French Style Croissants

French Style Croissants are a pastry made to be savored ~ so delicately sweet, flaky, and crispy, they become a transcendent experience when enjoyed fresh and still warm from the oven. They’re one of those things in life you must make time for, demanding attention both in preparation and in their enjoyment, preferably in a place where time can slow down for a spell.

Many thanks to Claire Saffitz at NY Times Cooking and Dominique Ansel for detangling the mystery of croissants after repeated attempts to get them right in my home kitchen. The positive reviews I’ve received for these have been overwhelming. May you enjoy them as much as I have!

French Style Croissants

  • Servings: 8
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Dough (Détrempe)
4-2/3 cups (605 g) all-purpose or bread flour, (between 11-13% protein) plus more for dusting
1/3 cup (66 g) granulated sugar
1 T plus 1/2 tsp (12 g) Diamond Krystal kosher salt
2-1/4 tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 T (214 g) water at room temperature (around 70° F)
1/2 cup (120 g) whole milk at room temperature (around 70° F)
1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted European style butter, grated and frozen ahead

Dough should be prepared twenty-four hours before serving.

If using a stand mixer:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast, and stir to combine. Create a well in the center and pour in the water and milk. Mix on low speed until a tight, smooth dough comes together around the hook, scraping bowl as needed, about 4 minutes. Remove the hook and cover the bowl with a damp towel. Set aside to rest for ten minutes.

Reattach the dough hook and turn the mixer on medium-low speed. Add the butter all at once and continue to mix, scraping down the bowl and hook as needed. It will be sticky at first (normal), but after 8 to 10 minutes, it should form into a very smooth, stretchy ball that is not the least bit sticky.

Put it in a bowl, cover with plastic, and let it sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes to begin to activate the yeast. (Not longer than that as you don’t want it too active at this point).

If mixing by hand:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Stir in the cold, grated butter and then add the liquid ingredients. Mix for a few minutes until the dough fully comes together. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest for ten minutes.

Turn the dough out on to a clean counter and knead until dough has formed a very smooth, stretchy ball that is not the least bit sticky, 8 to 10 minutes.

Put it in a bowl, cover with plastic, and let it sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes to begin to activate the yeast. (Not longer than that as you don’t want it too active at this point).

Butter Block
1-1/2 cups (340 g) unsalted European or European-style butter (3 sticks) at room temperature
One sheet of parchment or wax paper

As the dough chills, make the butter block. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, measure out an 8” square using a Sharpie. Turn the sheet over, ink side out. Fold all four sides of the parchment on the lines to form an 8” square packet. Set aside.

Weigh out the butter, then slice several times and place all your slices on another piece of parchment. Place another piece over it. Use a rolling pin to lightly press the butter, fusing it and making it pliable. Once it is pliable, place butter in the center of your 8” packet. Fold the parchment paper over the butter, making neat, clean folds at right angles (like you’re wrapping a present), using your lines as a guide. Turn the packet over again and roll the rolling pin across the packet, further flattening the butter into a thin layer that fills the entire packet while forcing out any air pockets. The goal is a level and straight-edged 8” square of butter. Transfer the butter block to the refrigerator.

Shape Dough and Cool
Place two pieces of plastic wrap on the work surface perpendicular to each other. Take the dough out of the bowl and center it on top of the plastic. Press the dough into a roughly square shape and then wrap the dough rectangle, maintaining the squared-off edges. Roll your rolling pin over top as you did for the butter, forcing the dough to fill in the plastic and form an 8-inch square with straight sides and right angles. Freeze for 20 minutes. (No longer).

It’s important for both the dough and butter to be close in temperature
Bring the corner flaps forward and pinch to fully enclose the butter.

Lock the Butter Into Dough
Remove the butter from the refrigerator and the dough from the freezer. They should both be in the 48-50° F temperature range. Unwrap the dough (save the plastic, as you’ll use it again) and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough (dusting with flour if necessary) to approximately an 11″ x 11″ square. With a pastry brush, brush off any flour from the surface of the dough and make sure none sticks to the surface.

Lay the butter block in the center of the dough diagonally. Bring the corners of the dough so they meet in the center. Pinch the dough on both the edges and the center seam to fully enclose the butter. Rewrap in the plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 20 minutes (no more). If you don’t have time to do the next step, put the dough in the fridge until you’re ready.

Roll and Fold #1
Take the dough out of the freezer (or fridge) and let it set on the counter for five minutes. Unwrap the block and dust a bit of flour underneath, then rotate the dough 90 degrees, so the center seam is oriented vertically.

Lightly beat the dough all along the surface to lengthen and flatten. Roll out the dough lengthwise along the seam into a 24-inch-long, 3/8-inch-thick narrow slab. Lightly dust with more flour as needed. Rather than applying pressure downward, try to push the dough toward and away from you with the rolling pin, which will help maintain even layers of dough and butter. Periodically lift the dough to make sure it’s not sticking to the surface, and try your best to maintain straight, parallel sides.

Using a wheel cutter or long, sharp knife, trim the shorter ends, to make a straight-edged, even rectangle of dough. (Maintaining the rectangular shape, especially at this stage, will lead to the most consistent and even lamination). If at any point in the process you see air bubbles in the dough while rolling, pierce them with a cake tester or the tip of a paring knife to deflate and proceed.

The Book Fold
Dust any flour off the dough’s surface. Grasp the short side of the rectangle farther from you and fold it toward the midline of the dough slab, aligning the sides. Press gently so the dough adheres to itself. Repeat with the other side of the dough, leaving an 1/8-inch gap where the ends meet in the middle. Now, fold the entire slab in half crosswise along the gap in the center. You should now have a rectangular packet of dough, called a “book,” that’s four layers thick. This is a “double turn,” and it has now quadrupled the number of layers of butter inside the dough.

Wrap the book tightly in the reserved plastic. If it is thicker than about 1-1/2 inches, or if it’s lost some of its rectangularity, roll over the plastic-wrapped dough to flatten it and reshape it. Rewrap in the plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 20 minutes (no more). You are attempting to return the dough temperature to the “magic zone” of 50-63° F. If it needs more time to cool, put it in the fridge and retest in another hour. (Only use the freezer to jump start the cooling process).

Roll and Fold #2
Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about five minutes. (This helps the dough relax). Unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Just as before, beat and roll out into another 24” long, 8” wide, 3/8-inch-thick slab. It should be nice and relaxed and extend easily. Dust off any excess flour.

The Letter Fold
This time, fold the dough in thirds like a letter, bringing the top third of the slab down and over the center third, then the bottom third up and over. This is a “simple turn,” which triples the layers. Press gently so the layers adhere. Wrap tightly in plastic again and freeze for 15 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.

The Next Day
Prepare Oven for Proofing
Arrange racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Bring a skillet of water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Transfer the skillet to the floor of the oven and close the door. (The steam released inside the cold oven will create an ideal proofing environment.)

While the steam releases in the oven, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll and Cut Dough
Take the dough out of the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, then unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Beat the dough and roll out as before, this time into a 11-by-20-inch slab. The dough will start to spring back but try to get it as close to those dimensions as possible. Brush off any excess flour, wrap tightly in plastic, and slide onto a baking sheet or cutting board. Freeze for 10 minutes.

Use a wheel cutter or long knife to even out the shorter sides of the dough and trim any irregular edges. You want a rectangle that’s exactly 10” x 20”. Use a ruler to make marks every four inches along the top and bottom and then cut into five 4” x 10” rectangles.

Separate the rectangles, then slice a straight line from opposite corners of the first rectangle to form two long, equal triangles. Repeat with the remaining rectangles to make 10 triangles.

Rolling the Croissants
Working with one triangle at a time, place it with the widest side closest to you. Grasp the two corners and tug gently outward to widen the base to about 4-1/2 inches. Then, gently tug outward from about halfway down the triangle all the way to the point, to both lengthen the triangle and thin the dough as it narrows.

Starting at the base, snugly roll up the dough, keeping the point centered while applying light pressure. Try not to roll too tightly or stretch the dough while rolling. Place the rolled croissant on one of the parchment-lined baking sheets, resting it on the point of the triangle.

Note: If the dough gets too soft while you’re working, cover the triangles and freeze for a few minutes before resuming rolling.

Space them evenly on the baking sheets, giving them some room to expand. Very loosely cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap.

Proof the Croissants
Open the oven and stick your hand inside: It should be humid but not hot, as the water in the skillet will have cooled. You want the croissants to proof at 70 to 75 degrees. (Any hotter and the butter will start to melt, leading to a denser croissant.)

Place the baking sheets inside the oven and let the croissants proof until they’re about doubled in size, extremely puffy, and jiggle delicately when the baking sheet is gently shaken, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Resist the urge to touch or poke the croissants as they proof: they’re very delicate. Try not to rush this process, either, as an under-proofed croissant will not be as light and ethereal.

Egg Wash
1 large egg yolk
1 T heavy cream

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and carefully uncover them, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375°F. (Remove the skillet from the oven first).

In a small bowl, stir the yolk and heavy cream until streak-free. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the smooth surfaces of each crescent with the yolk and cream mixture, doing your best to avoid the cut sides with exposed layers of dough.

Transfer the sheets to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets and switch racks, and continue to bake until the croissants are browned, another 10-15 minutes (according to your preference). Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheets.

Croissants are best within an hour or two of baking. After that, revive the croissants by warming in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Keep wrapped airtight at room temperature.

Pain au Chocolat
It’s an easy thing to make chocolate croissants once you have your croissant dough! Instead of cutting your 4×10” rectangles into triangles, you’ll insert two “batons” of chocolate (1/4” wide and as long as your dough). As you begin to roll, insert the first baton about a half inch into the roll, and the second on the next roll.

Allow to proof, and then egg wash and bake as you would for the regular croissants.

Ham and Cheese Croissants
Same as Pain au Chocolat in terms of technique except that you will insert a small handful of ham and a grated cheese like Emmental or Gruyere right after the first roll. You won’t need very much. Proof, egg wash and bake as you would for regular croissants.

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