Holy merde, I made croissants.
Croissants are something that have long been on my list of things to make, but I’ve always held back for two main reasons. The first is that they’re fairly intimidating. Turning sticks of butter into a sheet of butter and subsequently working that sheet into a mass of dough with a series of folds and rolls seems a bit intense. I’m used to throwing a few ingredients into a bowl and letting yeast do most of the work, and precision has never really been my thing when it comes to anything in the kitchen.
The bigger factor in waiting so long is that every time I’d worked up the nerve to make croissants, I’d remember that we have a household of two and most recipes tend to make anywhere from 12 to 24 croissants. That’s a bit much for something that is best eaten the day it’s baked, and as much as I love eating buttery pieces of dough, even I have my limit. I could have had a bunch of friends over for croissants some weekend morning, but I’m always a bit reluctant to invite guests to eat something that I’ve never made before and that might be a huge flop. Also, I’m selfish and don’t want to put so much work into them only to give the majority away.* It didn’t dawn on me until recently that I could freeze unbaked croissants, and while the two recipes that I was considering didn’t mention it as an option, a quick internet search revealed that it was definitely possible. Done. I was going to make croissants.
Once the decision was made and I had the time to make them, I was torn between two recipes – one from Tartine and one from Tartine Bread. I decided on the latter because I could use my bread starter for the dough and because it only required one type of milk (whole milk vs. nonfat and whole milk). I’m sure that you can’t go wrong with either recipe, and I might try the other one the next time to see if I can tell a difference.
*I should note that I did in fact share some of the second batch with a few friends. I will definitely be more generous with future batches, now that I (kind of) know what I’m doing.
I started the process on a Thursday night, making the poolish (flour, water, active dry yeast) and the leaven (starter, flour, water). On Friday morning I mixed the poolish and leaven with more flour and yeast plus milk, salt and sugar. It rose at room temperature for an hour and a half before being transferred to a plastic bag and chilled in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
When the dough was almost done chilling, I started working on the butter.
You cut a few sticks of butter into cubes and, with the help of a half cup of flour to reduce stickiness, pound it into a rectangular mass with a rolling pin. This was probably the most difficult part of the process, and I think it was mostly due to my rolling pin. If I held it by the handle, the main part rolled around too much, and if I tried to grip the wider part, it was so big that it was difficult to hold on to. A French rolling pin would probably be much easier to use, and I might invest in one soon.
The one thing that was surprisingly useful for creating straight edges of both butter and dough was this tool that my mom gave to my brothers and me for Christmas a few years ago. I’m pretty sure that she was unaware of this video when she bought them and didn’t really understand why we thought they were so funny, but it has proven to be a worthy kitchen tool every now and then.
I eventually managed to form a relatively uniform mass of butter, which then chilled briefly while I rolled the dough into a large rectangle. The chilled butter gets placed on the middle third of the dough, which is then folded like a letter over the butter and then turned 90-degrees and rolled out again. This part was much easier than I’d imagined.
I folded and rolled once again before returning the dough to the refrigerator to chill for an hour, and then I repeated the process two more times. After that, the dough is wrapped and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours to chill.
Before going to bed on Friday night, I moved the dough from the freezer to the refrigerator, and first thing Saturday morning I rolled it out once again. The final block of dough was supposed to be 18 by 24 inches and half an inch thick, and after a lot of rolling interspersed with resting to allow the gluten to relax, I wasn’t able to stretch the dough to those dimensions. I was pretty close, though, and the thickness seemed right, so I decided it was good enough and moved on to the next step.
I used a pizza cutter to slice the dough into triangles, which worked really well.
I had no intention of making anything other than plain croissants on my first attempt until I remembered that I had some Gruyère left over from earlier in the week, and I couldn’t resist adding it to a few. After trying a cheese-filled one, I wished that they were all cheese-filled, so next time I’ll do more planning ahead and be sure to have cheese and some good ham on hand.
After rolling the triangles into their final shape, I transferred all but six of them (still on the sheet pan and wrapped in plastic) to the freezer. Croissants head south by day two, and I wanted to freeze the majority of them so we could bake them off as needed. Once they were frozen solid, I transferred them to a large ziploc bag. The night before I want to bake some, all I have to do is move them to the fridge to thaw overnight and then let them rise and bake as if they were fresh. I actually did this last weekend, and they tasted just as good as the ones that were never frozen.
The croissants rose at room temperature for about two hours before baking – plenty of time to go for a run and think about the buttery dough that I would soon be eating.
Just before baking, I made an egg wash with an egg yolk and a teaspoon of cream.
Each croissant was liberally coated.
Then they baked for about 30 minutes.
And this was the result. I did it! These things were massive. That’s a 13×18 baking sheet, and six of them barely fit on it.
They’re not quite as beautiful as some of the croissants I’ve had at good bakeries (I might have proofed them a bit too long before baking them), but I was very happy with them considering it was my first attempt. The taste and texture were fantastic. The outside shattered with each bite, and the inside was tender and buttery with layer upon layer of soft dough.
I wish I could capture the smell of these as they were baking. The second batch that I baked was the morning after we’d deep fried everything in sight, and we discovered that baking croissants was the perfect way to rid the kitchen of (or at least cover up) the pervasive smell of frying oil.
Ultimately, these weren’t all that difficult to make. They take a little time and a lot more muscle than most bread recipes require, but they are worth every second of effort. I actually loved the process and am looking forward to finding an excuse to make them again as soon as we finish the ones in the freezer.
Useful tools: a baking mat with measurements (here’s the one that I have), a French rolling pin (this might be a good one)