If you live in a tropical city like I do, you barely have two pleasant months in a year. My December went by in a blur of a flood followed by plum cakes. All of a sudden January was upon me. I suddenly realised that the cold months were quickly passing me by and I had not even bake a single croissant. Now I must confess, I usually bake these twice a year. Once in December and once in January. If I feel really adventurous, then maybe once in February. Venturing beyond February required courage and sheer foolhardiness. Croissants in summer is an experience in itself, definitely not for the faint-hearted.
The very first time I baked a croissant, I could not understand what the fuss was about. All we were asked to do was roll out the dough, cut it into triangles and roll it up to look like a croissant. Since that was really not a croissant, we will not delve too deep into that experience.
Much later, I remember eating a ‘real’ croissant, light as air and every bite belying the sweet butter which went into the dough. I usually do not need anything to go with the little crescents. I could just tear off a bit, the crisp crust shattering into a confetti on the plate, and just popping the moist bit into my mouth waiting for the layers to simply melt in my mouth. My favourite part was the crispy bits at the ends. I hold no grudge against those who slather their croissants with more butter (I hate think of what their fitness regime is)or cheese or even fruit preserve. Recently though, I did discover I quite enjoy it with some marmalade, the slightly bitter after notes contrasting beautifully against the mildly sweet croissant.
“Something so delicate and so delicious could not be that easy to make”, I convinced myself. So for the longest time, I avoided making a croissant. I had enough excuses at hand. Finally, when I ran out of them, I decided I had to try my hand making a croissant. I could not have chosen a worse time. It was the month of August, both heat and humidity as oppressive as it could be, and the butter simply refused to cool to a ‘pliable’ state. And my! what a mess the whole process turned out to be. I had butter all over my kitchen counter where it had angrily squeezed itself from inside the unwilling dough. No amount of refrigeration was helping. I was fed up. I just went ahead, cut, rolled and baked the pastry. All I got was some crisp bits of baked dough, swimming in a pool of melted butter. Broken hearted I literally filtered the browned butter to be used for something else (I had not the heart to throw away expensive ingredients) I cannot for the world remember what I did with it though.
It took me a few months before I could work up the courage to try the recipe again. This time, the weather was cooler and the dough behaved so much better. I must add here that this is not the easiest or the simplest of bread to make. But if you are patient and follow instructions carefully you will be rewarded with some amazing croissants for your breakfast or tea. The recipe extends over three days, so this is not something that you can make on a whim. Another word of caution– if you have long finger-nails you might have to be extra careful while handling the dough. One small tear and all your hard work will be in vain and there is little you can do to rectify it. So watches, finger rings anything that can snag the delicate dough is a big no no. If like me, you have your hair falling into your eyes, tie it back, please. You do not want to be blinded when working with this dough.
This a recipe tried and tested by so many bloggers that I have lost count. The original credit goes to Jeffrey Hamelman. His recipe has the weight in pounds and ounces which I have had to rework into a measurement we can use. Please attempt this only when you have the time to work on the dough. It is not really difficult but if you are in a hurry or try to cut corners, it will show up in the final results. And please, please if you are trying this in warm weather, try to work in an air conditioned room. Or like me, you can get up in the middle of the night, cool the counter with frozen gel packs kept for physical injury emergencies (Yes, I have done that. This is an emergency! I need my croissant) and then work on your dough. Once you get the hang of it, you will wonder what the fuss was all about. The instructions may be a little detailed but then it is because I want to make myself clear. To make it simpler, you can probably watch this video from Weekend Bakery
Day 1 (in the evening)
500 gms All purpose flour
1/4 + 1/8 cup Cold milk
1/4 + 1/8 cup Cold water
40 gms Soft butter
1/4 cup Sugar
1 1/4 Tbs Instant yeast
2 tsp salt
- Knead all the ingredients till it comes together.
- Add more liquid if the dough feels very dry. I added another tablespoon or so.
- You do not have to knead very hard. About 5 to 6 minutes will do. You do not want to develop the gluten too much in this recipe. So once the dough is soft, stop.
- Pat it into a disc, and place on a lightly floured plate and cover with a cling wrap and refrigerate overnight
First day of work is done. So far so good? Now go to sleep and we will continue this tomorrow.
On this day starts the real work
For Laminating the Dough
250 to 280 gms of cold butter ( I used 250)
You could use 280gms as well. I just wanted to reduce the amount of butter (That was my idea of dieting). Do not go lower than 250 gms. Butter is an important ingredient. Please use the best-unsalted butter that you can find. Less water content the better. That means — No home-made butter!
- Cut yourself two pieces of parchment or wax paper at least 10 to 12 inches square. Use a good quality paper. The first time I used not use the greatest quality wax paper and spent a lot of time peeling bits of paper off the pounded butter.
- Now take the cold butter out of the fridge and cut yourself pieces which would fit into a 5 or 6 inch square on one sheet of the paper.
- Cover with the other sheet of paper and with a rolling pin, gently pound the butter so that the individual pieces start sticking together. Try to keep the square shape. Make sure that the final square is about 7 1/2 inches. Use a measuring tape if you must. I did. Now trim the square of butter into a perfect square and place the scraps back on top and gently pound it back into the square. All this time, the butter should be pliable but not soft. If it does become soft, return to the refrigerator and wait till it cools before continuing on your mission.
- Wrap the square of butter and place in the fridge until needed.
- Now take the disc of dough from the refrigerator and lightly flour your counter.
- Roll the dough into a 10 1/2 inch square. Please keep the edges as straight as possible and the thickness even.
- Now take the chilling butter and place the butter on the square dough like a diamond. Take the ends of the dough and bring it to the center making sure that the butter is completely covered and seal. Make sure that there are no open ends and that you do not trap air between the butter and the dough. Once sealed properly, wrap the dough and return to the freezer (not fridge) for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Now is the part where all sharp instruments are kept at a safe distance. Take the dough out of the freezer, lightly dust your counter with flour and slowly start rolling. You could lightly press down the dough first and then start rolling from the center and away from you. Then repeat moving the rolling pin towards yourself. Try not to press too hard but focus on lengthening the square to form a long rectangle. Keep the edges straight and the thickness even. The final length should be about 24 inches and the width about 8 inches. Be gentle and make sure that the butter is not melting inside. If it is starting to melt return to the fridge and chill a little while longer.
- Once you have finished rolling out the dough, mentally divide the dough into thirds. Take one end and fold it in over 1/3. Now 1/3 of the other end will be exposed. Fold that over the first fold. This is called a book fold. Tuck in any stray edges keeping the ends as neat as possible. (Please see the note at the end) Wrap in cling wrap and return to the freezer for the next 15 to 20 minutes.
- Take out the dough and place on your floured counter and start rolling out with one of the open ends facing you. So you will be continuing to extend the long open ends till it is 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. Repeate this process totally 3 times, each time returning the dough to the freezer to chill and firm up the butter.
- After the 3rd time, you are done for the day. Wrap and place in the fridge (not freezer) to be used the next day. If you have successfully managed to roll out the dough with out any tears or any butter oozing out, congratulations! you have just laminated your dough with great success. If there are small tears, you could try dusting with flour to patch it up but this does not always succeed. So try not to do that. It just takes a little practice.That is all.
- Take a break and rest. You deserve it. Tomorrow we will bake out crossiant.
Now that you are well rested (and so is the dough) you can begin the process of shaping the croissant.
- Take the dough out and cut it into half, lengthwise. Wrap one-half and return to the fridge. You can use it later or even the next day.
- Place one half on your lightly floured counter and start rolling away like you did yesterday. You finally want to end up with the 24 inches long and 8 inches wide strip. Make sure that you occasionaly lift up the ends and flour the counter to make sure that the dough does not stick to the counter. If you have floured your counter over zealously, brush off the excess flour.
- Cut the straggly end pieces of the dough so it forms a nice perfect rectangle. ( you can use the scraps to make a poor country cousin version and it will taste just as good)
- Now that you have a perfect 24 by 8 inches rectangle, get out your measuring tape. Start at the top left corner and measure 5 inches and cut a small notch to mark this. Mark notches every five inches. Done?
- Now move to the bottom. Measure about 2 1/2 inches and make a notch. From here make a notch every five inches.
- From the top left edge make a cut to the first 2.5 inches notch diagonally. Then, from the first notch on the top to the second on the bottom and so on till you have diagonal strips. Little confusing right? Well if you have seen the video you will get what I mean. If you have not seen it, scroll up and click on the link.
- Next, cut these parallelograms into triangles by cutting them from the top left end to the bottom right. I use a pizza cutter for clean lines. If you do not have one then use the tip of a really sharp knife.
- Take one triangle at a time and elongate it one last time either by stretching it or by using a rolling pin.
- Now make a small notch at the center of the base and start rolling the dough towards the apex. ( the notch will help you roll the dough into a cresent) Make sure that you do not roll it too tight or too loose.
- Bring the two pointy ends together and place it on a tray for the final proofing.
- Give the croissants a little milk/cream/egg wash (I went with milk) cover, and place it in a cool corner to make sure that the butter does not melt while proofing. It will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. What I did was to place it in the fridge for about 45 minutes and then 45 minutes outside.
- The croissants will not really double but they will be noticeably bigger. Pre-heat your oven to 200C
- Give it another milk/cream/egg wash and slide it into the oven.
- You will see some butter bubbling around the edges as it bakes. Do not worry. You only need to panic if you see butter pooling at the bottom. Then again even if you do there is nothing much to be done now. It just means you did not laminate your dough properly or that the butter was already melted and it was not finding its way out.
- My croissants took 12 to 15 minutes to bake.
- Remove trays from the oven and cool the croissants on a wire rack.
These are best served barely warm. If you think you might not be able to finish them, (really?) croissants freeze beautifully. Forgot to do the? No fear. The few days old, slightly dry croissants make heavenly bread pudding. I have not forgotten the scraps. Go ahead and bake those as well. They are great to pop into your mouth as you save the perfect ones to serve friends and family.
NOTE: I would like to add a small note here. While laminating the dough, I have asked you to tuck in any little bits that stick out. But a croissant expert just told me that that is a big mistake. You need to trim the dough every time you roll out the dough to make sure that the laminated layers are exposed. Apparently, if you don’t do that you will be ‘trapping the dough’ creating ‘dead spots’ in your final baked product. So the straighter you roll your dough, the less you will waste. For my next batch, I will keep this in mind.