Updated: May 26, 2020
It's bank holiday weekend, and this weekend I decided to make everyone croissants as a treat for bank holiday Monday breakfast. Well, there are no weddings at the moment, so I should be putting my patisserie skills to better use I think. This blog post is all about wonderful croissants and understanding how to make a wonderful croissant dough is the key. Part 2 will be about shaping croissants & baking them, but more importantly about variations, you can make including almond croissants (both the traditional French method and alternative methods) and pain au chocolate. Personally I like a good hazelnut croissant, you could even make your own hazelnut chocolate spread to bake inside them!
If making the croissant dough from scratch seems a little too much for you, not to worry just skip ahead to Part 2. You can buy croissant dough ready-made in the supermarket if that suits you better. If you are just worried about it being too difficult, read ahead, it isn't that tricky, it just takes time. I've included lots of photos and detailed descriptions of all the steps you will need to follow to make the perfect croissants. Besides practice makes perfect doesn't it!
What is croissant anyway?
I'm not going to go into a full history of the wonderful French croissant here, i'm sure Wikipedia does a great job of that. I'm going to start with what a croissant really is, as this is, after all, a blog post about making them isn't it! So firstly, for those that didn't already know, such as my father as he walked into my kitchen and saw yeast sitting on the side, croissants start life as an enriched bread dough. "What does that mean?" I hear you say. Well, an enriched bread dough is one that has had either or both butter and eggs added to it. In this case eggs, and it's a sweet dough so some sugar too. But most importantly it is a bread dough, so yeast and strong bread flour are also key ingredients, without these you'd simply have puff pastry, which is great but not what we are after at all. We want our croissants to rise, be flaky and crisp on the outside and wonderfully light, soft and airy inside with lots of buttery layers. But don't worry if yours come out a little more rustic and doughy inside to start with. They are homemade after all.
Butter, Margarine or Vegan Butter?
So now we come to what creates the wonderful flakiness of a croissant, butter. In order to do this, we need to do something known as lamination. Simply put, you roll out your dough and place a smaller flattered block of unsalted butter* on top, you then fold the dough over the butter, enclosing it inside. This is then rolled out and folded like a book before the process is repeated a few more times. As your finished croissant bakes, steam is released from the butter in the layers, this causes the layers to separate and rise up creating those wonderfully buttery and flaky layers we all love. Yum! Don't worry I'll explain this all in more detail when we come to the step by step method below.
Now there are many recipes out there on the internet that incorporate the butter directly into the dough, this, however, won't result in a flaky croissant, and to be honest, that isn't really a croissant then is it. In truth, if you don't have time or the patience to make the dough yourself with lamination you are much better off buying ready-made dough from the supermarket than making them that way.
Traditionally croissants are made with butter, but most commercially made croissants are made with margarine. So if you can't have butter you can substitute butter for marg or vegan butter. My father walked in while I was writing this and asked if you can use oil, so for anyone else out there who was wondering the same as him, the answer is no. Firstly, we need solid fat to make croissants, as we want it to be firm and cold. Warm fats become greasy and that will seep into your dough, but also it will not roll out uniformly, and we want those nice uniform layers for our lamination. If you tried to do this with oil it would just soak up or much of it would seep out of the dough as you roll and go all over your table. Not fun!
In France, you can tell a butter croissant from a margarine croissant by its shape. All butter croissants are straight, while the marg ones are curved into crescents that meet at the ends. Whether you choose to use butter, margarine or vegan butter, make sure whatever you use tastes good, as this the predominant flavour in a croissant. Croissants are relatively quite cheap to make, so it pays to spend a little more on a good quality dairy butter or vegan butter, as you will really taste this. Croissants are expensive in time, not ingredients. Whichever you use make sure it is cold, and avoid handling it too much. It'll be much easier to work with if it is and you will get much better results.
*Salt in butter makes your butter softer did you know that? That's why we always use unsalted for pastry and doughs.
How long do they take to make? What's the process?
You want to allow two days ideally to make your croissants, but you don't have to make them all in one go from start to finish. After you make the initial bread dough, this needs to rest* in the fridge for at least two hours but preferably overnight to develop some flavour. The next day you can add your butter, and proceed with creating the layers, and finally shape your croissants. Croissants freeze really well, so at this point, you can freeze your croissants on a lined baking tray. Leave them in the freezer for a few hours until they are solid, before moving them to freezer bag or tub. You can then take them out when you want them. This is great if you don't have much time running up to when you want them, want them first thing in the morning or if you only want a few at a time. Simply take them out before you go to bed and place on a lined baking sheet as you would when leaving them to prove normally. Prove them somewhere draft-free, a turned-off oven is great. When you wake in the morning, take them out and simply pre-heat your oven and proceed to bake them as you usually would.
*Resting is the first phase of allowing your bread dough to rise. This is done before shaping. The second phase is called proving, this is done once your dough has been shaped.
Dough Recipe - Makes 12-14 croissants (or other pastries)
500g Strong white bread flour (don't use plain, they need the gluten)
20g Fresh yeast or 8g dried fast action.
10g Salt (always use a good quality sea or rock salt for baking, it makes all the difference)
50g Caster sugar (an unrefined caster sugar adds a much better flavour)
1 large egg (UK standard large)
125g cold whole milk
Optional - add these if you like they are not traditional but I like them.
Zest of two oranges or lemons - adds a great flavour
Replace the water with the juice of the above.
200g Cold unsalted butter - Keep it in the fridge until you need it.
large sharp knife
clingfilm, large ziplock bag or beeswax food wraps (it's nice to be eco friendly)
plastic bench scraper (optional)
Stand mixer (optional)
Day One - Making the Dough
1. Place the flour in your mixing bowl/stand mixer bowl. On one side of the bowl place your salt, and on the other your yeast. Don't let them touch at this stage. Yeast doesn't like salt very much. If you are using fresh yeast rub this between your fingers with a little flour at the side of the bowl to break it up into small bits. If you are using dried yeast check the instructions on your packet. Some dried yeasts have to be activated, but most fast action yeasts don't. Alison's fast action is fine just straight in the bowl. Personally I much prefer the taste of fresh yeast in bread, you can buy this at the supermarket easily. Head to the bakery counter and ask the baker for fresh yeast. I normally just get 50g or so at a time. It's pretty cheap, 20p or something like that. Keep it in the fridge in a sealed tub till you want it and use within the best before date. Within a week is normally fine. Remember it's alive so it will go off if fresh. Add the sugar and give everything a quick mix around. Add your milk, egg and water (juice if using that), and zest if you like.
2. If you are using a stand mixer, use the dough hook and pop it on low to start with until it comes together. Leave it to beat for 5 minutes then move to step 3. If you are making it by hand, use a normal knife or your bench scraper to stir the wet ingredients in and bring everything together. You'll find either of these easier than a spoon. Bench scrapers are great as you can get everything from the bottom of your bowl easily and they are great for cleaning up your workspace once you are done too. Once the dough has started to come together tip out the dough onto a clean un-floured surface. Your recipe has all the flour you need in it. Never flour a surface at this stage of making bread dough, even if you think it looks too wet. As you work the dough the consistency will change and what may have started life as a wet dough will not be at the end. Unless you have weighed it out wrong that is! Work the dough on your surface by stretching the dough out with the heel of your hand, pushing it away from you, then folding the dough over it'self. Again bench scrapers are great at this point as you can keep this in one hand and scrape under the dough to stop it sticking at the start and keep it moving. This works the gluten, creating elasticity in your dough, but it also incorporates air into it, so it's important to do it properly. Work the dough for 5-10 minutes.
3. Once the dough is ready, shape it into a ball. To do this fold the edges over into the middle. This creates tension, then turn it upside down so the creases are underneath. Place your hands at the back on the dough on either side so they are touching the work surface and pull towards you, turn 90 degrees and repeat. This will create your ball.
4. Taking a sharp knife, cut a deep cross into the top of your dough. Using your knife or bench scraper pick up your dough and place it cross side up in a large lightly floured bowl. Cover this with clingfilm, a beeswax wrap or put the bowl in a large ziplock bag. Pop it in the fridge to rest for a minimum of 2 hours but ideally overnight. Don't worry if it sits there for a little longer, that's fine, it'll add depth of flavour.
The Next Day - Lamination.
5. Flour your work surface. Using your spatular or bench scraper gently loosen your dough away from the bowl. Try not to knock any of the air out or change the shape, as it's cold it should hold its shape quite well. Once free, place on your floured surface. You should still see the cut that you made, which will have created four corners. Roll out each of these four corners starting from the last third of the dough each time, in this way you should leave a mound of dough in the centre of your rolled out dough. Your dough should be square once you are done, about the size of a standard rolling pin with a smaller square mound in the centre that is offset so that the corners line up with the centre of the outside of the larger square (see photo).
6. Take your 200g butter out of the fridge. Take a piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper and fold in half. Place your butter in the centre of one half and fold the paper over the top. Know time for the fun but. Take out all of your frustration with lockdown on that butter. Using your rolling pin start lightly bashing the butter to flatten it out into a square about 1cm thick about half the size of your rolling pin. If it starts to go out of shape just push it back in a little at the edges. Try not to touch it much though, we want to keep it cold if it starts to warm it will become greasy. You can roll it once it starts to flatten out a bit if this is easier for you to shape it. When done place this on top of the mound in the centre of the dough, as in the photo. It should be lined up in the same way as the central mound.
7. We're now going to enclose the butter in the dough. Take one corner of the dough and bring it in over the butter to that it overlaps the centre. Now take the opposite side of the dough and do the same. They need to overlap. Repeat with the other two sides. The butter should be completely encased. Turn the dough so that the last two sides pulled over are on your right and left.
8. Before we begin to roll, make sure your dough has enough flour to stop it sticking. We'll be moving it around as we roll so don't overdo it. Rolling - start by pressing down very lightly with your rolling pin, start in the middle and press lightly and move up and repeat, then do the same but heading down. This will make sure your dough is stuck together before you start to roll. You can now roll, be gentle to start with. Place your hands at the end of the rolling pin, this creates more even pressure, and keep it light. Only roll in the one direction, up and down. You can move the dough around to pick up more flour to stop it sticking and to turn it around if that helps you roll it out evenly. Do not turn the dough over, however. Try to roll out the dough in a rectangle roughly 60-80cm long, about 1.5-2x the length of a standard rolling pin. As you roll to try to keep the corners a square as you can as this will get folded in next.
9. When you are done turn the dough back around to the direction you had it to start with. This is less important with the first time we do this but becomes more important when we roll the second and third time as it helps create uniform layers. Taking the top end of the dough, fold this third of the dough over, then take the bottom end and fold that third over to make a book (See photo). Place the opening of the book to the right, again this is important as we need to be consistent as we create our layers. If you are a tad forgetful you can make a single light indent with a finger to remind you that that is the firsts fold. Place the dough on a baking tray or board with greaseproof, and wrap it up in clingfilm or wrap again to keep it airtight. Pop the dough in the fridge for 30 min-2hrs. The butter needs to firm up again. If it's a hot day or if you have taken a while to do this stage opt for 1hr plus.
10. When you take you the dough out again, roll the dough once more, keeping the opening on your right, you can move it around as you roll if it helps, but always the same way up and return it to this way around when you come to fold. Fold the dough from the top, then the bottom and turn your dough around so the opening in on the right. You will notice the dough is probably wider on this second roll. Add two indents, place the dough back on the tray, cover and put back in the fridge for another 3omins-2hrs. At which point repeat for a third and final time. There you are, your dough is ready for you to make croissants with, pop it in the fridge while you get yourself ready for the next phase.
You can now head over to Part 2 and roll, shape and bake your croissants. Time for a cup of tea first though I think, you deserve it!