Do you have a mental list or an actual list of things you hope to cook some day? Croissants was one item on my list. Earlier this year, Michael Ruhlman wrote about unfinished business and challenged everyone to commit to accomplishing something new in the kitchen. I left a comment on that post thereby publicly committing to attempting both gnocchi and croissants before the end of the summer. So, I did finally take a stab at making gnocchi, but I had a really good reason for waiting on the croissants. It was hot. It's always hot here during the summer, but fear coupled with a warm kitchen and humid air prevented me from spending three days on croissants during the summer season. I needed time to convince myself that even if my first try was a failure the effort would be a learning experience, and I needed the weather, my schedule, and the universe in general to cooperate. Last week, we had some nice, cool, non-humid days, and I finally went for it. I'm certainly no expert after only one go at making these lovelies, but I now understand that waiting for a cool day was a very, very good idea. There is a lot of butter involved here, and too soft, oozing, warm butter would have been disastrous. I had heard several times that the very best croissants to make are the ones from Baking with Julia written by Dorie Greenspan. I attended a cooking class taught by Dorie a couple of weeks ago, and when she signed her new book for me after the class, I mentioned that I was planning to try those croissants. She said "it's a project, but it's worth it." She couldn't have been more right.
I knew that to make croissant dough, a whole lot of butter needed to be layered into some dough. I knew it was necessary to roll out the layered dough and butter and fold and turn. I was sure that I would fail instantly at this and there would be butter squishing out in every direction, and I would never get the dough rolled into a straight enough shape to fold properly. I was wrong. Before starting, I read the recipe all the way through about ten times. Then, I set about following each step as precisely as I could. The dough was made with yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and milk. It was made in a stand mixer with a dough hook. As instructed, I added a little more milk when the flour wasn't all worked into the dough. When it came together, the dough was wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I mixed four and half sticks of cold butter with two tablespoons of flour and pressed it into a thick oval. My oval of butter wasn't all that attractive because of the wrinkles left by the plastic wrap, but it really doesn't matter how it looks. I refrigerated the butter oval for an hour or two before proceeding.
The next step was what I thought would be the scariest. The dough was rolled into a wide oval, and the butter oval was placed in the center of it. The dough was folded over the butter, and then, the butter had to be distributed across the width of the dough. This was done by whacking the packaged dough and butter bundle with a rolling pin. Slowly but surely the butter did work its way throughout the dough, and it did not result in the squishing mess I had anticipated. One small victory was mine. After distributing the butter, and rolling a little, you are left with a big rectangle of butter-filled dough, and you give it its first fold. Excess flour was brushed off, the dough was folded in thirds like a letter, and it was placed on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for two hours. My first fold of croissant dough went off without a hitch.
Next, the dough was rolled again into a big rectangle, it was folded in thirds once again, and it was placed back in the refrigerator for another two hours. Then, it was time for the third and final folding. The dough was rolled yet again into a big rectangle, and this time, the dough was folded inward in quarters with the last fold closing like a book, and that double turn is known as the wallet. I loved making the wallet. I didn't have finished croissants yet, but I felt like I had really accomplished something by successfully arriving at this point. Interestingly, at this point, or after any of the folds, the dough could have been placed in the freezer to store for a later date. It should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding with the next step. Otherwise, after the last fold, the dough should be refrigerated for two hours before proceeding, and I left it refrigerated overnight.
At last, it was time to actually make the croissants. The chilled dough, with all those folded-over layers of butter, was cut in half and one piece went into the freezer while the other one was rolled into a big rectangle one more time. That was folded in half. That double layer of dough was cut into triangles. The double-layered triangles were unfolded back out into a single layer, and the dough was cut down the center to separate the triangles, and croissant forming began. After cutting the triangles, there are two scrap pieces of dough from each end. Those scraps are used to make little footballs of dough that sit in the back of each croissant to help plump them. Or, if you're making almond croissants, which I also did, a little ball of almond paste would be used instead. To form each croissant, a dough triangle was picked up and stretched to twice its length. The football of scrap dough or ball of almond paste was placed at the wide end of the triangle. Then, the triangle was rolled from wide end down to small end, and voila, croissants were born. After filling two baking sheets with croissants, they were brushed with an egg wash, the almond paste filled ones were sprinkled with sliced almonds, and they were left to rise for three hours before being baked.
Yes, this was a project. Mixing the dough on the first day was quick and easy, but you do need to have two days thereafter during which you can come into the kitchen every couple of hours and tend to the dough and then spend the time to form the croissants and wait for them to rise. But, you already know I'm going to tell you it is absolutely worth every minute of your time. After one bite, I declared that these croissants were hands-down the most delicious things I've ever baked. The bonus to all of this is that, that last time the dough came out of the refrigerator, it was cut in half. Half was used to make these croissants, and the other half is in the freezer. I can use that to make more croissants whenever I want. When it's gone, I'll definitely make the dough again just as soon as the weather, my schedule, and the universe are all aligned once more.
I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.