Classic French Croissants

There's nothing quite like a freshly baked croissant straight from your own oven. Crispy, flaky layers with a soft, light, and buttery inside. And it's yours. You made it. You made a great croissant! 

Croissant are one of those scary things in baking for most people, like puff pastry or bread. It's daunting, intimidating, and it sucks when you spent all day making something and it doesn't turn out.
But, as I say with every other thing on this blog, it's not that scary! It's actually quite simple when you break it down into manageable chunks. Can you roll dough into a rectangle? Can you fold a letter? Can you make a triangle? If you said yes to those, you can make a gosh darn croissant.

As with any recipe in baking, you have to stick to the recipe. You can't really do your own thing and hope it'll turn out right. There's a lot of detail in the recipe, typical of Bouchon, but it's necessary. Don't skim through it and then wonder why you croissants didn't turn out. Sometimes you gotta stick to the rules. It's not hard, trust me. 

Your hard work and patience will reward you with delicious croissants that you can impress people with. If you decide to share, that is. Croissants are best eaten the day they are baked, but that didn't stop me from keeping them and having them for breakfast three days in a row. Just a few minutes in a 325 F oven to crisp 'em up and you're golden. 

Croissant dough can be used to make lots of things, like doughnuts, cinnamon buns, and, of course, monkey bread! 

Monkey bread is made up of scraps of croissant dough, tossed in cinnamon sugar, and baked in loaves or muffin tins. It's a great way to use up scraps. I decided to take the long pieces of scrap dough, sprinkle generously with sugar, roll them up, and popped them in muffin tins. They proofed with the croissants and baked after. I almost want to make croissant dough again, just for the monkey bread.

Monkey bread is versatile, you can put just about anything in there. You could even make savoury monkey bread - some garlic, some cheese, some herbs! Just don't add cinnamon sugar to those ones...

Classic French Croissants
Recipe from Bouchon Bakery

100 g all-purpose flour
0.1 g (a pinch) instant dried yeast
100 g water at 75 F/23.8 C

330 g unsalted butter, in one piece

500 g all-purpose flour
75 g granulated sugar
10 g instant dried yeast
3 g diastatic malt powder (optional)
200 g water at 75 F/23.8 C
100 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
15 g kosher salt

For the poolish, combine the flour and the yeast in a medium bowl and mix with your fingers. Pour in the water and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 15 hours. The mixture will be bubbly, but the best indication that it is ready are lines on the surface that look like cracks that are beginning to fall in at the center, as the yeast exhausts its food supply.

For the butter block (beurrage), place a piece of parchment on the work surface. Center the 330 g of butter on the paper and top with a second piece of parchment paper. Pound the top o the butter from left to right with a rolling pin to begin to flatten it. The parchment paper will be stuck to the butter: lift off the top piece and place it butter side up on the work surface. Flip the butter over onto the parchment paper, turning it 90 degrees. Top with the second piece of parchment paper. Continue to fatten the butter as before until you have a 6 3/4 by 7 1/2 inch rectangle. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and refrigerate.

For the dough, spray a large bowl with non-stick spray. 

Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and malt powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and give it a quick mix on the lowest setting to distribute all of the ingredients evenly.

Pour about half the water around the edges of the polish to help release the poolish, then add the contents of the bowl, along with the water, to the mixer. Add the butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes to moisten the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour has been incorporated.

Sprinkle the salt over the top and mix on low speed for 2 minutes to dissolve the salt. Continue to mix on low speed for 20 minutes.

Run a bowl scraper around the sides and the bottom of the bowl to release the dough and turn it out onto the work surface. Stretch the left side of the dough outward and fold it over the center of the dough, then stretch and fold the right side over to the opposite side, as if you were folding a letter. Repeat this process, working form 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 it sit at room temperature for an hour.

Line a 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 by 7 1/2 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 block 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 rolling pin to prevent sticking, until you have a 16 by 7 1/2 by 1/2 inch thick rectangle.

Lay the butter block 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 block, but you will see the butter on the sides.

To do the first turn, use the rolling pin to press down firmly on the dough across the seam from one side to the other to expand the dough. Turn the dough so the short end faces you. Roll to expand the length of the dough, flipping, fluffing, and turn the dough over and adding flour only as needed, until you have a rectangle approximately 22 by 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 patter 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 the corner to mark it. Return to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes or until the dough has stiffened by it not hard.

For the second turn, lightly dust the work surface. 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 the risk of exposing the butter. Pressing on the dough will warm the butter; if it is too col, 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 by 9 by 3/8 inch rectangle and repeat the folding. Turn the block 90 degrees, so the opening is on the right. You have completed the second turn; gently press two 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 the third turn, repeat all of the steps for second turn and mark the dough with three fingerprints.

To finish the dough, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust the work surface with flour. 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 rolling pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Roll the dough out to 24 by 9 inches.

Cut the dough crosswise in half, making two 12 by 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 it not hard. 

Spray two sheet pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.

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 to the refrigerator. Roll the dough out to a rectangle about 19 by 9 inches.

Turn the dough to the long side is facing you and trim it to 18 inches long. Trim the remaining sides only as needed for straight edges.

Starting at the left side, measure 3 3/4 inches along the bottom edge of the dough and cut from this point to the top left-hand corner of the dough, making a triangle. For the second triangle, measure 3 3/4 inches along the top of the dough and cut from this point straight down. Continue cutting, alternating between the top and bottom of the dough, to make 8 triangles.

Hold on 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 top. 

Note: I shape my croissants differently, creating a longer croissant. I make a small incision in the middle of the base about 1 inch long. I gently pull at the outside corners of the base, making them slightly longer. I take the two flaps where I made the incisions and roll them outwards. I then roll the dough up from the wide end to the top.

Put on a prepared sheet pan with the tail down. If the tail is not tucked under, the croissant could unroll when proofed and/or baked. Press down slightly, flattening the croissant just enough so 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 egg wash. Cover the pans with plastic tubs or cardboard boxes and let proof for about 2 hours. When the dough is delicately pressed with a finger, the impression should remain.

If you wish to freeze your croissants, do so now. Freeze them as quickly as possible, then transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag. When you want to bake them, simply take them straight from the freezer and bake them as you would below. They made need a few minutes longer to bake.

Position the rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. 

Brush the croissants again with egg wash. Bake for 35 to 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.