Croissants may look complicated, but making them is just a series of steps.
Well, lots of steps, to be honest. But just steps, spread over several hours.
Yet the results are worth it: flaky, buttery rolls more scrumptious than the pillowy breadballs that are all too common.
Even better, you make them yourself. The process may not quite be voilà, but the outcome is definitely tres bien.
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The first step is choosing the butter. It’s the main source of flavor, so use high-quality, unsalted and, most of all, fresh.
The price per pound may startle you, but you’re only using half at a time and, at 16 croissants per batch, that works out to about 30 cents each. A bargain!
This dough requires little kneading, so it’s possible to mix it by hand, but a stand mixer is easier. You also can make the dough the night before; it shaves a step off baking day, and the dough benefits from a long, slow rise in the refrigerator.
Next step: Melding the butter and dough to create dozens of layers that, while baking, steam and create a crucial flakiness.
Begin by mashing butter and a bit of flour into a square. This makes the butter more malleable, so that it will move better once enclosed within the dough.
Next step: After sealing the butter square inside a larger square of dough, pummel this dough package for a few minutes to soften the butter. This is a crucial step for success in the steps to come, so take your time. The pounding makes it less likely for the butter to crack into large chunks, which then could break through the dough.
Small chunks are OK; you’ll see a scattering of dime-sized pieces within the dough once you start rolling it out. The idea is to have small bits of butter, evenly dispersed.
Once rolled into the proper rectangle, the dough is folded into thirds, like a letter. Over the next hour, you’ll repeat this step three times which will create 81 layers. Yes, 81!
After the fourth fold, chill the dough for at least two hours. This step relaxes the dough, enabling you to roll it quite thin for the final shaping.
Next step: Working with half the dough at a time, roll it into a long rectangle, then cut triangle shapes, matching up marks you’ve made in 5-inch increments.
After each triangle is rolled into a croissant, brush each with an egg wash, which keeps the dough soft while it rises, and contributes to a golden color.
Next step: Let the croissants rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a cool place (you don’t want the butter melting and leaking out), then brush once more with egg wash and bake for 16-18 minutes in a hot oven.
See? Step by step by step leads to homemade croissants that are guaranteed to impress, but also to delight.
And isn’t that why we bake?
Recipe by Kim Ode. This is a time to use fresh, high-quality butter, such as from Hope Creamery, Land O’Lakes or Wisconsin’s Rochdale Farms. The dough must be prepared in advance.
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided, plus extra for rolling dough
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten with 2 teaspoons milk
In a large bowl, or in a standing mixer with a dough hook, combine 3 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt.
Warm milk in a microwave for 45 seconds. Add to the flour and mix (with wooden spoon or dough hook) until the dough comes together in a ball, about 3 minutes. Scrape into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 1 hour or, even better, overnight.
While the dough is chilling (or the next day), cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour and work the flour into the butter with a sturdy spatula, wooden spoon or your hands, breaking up any large pieces. (This step helps maintain the butter’s consistency through the rolling and folding to come.)
Place the butter between 2 sheets of parchment paper, then with a rolling pin, flatten into an 8-inch square, keeping the edges as straight as possible. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 1 hour. Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into an 11-inch square. Remove the parchment paper and place the butter square diagonally on the dough, then fold the corners up and over until they meet in the middle. Pinch the seams. (This step seals in the butter.)
Re-flour the surface, then begin gently beating the dough with the rolling pin. (This step helps the butter become more malleable before you begin rolling the dough.) This pummeling should last a couple of minutes. Rolling too soon risks the butter cracking into large shards that can break through the skin of dough.
Now you can begin rolling the dough into a 15-by-8-inch rectangle, checking often to make sure it’s not sticking to the work surface and keeping the corners as square as possible. Fold down the top third of the rectangle, then fold the bottom third over that to make a neat package, like folding a letter. Turn this “letter” so one short end is facing you, re-flour the surface and roll again into a 15-by 8-inch rectangle. (If the butter starts to soften and seems to be breaking through, stop and refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes before resuming rolling.) Fold into thirds as before, wrap in plastic and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
Repeat the process once more, rolling and folding, rolling and folding. You will have made 4 letter-folds at this point, resulting in 81 layers of butter and dough. Wrap well and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours. (This step relaxes the dough so it will be easier to roll thin.) Before rolling out the croissants, mix the egg glaze of beaten egg and milk and have a pastry brush alongside. (Fingers work, too, but it’s a little messy.)
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment. (The rim is important to keep any leaking butter from spilling onto the oven floor.) On a well-floured surface, cut the chilled dough in half and return half to the refrigerator. Begin rolling the dough into a rectangle 8 inches wide and 20 inches long. If the dough springs back on itself, stop rolling for a minute or two, which lets the dough relax and be more flexible.
Using a ruler, mark the dough along the lower edge at 5-inch intervals, making 3 marks. On the upper edge, move the ruler in 2 1/2 inches from one side, then mark at 5-inch intervals, making 4 marks. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut diagonally from mark to mark, top to bottom, to make 7 triangles. Cut a 1/2-inch-long slit in the center of each wide end. (This step keeps the croissant from becoming too dense to bake well.)
Save any lengths of dough from either end. You can pinch them together to make a piece of dough large enough in which to place some dark chocolate at one end, then roll into a cylinder for a chocolate croissant. Baker’s treat!
(For that matter, you can cut the 5-by-20-inch rectangle into 5 (4-inch) rectangles, place chopped chocolate or crumbled almond paste (about 1 tablespoon) at one end and roll up to make a batch of filled croissants.)
But back to the basics: Holding a triangle by its wide end, brush off any excess flour with your fingers, at the same time gently stretching the point of the dough a few inches. (This step makes the croissants flakier.)
Lay dough on the work surface and, with a slight outward motion from the slit, begin rolling up the croissant, making sure the point is tucked under so it won’t unfold while baking. Place on the baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining triangles. Brush with egg wash, taking care to coat all surfaces and edges. (This step keeps the dough from drying as it rises.)
Repeat all steps with remaining half of dough. Refrigerate egg wash. (You’ll use it once more.) Let croissants rise in a cool place, uncovered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until they look puffy. (They won’t double in size.)
Heat oven to 400 degrees and place racks in the bottom and middle positions. Brush croissants once more with egg wash. Bake for 8 minutes, then switch pans on racks and bake for another 8 to 9 minutes, or until croissants are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack before eating. Croissants are best when just barely warm.
To refresh cooled croissants, place in a 300-degree oven for 2 to 3 minutes. Croissants also freeze well. To reheat, place frozen croissants in a 350-degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Yield: Makes 14 to 16