Tutorial: French Croissants | IronWhisk
Monday, August 13, 2012

Tutorial: French Croissants

Written by Ilan // 53 comments

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Croissants aren’t bread rolls; they’re more than half butter. Croissants, with their 70+ rich and flaky layers, are a must-try item in any French bakery. Regardless, few bakeries can beat a homemade croissant. Even if cutting your croissant doesn’t reveal a cross section with a perfect honeycomb of layers, the buttery treat is sure to impress even the pickiest of eaters.

EDIT (April 1st, 2013): I originally wrote this croissant tutorial on August 13, 2012 and wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. The croissants were delicious, sure, but they weren’t perfect. The pictures were pretty embarrassing as well since the batch came out flat due to improper lamination. I also recently realized that the croissant history I shared was not accurate. My post on French croissants was actually about German croissants. Sigh. I’ve spent a while working on this recipe to significantly improve it, and that’s what this updated post now contains.

If you want to kick your croissants up a notch, you can also check out my Ispahan croissant post with instructions for raspberry, rose, and lychee croissants. You can find it here.

Homemade, fresh, and fluffy croissants

Croissants are made with a yeast-leavened dough that is folded with butter in a process called “lamination”. While baking, the layers of butter give off steam and cause the layers of dough to separate, leaving large gaps. The quality of a croissant can be determined by studying the size of the gaps, since large gaps are a result of proper lamination.

Croissants are often associated with their recognizable crescent shape, but not all croissants are formed into crescents. Croissants of German origin are curved into an iconic crescent shape, but French versions opt for a straighter alternative.

Homemade French croissants on a baking sheet

I tried to make this tutorial as thorough as possible because a lot of the recipes online aren’t accompanied with clear pictures and detailed instructions. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I’m here to help, and only expect a single croissant mailed to me per question (whether your question is answered satisfactorily or not).

This tutorial was created with information gathered from dozens of sources, but is mainly based on Sarabeth Levine’s recipe at Leites Culinaria and this post on The Fresh Loaf.

Homemade French croissants on a baking sheet

Alright, let’s get started!

Sprinkle 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast over a 1/4 cup (62ml) of milk warmed to about 100°F and mix together in a large bowl. Let the mixture rest until the yeast begins to foam (about five minutes) and then mix once more. If your yeast does not foam in five minutes and your milk is the proper temperature, throw out the mixture and try again. If it still doesn’t work, then you need to buy new yeast. This recipe will not work if your yeast does not foam. Pour in 1/4 cup (50g) sugar and 3/4 cup (188ml) cold milk.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with bread baking (or microbiology), the reason yeast is put into warm milk is because milk has a natural sugar in it called lactose (formed from galactose and glucose) that feeds the yeast. The milk is warm to stimulate yeast activity.

Sift 3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour into a separate bowl. Originally, I recommended using a combination of pastry flour and bread flour. Some recipes call for just bread flour. Each type of flour has its pros and cons for croissants. The higher the protein content of the flour (e.g. a high protein content flour is bread flour), the more stable your honeycomb gaps inside the croissant will be. However, a dough made from a high-protein flour is very difficult to roll out. Applying lots of pressure to the dough will cause the butter layers to merge with the dough layers and prevent the honeycomb from even forming. I found that using an all-purpose flour (medium protein content) is best.

Add two cups of the flour and 1 teaspoon fine sea salt to the yeast mixture. Stir and add as much of the remaining flour as necessary until the dough is soft and sticky.

Mixing croissant dough

You want the dough to look like the dough in the picture below. Avoid over mixing as the dough will absorb more flour when it is kneaded and will end up being very dry.

Fresh croissant dough with enough flour

Take the dough and put it on your floured work surface. Knead the dough so that it has a smooth surface and forms a ball that flattens slightly as it stands. Do not knead excessively. A minute or two is enough.

Take this ball, put it on a plate dusted with flour, and cut an X into the dough to split it into four quadrants. The cut should be about one inch deep. This cut will relax the gluten linkages in the dough. Relaxing the gluten is important to ensure the dough is not too difficult to roll out. You only want strong gluten linkages at the end of the entire recipe. If your gluten is too strong too early then your croissants will not have those iconic gaps because the butter will be forced into the dough during rolling.

Sprinkle the top with a little bit of flour and refrigerate for an hour.

Now it’s time for my favourite part: butter.

Butter for croissants

There’s a lot of it. You want 210g, or one cup, of butter. Take it out of the fridge and let it sit for about five minutes just so that it’s slightly softer, but do not soften it completely. Beat this butter until it is almost smooth.

Beaten butter for croissants

Add 2 tablespoons of flour and beat for a little while longer until the flour is incorporated. What we’re making is called beurrage, or the block of butter – yup, a block – that is used in puff  pastry or croissant dough. The French seem to have a word for everything. Worried that the butter is fattening? Don’t worry, it is. In fact, there is so much butter in this recipe that we have to make a shape out of it. You want to make a square of butter, about 4 inches wide (10cm), on a floured work surface.

Kneading beurrage for croissants

Then wash your hands, because they’re probably all buttery. Or lick them clean if you really like butter. Place the beurrage in the refrigerator to chill with the dough until they are both of equal consistency. This is very important. They must be of equal consistency or the dough will be incredibly difficult to roll out correctly. Note: this does not mean the same temperature, but rather the same “hardness”.

It’s important to always be working with cold dough and beurrage. If you ever think that it’s not cold enough, and even if the instructions don’t specifically tell you to, put it in the fridge to chill. Seriously. Please do this. I’ve ruined a few batches by not chilling long enough.

A block of beurrage (butter and flour block), ready for the fridge

The dough that we made is called detrempe, a French word meaning the dough used in lamination. Take the dough and put it down on your floured work surface so that the tips of the X you made are at approximately 2, 4, 7, and 10′o clock positions. It should now look like four quadrants of dough at the north, east, south, and west positions. Dust the dough with flour and using the heel of your hand press each quadrant away, flattening and stretching it about 2 1/2 inches (6cm), making sure that the center square of the “clover” is thicker than the “leaves”.

Make a cloverleaf shape from croissant dough

Roll each cloverleaf with a rolling pin until it is about six inches long and five inches wide, still leaving a raised square in the middle. Your goal here is to roll the leaves thin enough so that their combined thickness is equal to the thickness of the center square.

Rolling the "leaves" away from the square in the center

Just so you don’t forget there’s supposed to be a square there, why don’t you just press down on the sides of the square with your rolling pin to mark it. Alright, here’s where it gets fun. Place the beurrage onto the square you just made.

Beurrage (block of butter and flour) on the clover-leaf shaped detrempe (puff pastry or croissant dough)

Take the flap, or leaf, of dough that is furthest away from you and fold it onto the butter. Take the flap that is nearest you and do the same. Continue with the other two flaps, until you have a square piece of dough.

Folding the detrempe (puff pastry or croissant dough) over the beurrage (butter and flour block)

Alright, now it’s time to take out some of your rage. But not a lot, because the dough is delicate. Take your rolling pin and lightly hit the dough a few times to distribute the butter in it.

Hitting the croissant dough with a rolling pin to distribute the beurrage (butter and flour block)

Now’s the point where we begin to count the number of layers in this dough, just for interest’s sake. Right now we have three layers already. The dough at the bottom, the butter, and the dough at the top (the four cloverleafs merged together, essentially). Roll the dough into a 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle and cut away a few millimeters from each side to reveal the butter. If you don’t see butter, cut away more until you do. Make sure to repeat cutting away a little bit of dough for every fold to ensure there aren’t areas of the dough where layers of butter are missing. Also, never put the cut away dough back into the main dough as it will ruin the lamination. Note: I didn’t cut away any dough in the pictures below and that batch did not turn out as well as the others where I did.

Rolled out croissant dough

Fold the dough like a business letter. If you’ve never folded a business letter before, fold it like a regular letter. If you’re still confused, and that lame joke that I now realize isn’t remotely funny did not help, you want to fold the left third of the dough into the center, and then the right third of the dough onto the left. This way, you should end up with a rectangle that is about 6 inches wide by 9 inches high (14cm by 23cm).

After folding, take the rolling pin and lightly roll it over the dough to press the layers together and then refrigerate everything for one hour, and then place the dough in the freezer for half an hour. Whenever you roll out the dough, from this point on, be very gentle to prevent the butter from being forced into the dough and destroying your lamination. You have just completed a single turn, which is done by folding the dough like a business letter. We will be doing another single turn later. At current count we have seven layers since the dough between folds merges together eventually.

A single turn of croissant dough

Place the dough onto your work surface with the long open seam (the place where the layers of dough are visible) facing you. In the photo above you can see that the closed seam is facing away from me, and therefore the open seam is facing towards me. Roll out the dough into another 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle to prepare to do a book turn. Remember to cut away some dough!

A book turn, also called a double turn, is much more interesting than folding the dough like a business letter. Fold the short right edge of the dough 2 inches (5cm) to the left (this is the spine of the “book”). Then, fold the short left edge of the dough to the right to meet (but not overlap) the right edge (this is the pages of the “book”). After that, fold the dough from left to right. Do you see how these instructions can be confusing? It’s easier to see why it’s called a book turn in real life (but you can also look at the picture below).

Using your rolling pin, gently roll over the layers to compress them together. Place the dough in the fridge to chill for another hour, and then place in the freezer for thirty minutes. Before folding the dough from left to right we have thirteen layers. After folding it together (to complete the book) there are twenty five layers of dough and butter.

A book turn or second turn of puff pastry or croissant dough

When you take the dough out of the fridge roll it into another 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle and do another single turn of the dough (fold it like a business letter) after cutting away some dough. Compress the layers slightly using your rolling pin. At this point we have 73 layers of beurrage and detrempe. Magnifique!

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge  for at least six hours, and then place in the freezer for thirty minutes.

Roll the dough into a rectangle 9 inches high by however much you can wide. Use a knife to cut off any uneven parts so that the dough is perfectly rectangular. Mark points 4 inches apart on the bottom of the rectangle, and then 4 inches apart on the top of the rectangle starting 2 inches away from the edge. Cut along these points to create triangles. Your first and last triangle will be smaller than the others. Place all triangles in the fridge to chill for thirty minutes.

Cutting croissant dough to form triangles

Take one of the triangles that was not from the ends and hold it in your hands. Stretch the base of the triangle so that it is about 5 inches (13cm) wide. Then, stretch the triangle until it is about 11 inches (28cm) long. For the half triangles at the ends, combine them by overlapping them slightly and pressing together. Then, stretch them like the regular triangles.

Stretching croissant triangles

Put the triangle back on the work surface. This is your opportunity to fill your croissant with anything you desire by placing it at the base of the croissant. Be careful to not overfill, two teaspoons of filling is enough. Fill with Nutella, perhaps, for Nutella croissants? Pear and blue cheese? Ham and cheese? Cheese?

Filling croissants with Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread

Starting from the base of triangle, roll it up to the tip. That’s all you need to do to make a straight, French croissant. As you roll, try to stretch the dough slightly. Your goal is to have seven “steps”, caused by three full rolls of the dough.

Rolling up croissant dough

Continue rolling the other triangles and place them about 2 inches (5cm) apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the tip of the croissant at the bottom so that it doesn’t unravel. Brush the croissants with egg wash (an egg beaten with a teaspoon of water).

To proof the croissants leave them at room temperature for a few hours until they are doubled in size. I had to leave mine out for about four hours. Do not, under any circumstances, use the proof setting on the oven as your butter will melt.

French croissants prior to proofing

Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly brush the croissants again with egg wash (double egg washing helps them develop a nice crispy exterior). Bake for about 25 minutes.

Homemade croissants with apricot jam and butter

Once they finish baking, they won’t last for long. Homemade bread is impossible to resist, and homemade bread with 73 alternating layers of butter and dough? Even harder.

Homemade French croissants on a baking sheet

Trust me, when these come out of the oven you’ll be glad you didn’t buy a dozen at the store.

Tutorial: French Croissants
 

A step-by-step photo tutorial on how to make the perfect French croissant.
Ingredients
For the detrempe dough:
  • 2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup (62.5ml) + ¾ (187.5ml) cups milk
  • ¼ cup (50g) sugar
  • 3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the beurrage block:
  • 1 cup (210g) cold butter
  • 2 tablespoons (16g) all-purpose flour
For the egg wash:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon water

Method
Prepare the detrempe dough:
  1. Warm the ¼ cup of milk to about 38°C (100°F) and then sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir together and wait five minutes for the yeast to activate.
  2. Pour in the sugar and the rest of the milk, which should be cold.
  3. Sift the flour into a separate bowl and then add two cups of the flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. Stir and add as much of the remaining flour as necessary until the dough is soft and sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead a minute or two until the dough has a smooth surface and forms a ball that flattens slightly as it stands.
  5. Move the ball of dough to a plate dusted with flour, and cut a deep X into the dough to split it into four quadrants. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little bit of flour, and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour (I sometimes leave it for up to a day).
Prepare the beurrage block:
  1. Beat the butter until it is smooth and then beat in the flour.
  2. Place the butter on a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a square approximately 10cm (4 inches) large.
  3. Wrap the butter in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until the beurrage block and detrempe dough are equally hard (press on each one to check).
Prepare the croissant dough:
  1. Place the detrempe on a lightly floured work surface such that the tips of the X you cut are at approximately the 2, 4, 7, and 10′o clock positions. It should now look like four quadrants of dough at the north, east, south, and west positions.
  2. Using the heel of your hand press each quadrant away, flattening and stretching it about 2½ inches (6cm). Make sure that the center square of the “clover” is thicker than the “leaves”.
  3. Roll each cloverleaf with a rolling pin until it is about six inches long and five inches wide, still leaving a raised square in the middle. Your goal here is to roll the leaves thin enough so that their combined thickness is equal to the thickness of the center square.
  4. Place the beurrage onto the square you just made.
  5. Take the flap, or leaf, of dough that is furthest away from you and fold it onto the butter. Take the flap that is nearest you and do the same. Continue with the other two flaps, until you have a square piece of dough.
  6. Take your rolling pin and lightly hit the dough a few times to distribute the butter in it.
  7. Roll the dough into a 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle and cut away a few millimeters from each side to reveal the butter. If you don’t see butter, cut away more until you do. Make sure to repeat cutting away a little bit of dough for every fold to ensure there aren’t areas of the dough where layers of butter are missing. Also, never put the cut away dough back into the main dough as it will ruin the lamination.
  8. Complete a single turn of the dough by folding the left third of the dough into the center, and then the right third of the dough onto the left. This way, you should end up with a rectangle that is about 6 inches wide by 9 inches high (14cm by 23cm).
  9. After folding, take the rolling pin and lightly roll it over the dough to press the layers together and then refrigerate everything for at least one hour, and then place the dough in the freezer for half an hour.
  10. Roll out the dough into another 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle to prepare to do a book turn. Remember to cut away some dough!
  11. Complete a book turn of the dough by folding the short right edge of the dough 2 inches (5cm) to the left (this is the spine of the “book”). Then, fold the short left edge of the dough to the right to meet (but not overlap) the right edge (this is the pages of the “book”). After that, fold the dough from left to right so that it lines up.
  12. Using your rolling pin, gently roll over the layers to compress them together. Place the dough in the fridge to chill for at least another hour, and then place in the freezer for thirty minutes.
  13. When you take the dough out of the fridge roll it into another 17 by 9 inch (43cm by 23cm) rectangle and do another single turn of the dough after cutting away some dough. Compress the layers slightly using your rolling pin.
  14. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least six hours, and then place in the freezer for thirty minutes.
Form the croissants:
  1. Roll the dough into a rectangle 9 inches high by however much you can wide. Use a knife to cut off any uneven parts so that the dough is perfectly rectangular. Mark points 4 inches apart on the bottom of the rectangle, and then 4 inches apart on the top of the rectangle starting 2 inches away from the edge. Cut along these points to create triangles. Your first and last triangle will be smaller than the others. Place all triangles in the fridge to chill for thirty minutes.
  2. Take one of the triangles that was not from the ends and hold it in your hands. Stretch the base of the triangle so that it is about 5 inches (13cm) wide. Then, stretch the triangle until it is about 11 inches (28cm) long. For the half triangles at the ends, combine them by overlapping them slightly and pressing together. Then, stretch them like the regular triangles.
  3. Starting from the base of triangle, roll it up to the tip. That’s all you need to do to make a straight, French croissant. As you roll, try to stretch the dough slightly. Your goal is to have seven “steps”, caused by three full rolls of the dough.
  4. Continue rolling the other triangles and place them about 2 inches (5cm) apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the tip of the croissant at the bottom so that it doesn’t unravel.
Bake the croissants:
  1. Brush the croissants with egg wash (an egg beaten with a teaspoon of water).
  2. To proof the croissants leave them at room temperature for a few hours until they are doubled in size.
  3. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly brush the croissants again with egg wash (double egg washing helps them develop a nice crispy exterior). Bake for about 15-25 minutes, or until the croissants aregolden brown.

Liked this tutorial? Read another one!



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