The Mount Everest of Pastries

It’s time. I’ve put it off long enough! Yes, it’s time for me to try my hand at making homemade croissants. I have visions of flaky, golden brown, crispy layered, buttery croissants hot out of my oven. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, but thought that I wouldn’t be able to master the technique. But my motto is “be fearless in the kitchen,” so it’s time to strap on an apron, heat up the oven, and give it a go! Armed with the recipe and directions used by Julia Child, I feel like I can climb and conquer this culinary mountain. I hope… I think… Okay, cross your fingers and jump in the kitchen with me!

A side note my friends. The most important part of making croissants is time and patience. You will need lots of time to let the dough rest and rise. The process took me two days. However, I promise it is totally worth it.

Croissants (from the cookbook Baking with Julia)

The Dough:

  • 1 oz. compressed (fresh) yeast
  • 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (approximately) whole milk

Put the yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and one cup milk into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the machine on the lowest speed, mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until a soft, moist dough forms on the hook. If the dough is too dry, add more milk, one tablespoon at a time until you have the consistency you need. You shouldn’t need more 3 tablespoons of additional milk.

Once the hook has picked up all the flour, set the mixer to its highest speed and work the dough until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, and close to the consistency of soft butter, about 4 minutes. Side note: Your mixer is going to get a workout so be prepared. A hand mixer is not going to have the power – you need a stand mixer.

Remove the dough from the mixer, wrap it in plastic, and put the packet in a plastic bag, leaving a little room for expansion. Keep the dough at room temperature for 30 minutes to give the gluten a chance to relax, then refrigerate the dough for 8 hours or overnight.

The dough after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

The dough after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

The Butter:

  • 4-1/2 sticks (1 pound 2 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour

Attach the paddle to your mixer and beat the butter and flour on the highest speed until smooth and the same consistency as the croissant dough, about 2 minutes. Scrape the butter mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and give it a few slaps to get the air out of it. Mold into an oval 5 to 6 inches long and 1 inch thick. Wrap tightly, and refrigerate until needed. At this point the dough and butter can be frozen; defrost overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding with the recipe.

Place the croissant dough on a generously floured large work surface (marble is ideal) and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using a long rolling-pin, roll the dough into an oval approximately 10 inches wide and 17 inches long. Brush the excess flour off of the dough. Center the oval of chilled butter across the oval of dough and fold the top and bottom of the dough over the butter to make a tidy package. Gently and evenly stretch the folded layers of dough out to the sides and press the edges down firmly with your fingertips to create a neatly sealed rectangle.

How about a big slab of butter to make everything better?

How about a big slab of butter to make everything better?

HERE COMES THE FUN PART! If you have a French rolling-pin (one without handles), now’s the time to use it. Hold one side of the dough steady with your hand and strike the other side gently but firmly with the rolling-pin to distribute the butter evenly. As you hit the dough you’ll see the butter moving out to the sides and into the crevices. Strike the other side of the dough in the same way. After pounding you should have a 1 inch thick rectangle about 14 inches long and 6 inches wide. Note: At this point I did cut off the ends to even up the rectangle.

Rolling pin at the ready!

Rolling pin at the ready!

Keeping the work surface and top of the dough well floured, roll out the dough. Make sure your dough is still well chilled. Roll the dough into a rectangle 24 to 26 inches long by 14 inches wide, with a long side facing you. You’ll want to be able to roll the dough from two directions – the length and width of the dough. Brush off the excess flour and working from the left to right sides, fold the dough in thirds, as you would a brochure, so that you have a package  that is about 8 inches wide by 14 inches long. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic and chill for 2 hours.

Dough has been folded in thirds and is ready to return to the refrigerator.

Dough has been folded in thirds and is ready to return to the refrigerator.

The dough needs two more turns. For the second turn, repeat the directions above,  but place the dough so the 14 inch side runs from left to right. (You’ve given the dough a quarter turn.)

For the third turn, start again with a 14 inch side running from your left to your right. Roll the dough into the 24 to 26 inches long by 14 inches wide slab of dough. This time, fold the left and right sides of the dough into the center, leaving a little space in the center, and then fold one side over the other as though you were closing a book. This is the famous double turn, also known as “the wallet.”

The final turn and fold into "the wallet."

The final turn and fold into “the wallet.”

Brush off the excess flour, wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours. At this point you can roll and cut for croissants. The dough can be frozen at this point for up to one month. Thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Rolling and cutting the dough – Generously flour your work surface. Position the dough so that it resembles a book with the spine to your left and the opening to your right. For easy handling, cut the dough in half horizontally. Wrap and chill the other half, or freeze if you don’t plan to use all the dough.  Flour the dough and roll it to a rectangle 20 to 24 inches long and 15 to 18 inches wide.

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife cut the rectangle of dough horizontally to make two long strips. Cut the triangles in the dough with a 3 to 4 inch base. This is done most easily by making a diagonal cut on the left hand side to get the pattern started; save the uneven pieces of dough. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Triangles of pastry dough ready to be shaped.

Triangles of pastry dough ready to be shaped.

I also made a few chocolate croissants - just because!

I also made a few chocolate croissants – just because!

Shaping the croissants – take a triangle and hold it at the base and pull the point of the triangle to stretch the dough until it’s almost twice the original length. Place the triangle, point towards you, at arm’s distance on the work surface. Pull off a little piece of the scrap dough and mold it into a small football shape. Center it on the wide top part of the triangle. This will help make the “belly” of the croissant plump. Fold about 1/2 inch of the wide end over itself and press the ends down once to secure. With your palms and fingers positioned over the flattened ends of the croissant and the heels of your hands flat on the work surface, roll the croissant towards you. The point of the croissant should end underneath the finished croissant. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and leaving space for the dough to triple in size.

Ready to roll into the perfect crescent shape.

Ready to roll into the perfect crescent shape.

Glaze the croissants with a beaten egg and brush on with a pastry brush. Leave the croissant at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to rise.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the croissants again with the egg wash and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet and rotate it. Put it back in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes until the croissants are deeply bronzed. Cool on racks. Do not eat them right out of the oven – tempting as it is – since they have to set.

I am so darned proud of these! Not too shabby for a first run. They are flaky crisp, and oh so buttery.

I am so darned proud of these! Not too shabby for a first run. They are flaky, crisp, and oh so buttery.

Croissants are best eaten the day they are made. If you must keep them you can freeze them, wrapped air tight. Thaw the croissants overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature (still wrapped) and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes.

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About Eileen Dominick Long

Diva, dog lover, and main squeeze to the Dude.
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