I hesitated before posting this. I think I can do better. But for a second attempt and a dubious apartment oven, these croissants were as scrumptious and flaky as I could have hoped. They certainly got me dreaming about try number three. I made eight croissants and a couple pains au chocolat, although they were more pain than chocolat and next time I'll make twice as many from the same amount of dough.
Andrew Whitley (mostly)
- 5 g active dry yeast
- 385 g milk, cold
- 600 gstrong white flour
- 5 g sea salt
- 250 g butter, slightly salted or unsalted
- 1 egg, beaten for brushing
- I (Emily not Andrew) prepare my butter the night before so I don't have to mess with it the day of. Place your butter in the middle of a plastic bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap and carefully mash it down with a rolling pin until it becomes rollable. Roll the butter out into a sheet, making it as rectangular as possible, using the edges of the bag to your advantage. Make sure your butter is well wrapped and place in the fridge. Sleep well.
- Dissolve the yeast in the cold milk. Make up a fairly stiff, stretchy dough with the flour, salt, and yeast mixture. The texture of the dough must not be too soft or the butter will break through it during the folding and rolling process. Once the dough is developed to the right extent (knead for 10 minutes or so), put it in a plastic bag and into the refrigerator for a minimum of half an hour.
- Dust the worktop with flour and roll the dough into a rectangle twice as long as it is wide and about 8mm thick. Place your sheet of butter over 2/3 of the rolled out dough. If it is not quite the right shape, break or cut off the edges and place the butter where it needs to be. Fold the uncovered third of the dough over half the buttered part and the remaining buttered part back over the resulting sandwich. This will for a 'billet', or parcel, with alternating layers of dough-butter-dough-butter-dough. It is usual to keep a count of the number of fat layers: at this stage you have two. Make sure that the edges are neatly aligned. Pinch the rims of the dough together to stop the butter slipping around when you roll the billet out.
- Roll the dough out in the opposite direction to the first roll. You should aim to produce another rectangle about twice as long as it is wide. This time, instead of folding the dough in three, do a 'book turn'. Pick up the short edges of the dough and fold them inwards until they meet in the middle. Then fold the two 'pages' together as if you were closing a book. You have now got eight fat layers. Put the dough back in its bag and into the fridge for at least half an hour and up to two hours. If you leave it for too long, there is a risk that the butter will go very hard and break up into flinty pieces when you next roll the dough. This can be remedied by allowing the dough to warm up a little before rolling. But the problem is usually to keep the dough cool enough to stop the butter melting. If it does, it will not form proper layers. The other reason for keeping the dough cold is to control the rate at which the yeast is fermenting: you don't want it to be too lively at this stage because it is hard to create good dough-butter laminations with a puffy dough.
- Roll the dough out again in the opposite direction to the previous roll and do another book turn. You now have 32 fat layers, which is the maximum desirable number for a croissant dough, according to the experts. Return the dough to the fridge for another half an hour or so to keep the butter firm.
- The dough is now ready for its final roll. Roll it out to a thickness of about 5mm. Cut into equilateral triangles measuring 10-12.5cm. You can, of course, make your croissants smaller or larger, as you wish. Before you commit yourself to cutting the dough, mark out the triangles (or squares for pains au chocolat) to make sure that you are going to get about the right number. Rest the cut pieces for a few minutes to allow the gluten to become more extensible. To make a croissant, proceed as follows:
- Grasp the apex of the triangle with one hand and the base with the other. As gently as you can--without tearing the dough--stretch the triangle until it is almost twice as long (from base to apex) as it was. Pick up the base in both hands and stretch it slightly outwards. You should now have something resembling the Eiffel Tower. Fold the edge of the base firmly over on itself and then, with the fingers of your left hand, grasp the tope of the tower but keep it close to the worktop. Gently pulling with the left hand, roll up the croissant towards the tip with the right hand, keeping it under slight tension as you roll. This helps to create further layers of dough; more importantly, by putting the gluten under some tension, it creates a structure that will prove up into a bold, lively and flaky croissant. Place on parchment-lined baking trays in such a way that the tip of the croissant is held down under the weight of the body; if you leave it showing, it may unravel during proof or baking. Turn the 'claws' inwards slightly to form the classic croissant (crescent) shape.
- Brush carefully with beaten egg, ensuring that there are no unsightly tide marks round the edges. Cover and set to prove in a place that is not so warm that there is any danger of the butter melting. If it does, you will see disappointing puddles of butter oozing from your croissants as they bake; and if the butter is visible, it certainly won't be doing its job between the layers of dough.
- After sufficient proof, the croissants should be appreciably bigger and the finger test will tell you that their structure has become puffy and decidedly fragile. Bake them in a fairly hot oven (200°C; 400-425°F) for about 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.
- To make pains au chocolat, cut the prepared croissant dough not into triangles, but into rectangles about 10 x 5cm. Place a generous stick of chocolate along one short edge and roll the dough up around it. Pinch the ends together to stop the chocolate flowing out during baking. Egg wash, prove and bake as for croissants.