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To be honest, I never thought I would ever try making croissants myself. Whenever reading about croissant dough (or puff pastry) I decided to stay away, it seemed far too much of a hassle. Folding in butter, cooling, folding, it just didn’t seem worth it. But then I got into a baking craze thanks to James Morton’s book Brilliant bread. While making various breads on the same day, I decided though, that it was time to try and make French croissants. And boy, it was worth it, they were delicious!
Before sharing the recipe though, we have to discuss “croissant science”.
Croissants are laminated = layered
One of the most important characteristics of croissants is their layered structure. Grab a croissant (or have a look at the photo below) and you will know what I mean. A croissant consists of a lot of very thin and crispy layers of dough with space in between.
If this reminds you of pie crusts, you’re very close. In both pie crusts and croissants it is butter that makes this flaky or layered structure. When baking the croissants in the oven the butter will melt. Since the butter prevented the two flour layers from coming together they will not merge, instead, where butter used to be will be a light air pocket. The fat will flow in with the dough.
Forming the layers in a French croissant
When making french croissants the hardest and most time consuming task is to create these layers in the dough.
In a pie dough the flaky crust is made by rubbing butter through flour, before mixing it with water or milk. This way, discrete pockets of butter remain in the crust. In a croissant the procedure is slightly more complex. Since we want these many thin layers, we have to make sure a lot of layers of butter are made. This cannot be done by simply rubbing in butter. Instead,we literally have to fold the butter into our french croissant dough.
French croissant dough
Even though croissants look similar to puff pastry, with all their layers, it isn’t. The main difference between the two is that croissants are made with a yeast dough that is risen as well, whereas puff pastry doesn’t use any yeast. We will come back to the effect of those differences later, but let’s first zoom in on the croissant dough.
The dough for a French croissant is very similar to that of a normal bread dough (see below for complete recipe). The main difference is that it uses less salt, more sugar and milk instead of water. Leaving the dough to rise and rest will develop a richer flavour than when using it immediately. Honesly, I haven’t tried without leaving it to rise, but I trust the science here.
Folding in the butter layers
Once the dough has been made and has risen (thus become more flexible, softer and easier to handle) the butter can be folded in. This is as simple (and at the same time as complex) as it sounds. The dough is rolled into a large rectangle onto which a layer of butter (half the size of the rectangle) is placed.
The dough is folded double and rolled out again. By folding the sides to the middle and then folding them to the middle again you create all the different layers. This process of rolling and folding it repeated several times.
When folding the butter in the dough it is very important the butter remains cold. If the butter warms up too much the fat will melt and merge with the dough. This won’t make a nice layered structure anymore. Putting the dough in the fridge between these rolling and folding sessions is therefore important.
The resting time in the fridge has another advantage. It relaxes the gluten which makes it easier to roll out again.
What causes the puffiness
In a croissant there are two main factors which causes the croissants to puff and rise:
- Steam: both the dough and the butter contain moisture. When croissants are baked in the oven, the water will evaporate and form little steam bubbles. These bubbles expand because of the heat and actually help in creatig that layery structure by pushing apart the different dough layers.
- Yeast: yeast produces gas (carbon dioxide) when growing and fermenting in the dough. These gas bubbles expand in the oven due to the heat, pushing apart the different layers again.
Now that you know what french croissants are and how they become croissants, it’s time to share the recipe. Good luck with this little adventure, it will be well worth your time!
The recipe for French croissants
The recipe I used is described below. As mentioned at the top of this post, I found this recipe in the book Brilliant bread by James Morton, but I modified little bits.
Poolish is a pre-ferment, this means it is part of your dough which has already had the chance to rise and thus develop flavour. A basic poolish is made with 100g water, 100g flour and 1 tsp instant yeast (you can decrease or increase amounts easily as long as you keep quantities the same). Leave this overnight (or during the day), it will start to bubble and rise a little. Add to your dough as required. It will often make your dough noticeably softer and delicate, such as in these French baguettes.
Folding technique photos
I do not (yet) have good photos of the folding and rolling process for making these croissants. The book from which I had the recipe (Brilliant bread) does, they’re great and easy to understand. I also like the photos from Sweet Phi, although their process seems a little more complicated than the one I mentioned (I don’t measure the height of my doughs…)