Baking 101: Simple, buttery croissants
For many years, my daily routine consisted of rolling out, shaping and creating hundreds – possibly thousands – of flaky melt-in-your-mouth croissants. Honestly, one of the best and most-rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.
There really isn’t much that can compare to a freshly baked, warm croissant. And all of these years later, I haven’t lost my love for baking or eating these buttery delights.
In definition, a croissant is one of many types of breads that fall under the category viennoiserie. Viennoiserie breads are defined by their layered, yeast-leavened dough.
The dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded three, four and sometimes even five times. It is let to rest in-between folds, finally to rise and then rolled out to be shaped, proofed and baked. This process results in a layered, flaky texture, quite similar to a puff pastry.
A croissant can have 1,280 layers when prepared correctly.
You may think baking these at home is an impossible task, but really it is no harder than baking a cake or cookies. Your main investment is a full day of time.Each fold will need to rest for at least an hour – that’s four hours – then finally rest/rise for eight to 12 hours.
You’ll then deserve the quiet morning in the kitchen, rolling out, shaping and proofing your dough. And of course, reaping the rewards – your own batch of delicious croissants.
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, heated to 110°F–115°F
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 ½ tbs. active dry yeast
- 3 ¾ to 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tbs. kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups very cold unsalted butter (3 sticks)
- 1 egg (set aside until ready to bake)
- Stand electric mixer with dough hook
- 2 cotton cloths or kitchen towels – smooth, not terry cloth
- Pastry Brush
Stir together your warm milk, yeast and sugar in the bowl of your mixer and let sit until it becomes foamy – about eight minutes.
If your mixture does not foam, start over. This is crucial to creating the perfect dough.
Once you’ve got a good, foamy mixture, begin adding the flour a little bit at a time on the lowest speed of the mixer until it becomes a soft, sticky dough.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour and knead for about 2-3 minutes, shape into a rectangle about two inches thick.
Wrap in plastic and chill for one hour.
While your dough is chilling, lay one of the cloths down flat and cut your butter sticks lengthwise into thin, 1/8 inch strips. If you have block butter, you can do the same, it will just be wider strips.
Lay the butter strips side-by-side on your cloth creating a uniform rectangle of about 10 inches by 8 inches. Make sure the butter is as even as possible and it’s placed where there are no cracks between strips if possible.
Place the other cloth on top and roll with a rolling pin to ensure evenness.
Refrigerate until your dough’s resting period is up.
Unwrap your dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour only when necessary. Lift and stretch your corners to create another rectangle, about 20 by 12 inches.
Put the butter into the center of the dough, separating the dough into three parts.
Fold in one side to completely cover the butter, and then the following side. Pretend you are folding up a letter, then press down the edge gently with your fingers to make sure your “letter” is closed.
Turn dough so one of the open ends is facing you. Roll out again longways. This makes sure the butter is evenly spread throughout the center of the dough.
Fold again, letter-style, re-wrap and refrigerate for another hour.
Repeat this process three more times, each time turning the dough so the short side is facing you, then roll out, refold into thirds, wrap and let rest for an hour.
(Total of four times)
On your last fold, wrap dough tightly and chill for at least 8-12 hours and no longer than 18. After 18, your yeast will slowly begin to die and your pastries will not rise as well.
After four folds you can see the many, many layers of dough and butter you’ve created.
Once you are ready to bake, cut your dough in half. Wrap up one and refrigerate.
Roll out the other onto a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour only when necessary. Too much flour will make your pastry dry.
Your dough should be about 24 in x 12 in.
Cut dough horizontally, then cut your rectangles again in thirds. You should have six smaller rectangles.
Cut each of these diagonally in half. This comes out to 12 triangles.
You are now ready to roll your croissants.
Place one triangle in front of you with the point facing away.
Slightly cut the center of the bottom side about ¼ of an inch.
Stretch the corners out a bit, then fold over and slowly roll the dough towards the point of the triangle.
Make sure the point is directly under the crescent and shape the dough into a curve.
After you have repeated this process on all the triangles, place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and let proof until they double in size – about an hour.
Brush the tops with egg wash – your egg mixed with ¼ cup cool water – and bake on the center rack on 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.
Rotate your pan and bake for another 10 minutes or until your pastries turn a golden brown.
Remove and cool, or tear apart and devour immediately with a smear of butter and jam.