WARNING : Long post.
A collaboration of epic proportions took place this past weekend. A cross-post event that dealt with the making of croissants from scratch was held in the kitchens of several food bloggers.
The croissant, as everyone knows, is the esteemed Parisian pastry that has seen different interpretations. It could be filled with chocolate, ham and cheese, and in my childish cravings – Nutella! It could also be glazed with honey and sprinkled with almond slivers. Though the French were the ones that had the idea of making them from laminated dough which resulted in a marvelously flaky pastry, they actually found their origin in Budapest in 1886 after the Turks were repulsed by the city’s military leaders. A baker, working at night, heard the Turks digging underground tunnels and sounded the alarm. This baker was considered a hero but all he wanted was to create a pastry to commemorate this victory. A pastry was made in the shape of the crescent emblem on the flag of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the first croissant was born. This story appeared in Larousse Gastronomique; there are other accounts of the croissant’s origin, but I like this the best.
Other food bloggers involved in this cross-posts are: Lisa of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas, Helen of Tartelette and Jenny of All Things Edible. I came to know that we were making croissants at the beginning of January, which was when a date was chosen for the posting. At this time, it was also decided that we would use the recipe for croissants from the book Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson–although one could use their own recipe if they wanted to.
All was quiet for the rest of January until Brilynn reported that she made the croissants earlier last week. She said her pastries were huge and did not resemble croissants at all! A nagging anxiety gripped several bloggers. Okay, maybe just me. Then followed a trickle of emails, which were about clarifications of the recipe. Then on the three days starting Friday, Jan 26, a barrage of emails started flying around. There were talks of bad juju, good juju and even the descent to Croissant Hell. There were worries about the consistency of the preferment, the over-kneading of the dough, and the most important process of all—laminating the dough.
Making croissants is a fairly involved and tricky process. I was so apprehensive of the recipe that I outlined a schedule so I could account for every step. Here is a quick rundown of how events unfolded. I made my preferment Friday night, and then woke up at 6:00 am Saturday morning to make the dough, which needed to rest for 6 hours after that. Saturday afternoon, I started the lamination process, which took me about 4 hours; this included preparing the roll-in butter 1 hour before lamination began. Then the plaque, which is the resulting laminated dough, is frozen for a couple of hours and led to rest in the refrigerator overnight. I woke up at 5am–yes 5am–on Sunday morning to roll out, shape, and cook the croissants so they would be ready for breakfast by 9:30 am.
Because of the lengthy procedure, I’ve decided to incorporate some of my cooking notes within the original instructions prefaced with Veronica’s Notes and in parenthesis.
¾ cup non-fat milk (6 oz/150 ml)
1 tbsp active dry yeast (15ml)
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (6 ¼ oz/175g)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp active dry yeast (20ml)
1 ¾ cup whole milk (14 oz/425 ml)
6 cups all purpose flour (28 oz/800g)
1/3 cup sugar (2 ½ oz/70g)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt (20 ml)
1 tbsp unsalted butter (15ml)
2 ¾ cup unsalted butter (22 oz/625g)
4 large egg yolks 2 oz/60 ml
¼ cup heavy cream
To Make the Preferment:
In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. (Veronica’s Note: Being paranoid, I made two preferments. One ended up like a batter, and the other was like dough. I decided to use the one that looked like dough because the other one got stuck to the bowl.)
To Make the Dough:
First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated. (Veronica’s Note: I don’t know what I did, but my milk never incorporated into the dough. I might have over- kneaded the preferment, as it became a smooth elastic mass; maybe that’s why the milk couldn’t be absorbed. Or maybe when they said slowly add the milk they really meant S-L-O-W-L-Y.)
Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next. (Veronica’s Note: Easier said than done. My mixer was heaving and hawing but it got through the 3 minutes without stalling. Uh-oh, some of the butter got stuck to the ingredient bowl…wonder if that will be a problem.)
Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough, which will result in a tough croissant that also turns stale more quickly. Remember, too, you will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing you do to achieve that goal, the better. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1-½ hours. (Veronica’s Note. Oh boy, I know the instructions said smooth and elastic and that was what I had. But the other girls said their dough was not smooth. Another case of over-kneading? Crap!)
Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours. (Veronica’s Note: Make sure that there will be room for the dough to rise. The other ladies put theirs in Ziploc; I had mine in polyvinyl wrap, and it was busting out of its seams after 6 hours.)
To Make the Roll-in butter:
About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough, put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not resolidify. (Veronica’s Note: Now I did not read the malleable part at first and was very frustrated getting my mixer to whip the butter that was straight out of the refrigerator. I had to pound the butter a little with my rolling pin- that worked phenomenally. It is very important that there be no lumps left in the butter, or it is going to push through the dough as you laminate. I took Ivonne’s suggestion and split my dough in half.)
Laminating the dough:
Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal in the plaque. (Veronica’s Note: Because I have only half a dough, I rolled it out to 14×6. It was a lot more manageable, especially for short people like me!)
Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1 ½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or “turn”. (Veronica’s Note: Crap! I think I did over- knead the dough! This dang thing is hard to roll out! )
Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using. (Veronica’s Note:. Again taking Ivonne’s lead, I did an extra 4th turn to fully laminate the butter.)
Making the croissant:
When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base. (Veronica’s Note:. Crap, crap, crap! I COULD NOT roll out this dough! It is fighting me every inch of the way and I feel like I’m getting carpal tunnel just doing this. I’m really tired now. Guess we will just have humongous croissants after all. Or as Brilynn so aptly put it , croissants on steroids!)
Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges. (Veronica’s Note: At this point, my hands and arms are dead; I just cut the dough by eyeballing the required triangle. It did not turn out too bad until I was going to bake it. I have croissants of all sizes. “Great Veronica, did it not occur to you that they will cook unevenly?” my inner voice said. Well too late. I am just going to run with this. )
As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced, on the prepared half-sheet pan. When all the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F. A bit cooler or warmer is all right, as long as the temperature is not warm enough to melt the layers of butter in the dough, which would yield greasy pastries. Cooler is preferable and will increase the rising time and with it the flavor development. For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.
During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly “firm” and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.(Veronica’s Note: Just follow this baking instructions. They are relatively goof-proof unless you are me.)
About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.
Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through. (Veronica’s Note: I forgot to do the “pick-up” test and some of my croissants, especially the heavier ones, were really weighty. Also, there was a pool of butter that developed in the pan. Ivonne and Peabody both acknowledge that this is expected. I think mine was a bit excessive, though. How about some fried croissants?!)
Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving.
More Cooking Notes:
I had so much fun doing this croissant weekend event. I think the girls and I accumulated over 100 emails just corresponding back and forth doing the blow-by-blow on the croissant process as well as giving each other much-needed moral support. So Lisa, Ivonne, Jenny , Brilynn, Helen and Peabody, thanks for an action-packed weekend!
I am far from an authority on croissants and I’m glad that this is a test kitchen because the results, as one can tell from the pictures, are not what a croissant is suppose to look like. It’s supposed to have layers, but mine are just too distinct and not beautifully-blended. Though not pleasing to the eye, the taste was wonderfully developed into a complex buttery flavor! And to me taste always comes first before presentation, but if I could have both that would be ideal.
So what went wrong with my croissant? I think the problem started with the main dough development. I carelessly added the butter, which was a necessary component of making the dough easier to roll. Next was the over-kneading itself, which then made the dough so elastic that it was near impossible to roll it out quickly, which is essential to keeping the butter cold.
After more research, it occurs to me that I have puny little hands. I read this interesting story from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking.She had two assistants: a dainty 5-foot-2 inch girl and a burly 6-foot-4 inch guy. The girl made beautiful puff pastry but horrible croissants. The guy made wonderful croissants but terrible puff pastry. After watching how the two of them worked, Sherry determined that the girl did not have the heft and muscle to handle the tight glutinous yeasted dough of croissants while the guy pounded the delicate layers of the puff pastry, resulting in a poor rise. Now, I am far from dainty but my hands are really small and I have zero upper-body strength.
So what would I have done if I have known this beforehand? Hmmn, I don’t know. Maybe teach the “hungry” hubby how to use a rolling pin, I guess.