Thursday, September 29, 2011

Croissants - Simplified and Addictive

Croissants are the sexiest bread you can put in your mouth. A really good croissant needs nothing else. Eat it naked (the bread...or you.) A really good croissant shoots flakes in the air when you pull it apart. The outside is golden, crispy and protects the buttery layers of the softest bread on earth.
If the croissant you bite into doesn't do all these things, please just call it a "Crescent Roll" and live with it. Hold out for the real thing before you call it (say it with your best French accent) Croissant.
(The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non- blogging members, Sarah,
the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking,
none other than Julia Child!)

This flaky luna delight has a sorted history and many countries lay claim to it's origin. It did not start out
laminated (the technique of alternating butter and dough to form layers, like in puff pastry.) In the beginning it was crescent shaped and the texture was more like a bread roll, or rugelach. The Italians eat a similar, although usually softer and more hollow version of the croissant called Cornetto. In Vietnam, it's called bรกnh sung bo.

French Croissants were one of my first food fascinations. I tore a 4 page recipe out of Gourmet magazine when I was in college and swore one day I would make them. A couple years later I spent about 4 days, head bent over that scrunched up paper, tediously making about a dozen giant, whispy flaked brown croissants. I was so impressed with myself I immediately took pictures of them in a basket and wrote about it in my journal. That was 25 years ago. I guess I was food blogging without knowing it.
I'm hoping I can simplify the idea of making these and encourage you (if you've never tried it) to make your own Croissant. It doesn't have to be a many-day tedious event. It's really a lot easier than you'd think.

Prep your ingredients, clear a space in the refrigerator for your dough to hang during that segment of time, and get ready to be impressed with yourself. The whole thing can be done (most of it just waiting for the dough to rise) in half a day, or you can do a little one day and a little the next day. Enjoy it. Do it while you're doing other things. Here we go.

Recipe: Croissants
(adapted from the Daring Bakers' adaptation of Julia Child)

1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (about 1/2 pkg.)
3 Tbls. very warm water
1 tsp. sugar + 2 tsp. sugar
1 3/4 cups Bread Flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk (warmed)
2 Tbls. Oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 egg, for egg wash

1) Mix the yeast, warm water and first teaspoon of sugar together in a small bowl. Leave it for a few minutes so the yeast can foam up a bit.

2) In a large bowl, pour in the warm milk, salt and the 2 tsp. sugar and stir to dissolve.

3) To the milk- add in the flour, the oil and the foamy yeast. Stir it all together well with a spatula, and turn it out onto a work surface.

4) Knead the dough just 8-10 times, place it into a large clean bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temp (about 70- 74F) for about 3 hours (so it can triple in size as it rises.)
5) After it triples in size, pull it out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work space. Using your fingers, spread the dough out into approx. 8x12 inch rectangle. Then fold it like a letter in thirds (the bottom folded up, then the top over that).

6) Put it back into the bowl, cover well with plastic and let rise again for about 1.5 hours (or it can be put in the refrigerator for over-night.)

7) Put the butter on a piece of plastic, and using a rolling pin, pound it out to about 6x8 inches. Wrap in the plastic to help shape it. It should still be chilled, but not hard.
8) Using your hands (or rolling pin if you prefer) spread the dough out to about 8x14 inches. Unwrap the butter and put it on the top half of the dough, leaving dough showing on the top & sides (see the photo.)9) Fold the dough over the butter, like a letter (bottom part folds up over the butter, then the top part down including the butter.) This makes a letter shape that has dough, butter, dough, butter, etc.

10) Turn the dough 1/2 turn, so the folds are on the right and left sides,
and roll the dough out into about 14x8 inches again. Fold up into a letter, again. Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator to chill for 2 hours.

11) After 2 hours, take the dough out onto a lightly floured board. With the folds on your right and left, roll the dough out into a 14x8 inch shape again. Fold and roll out, yet again. Fold, wrap in plastic and return to refrigerator for 2 more hours. All this rolling, folding and chilling is creating the soft flaky luxurious bread inside your very own homemade croissants. It's all worth it!

12) Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rest on the floured work space for about 10 minutes. Cut it in half and place one half in refrigerator to keep chilled while working with the other half. Roll your dough out to about 10 x 16 inch rectangle.

13) Using a Pizza cutter, cut the dough in thirds cross-wise, then in half from top to bottom. Then, cut into triangles. (NOTE: For larger croissants - roll the dough to 25 x 5 inches, cut into thirds cross wise, then cut triangles out of each third.)

14) Roll each triangle up, ending with a point.
Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and curve into a crescent shape. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.
15) Preheat the oven to very hot 475F. Brush each croissant with an egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tsp. water.) Bake for about 10- 13 minutes (more if yours are larger.) They should be caramel brown and crisp on the outside. Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes before serving.

Wasn't it worth it? I know, I know, right? They are SO good. They are gone SO fast (if I'm around.) Seriously, once you've done this, the steps become familiar and you can carve out your time in between other things. Just try it once and you'll see. Go to Paris every chance you get (ok, but at least make your own croissants.) Bonne chance et merci~


Audax said...

I like the instructions that you did it makes the whole process so clear great job on this challenge. And the colour and shine of the crust is stunning well done on this challenge. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Lentil Breakdown said...

Wow, how ambitious! Bravo! I make rugelach, but this looks a lot more time-consuming! But obviously worth it. : )

Renata said...

Love your passionate description of croissants, I totally agree! They look gorgeous!

showfoodchef said...

Audax - Always a gift to have you stop by and thank you for your sweet comments.

Lentil Breakdown - Thx! and I love rugelach - can you send some of those over?

Renata - Thx, yeah I kinda got into it, huh? Do you make them?

lynn said...

on my bucket list - to make croissants. but in the meantime, i'm happy to eat

Kathy Sena @ said...

Oh, these are fabulous-looking, Cathy! And I was getting all hot and bothered with that delicious description... Love your blog. The photography, great description, recipes. Can't get enough!

Diane Schmidt said...

they look fantastic :)

Ali said...

never knew it was this easy to make, simple yet still a delicacy. Love the photos. Thanks for sharing

Jen said...

Croissants look amazing! They are the sexiest! ;)

Cookin' Canuck said...

I'm so impressed that you made your own croissants and I love that you were making them and writing about it in your journal 25 years ago. A blogger ahead of her time!