough before shaping should be somewhere between 1/4” and 1/8” thick.
Make sure your dough is shaped with straight lines and square-ish corners. All the time you are rolling your dough out, keep this in mind. This way you will minimise waste of dough. More importantly, the edges where there is no butter would get folded in during lamination and affect your layers. So trim off those bits if you have any of them.
Keep lightly flouring your work surface (not too much), just enough to keep working smoothly without tearing the dough. However, dust with a light hand or you could end up adding more flour than desirable.
Do not be tempted to fold more than three times. A fourth fold will give you more layers, but thinner butter layers between them, and your croissants will not puff of as much as you would like them to.
And most important, as funny as it sounds. If you like to and do wear rings on your fingers like I do, take them off while working with this dough and the dough will thank you! Rings have a habit of inadvertently tearing the dough. If the butter comes out, patching it up by dusting a little flour can help but doesn’t always work.
(Adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s recipe at Fine Cooking)