I remember looking at pictures of how croissant dough was made back in college and thinking, "No. Freaking. Way." First you make a pre-ferment sponge, called a poolish, the night before. Then you use that to make a yeast dough, then wrap it around a slab of butter and then roll and fold it multiple times in between rounds of chilling, a method called laminating. If you've gotten that far, you still have to shape it and allow it to rise before finally baking it off. All in all, I would give it a good 2.5 days from start to finish.
Since I was determined to make croissant dough, I decided to go with the expert and used Thomas Keller's recipe from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. There are probably simpler recipes out there, but I wanted the best. For the European-style butter, I used Kerrygold Irish Butter, which they actually sell at Trader Joe's, and I was able to source the diastatic malt powder from King Arthur Flour.
Traditional Croissants (adapted from Bouchon Bakery)
makes 16 croissants
100 g all-purpose flour
0.1 g instant yeast
100 g water at 75°F
330 g European-style unsalted butter
500 g all-purpose flour
75 g sugar
10 g instant yeast
3 g diastatic malt powder
200 g water at 75°F
100 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
15 g kosher salt
1 egg, beaten and strained (I like to thin this out a little with 1 teaspoon of water)
For the poolish: Combine flour and yeast in a medium bowl. Pour in water and mix. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12-15 hours.
For the butter block: Place butter on a piece of parchment paper. Top with second piece of parchment paper and pound the butter from left to right with a rolling pin to begin to flatten it. Turn the butter and parchment paper sandwich upside-down and rotate 90 degrees. Continue to flatten the butter until you have a 6 ¾ x 7 ½ inch rectangle. Wrap tightly in the parchment paper and refrigerate.
For the dough: Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and malt powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and give it a quick mix on the lowest setting.
Pour about half the water around the edges of the bowl of poolish to help release it and add to the mixer along with the rest of the water, reserving 50 g (3 ½ tablespoons). Add the butter and mix on low for 2 minutes to moisten the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour has been incorporated.
Sprinkle the salt over the top and mix on low for 2 minutes to dissolve the salt. If the mixture feels at all dry, add the reserved water in very small amounts as needed. Continue to mix on low speed for 20 minutes.
Run a bowl scraper around the sides and bottom of the bowl to release the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Stretch the left side of the dough outward and fold it over the center, then stretch and fold the right side over to the opposite side, as if you were folding a letter. Repeat the process, working from the bottom and then the top. Turn the dough over, lift it up with a bench scraper, and place it seam side down in the prepared bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
Line the quarter sheet pan with parchment paper. Uncover the dough, run the bowl scraper around the sides and bottom of the bowl to release the dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, disturbing the structure as little as possible. Gently but firmly pat the dough into a rectangle about 10 x 7 ½ inches, pressing any large gas bubbles to the edges and then out of the dough. Transfer to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes.
To encase the butter and roll the dough: Lightly flour the work surface and a heavy rolling pin. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and lightly dust the top with flour. Roll the dough outward from the center, rotating it frequently and flipping and fluffing it from time to time, adding just enough flour to the work surface, dough, and/or pin to prevent sticking, until you have a 16 x 7 ½ x ½ inch thick rectangle.
Lay the block of butter across the center of the dough. Stretch and fold over the two longer sides so they meet in the center and pinch together to seal. There should be no exposed butter at the top of the block, but you will see the butter on the sides.
For turn 1: Using the rolling pin, press down firmly on the dough across the seam from one side to the other to expand the dough. Turn the dough so a short end faces you. Roll to expand the length of the dough, flipping, fluffing, and turning the dough over and adding flour only as needed, until you have a rectangle ~22 x 9 inches and 3/8 inch thick.
Fold the bottom third of the dough up as if you were folding a letter. Fold the top third down to cover the bottom third. Turn the block 90 degrees so the dough resembles a book, with the opening on the right. You will continue this pattern with each roll, and keeping the opening on the right will help you remember how to position the dough. You have completed your first turn; gently press a finger into a corner to mark it. Return to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes or until the dough has stiffened but is not hard.
For turn 2: Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Place the dough on the work surface with the opening on the right. It is important to work with the dough as quickly as possible, but not at the risk of exposing the butter. Pressing on the dough will warm the butter; if it is too cold, it will shatter rather than spread as you roll it. Expand the dough by pressing down firmly with the rolling pin, working up the length of the dough. If the dough cracks at all along the edges, stop and let it warm slightly at room temperature. Then roll out the dough as you did before to a 22 x 9 x 3/8 inch thick rectangle and repeat the folding. Turn the block 90 degrees, so the opening is on the right. Gently press 2 fingers into a corner to mark the dough. Return to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes or until the dough has stiffened but is not hard.
For turn 3: Repeat all of the steps for turn 2 and mark the dough with 3 fingerprints.
To finish the dough: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust the work surface with flour. Place the dough on the work surface with the opening on the right.
It is especially critical at this stage that the dough remain cold; freeze as needed. Lightly dust the top of the dough and roll it outward from the center, flipping, fluffing, and rotating the dough and turning it over, adding only enough flour to the work surface, dough, and/or pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Roll the dough out to 24 x 9 inches.
Cut the dough crosswise in half, making two 12 x 9 inch rectangles. Stack on the sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper between them, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes, or until the dough has stiffened but is not hard.*
Spray two sheet pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper (or just use 1 sheet pan if only using half the batch of dough).
Lightly flour the work surface. Remove one piece of dough from the freezer and position it on the work surface with the short end towards you; transfer the second piece of dough (if using at this time) to the refrigerator. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 19 x 9 inches.
Turn the dough so that a long side is facing you and trim it to 18 inches long. Trim the remaining sides only as needed for straight edges.
Cut the dough in half, crosswise, so that you have two squares, about 9 x 9 inches wide. Then cut each squash in half so that you end up with four rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally so that you end up with 8 right triangles.
Hold one triangle up by the base with one hand and, using your fingertips, gently pull the dough until it is stretched to about 12 inches.
Put the dough on the work surface, with the base of the triangle close to you. Fold over the corners to the center of the base and roll the dough up from the wide end to the tip. Put on a prepared sheet with the tail tucked under. Press down slightly, flattening the croissant just enough so that it will not roll on the pan. Repeat with the remaining 7 triangles of dough, spacing them evenly on the sheet pan.
Remove the second piece of dough from the refrigerator, and, if necessary, let sit at room temperature until warmed enough to roll, then repeat to make 8 more croissants.
Brush the croissants with the egg wash. Cover the pans with plastic tubs or cardboard boxes and let proof for about 2 hours.
Position the racks in the upper and lower two-thirds of the oven. Preheat to 350°F.
Brush the croissants again with egg wash. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through baking and separating the croissants if they are touching, until the tops are a rich golden brown and no portions, particularly between the layers, look undercooked. Set the pans on a rack and cool completely.
The croissants are best the day they are baked. Thomas Keller suggests freezing the baked croissants in several layers of plastic wrap if you have any leftover, but I actually prefer to freeze the croissants after they have been shaped and before they have proofed. Then, the night before you want to eat the croissants, you can move them to the refrigerator to thaw and rise slowly. The next morning, let them come to room temperature, brush with egg wash, and then bake according to the directions above. Or let them thaw and rise at room temperature if you only have a few hours.
As you can see in the picture above, I only baked 4 of the croissants in the first batch and didn't do a great job of shaping them (he wasn't kidding about the need to tuck the tail of the croissant underneath). They still shattered nicely when I took a bite but were a little bland in taste. My friend, Tammy, encouraged me by reminding me that more flavor would develop in dough that was sitting in the freezer, and she was right!
The next day I thawed out and baked another batch of croissants, and they definitely had a deeper flavor. As an added bonus, they also rose a lot more. So I would definitely encourage you to let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight (or in the freezer if you're not baking them the next day) if you have the time, hence the 2.5 days needed to make a batch of croissants.
*I actually saved one of the two laminated sheets in the freezer to make pains au chocolat (chocolate croissants). If you have leftover baked croissants, you can use those to make almond croissants the next day! And for the really ambitious, you can also make cronuts out of this dough.
Three years ago: Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles
Four years ago: Nian Gao (Mochi Cake), Red Bean Ice Cream