Making Croissants the Traditional French Way - Part 1: THE DOUGH

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)


Dough

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

125g water


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.


Lamination

200g Cold unsalted butter - Keep it in the fridge until you need it.


Equipment

rolling pin

large sharp knife

baking tray

large bowl

clingfilm, large ziplock bag or beeswax food wraps (it's nice to be eco friendly)

spatula

scales

parchment/greaseproof paper

plastic bench scraper (optional)

Stand mixer (optional)



Step-By-Step Method


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