Friday, February 3, 2012

Croissants

Croissants are one of my favorite things in the world. The best croissant I ever had was at a tiny bakery near my hotel in Paris. It was super flaky but also soft and chewy but also light and airy and buttery. No other croissant has ever come close. Most grocery/generic bakery croissants achieve either the flakiness or the airiness but never both and they're never chewy so I set out to make my own.

I also get to cross another item off of my New Year's Resolution list, #2 - croissants.

To be honest, I wasn't too excited to make these because I knew they wouldn't live up to my Parisian croissants (spoiler alert: there isn't some magical ending to this story; they really don't live up) and it's a two-day process to make these. But these were on my resolution list, I had all of the ingredients at home, and it was too chilly to spend the day outdoors so I made them. This recipe is based on two hours of online research, combining ingredients, quantities, and techniques from multiple recipes and chefs.

Ingredients (yields 12 small croissants):
1 teaspoon instant yeast (instant yeast packets usually contain 2 teaspoons of dry active yeast)
1/4 cup warm water (around 110 degrees)
1/2 tablespoon sugar (to bloom the yeast)
1/4 teaspoon salt (to bloom the yeast)
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, or anything neutral)
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick salted butter
1 egg (for egg wash)

Time:
[30 minutes] prepare ingredients and make dough
[1 hr] let dough rise
[1 hr] punch down dough, refrigerate, prepare butter
[30 minutes] incorporate butter into dough, first two turns
[1 hr] let dough rest in fridge
[30 minutes] turn #3 and #4, form croissants
[6+ hours] refrigerate dough
[30 minutes] egg wash and bake dough
GRAND TOTAL: 11+ hours




I started by blooming the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die so use a thermometer and make sure the water isn't any warmer than 110 degrees.

Blooming the yeast lets you know whether or not the yeast is active. This is important because it would stink to make all of your dough only to have it not rise. You'll know that the yeast is active if you let it sit for a while and a foam forms on top. If not, it's possible that the yeast in the packet was faulty or the water was too hot. In that case, start over.

I measured out the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Then I added in the wet ingredients (milk, yeast mixture, and oil) and mixed it together using a fork, just until it came together
Then I worked the dough until it was elastic and stopped sticking to my fingers.


Once the dough was ready, I formed it into a ball, put it in a bowl, scored the top with an 'x', wrapped it in saran wrap, and let it rise for an hour. Since it's winter, our house is a bit chillier than usual so I put it in the oven (off, of course). We have a gas oven so the pilot light is always on and offers the slightest bit of warmth, I think. If it's too warm, the dough might rise too quickly and the yeast will take on a funny taste - kind of overly smelly and bitter.
Scoring the dough is actually really helpful because you can see the dough morph and when it pretty much disappears, you know the dough has risen enough.



While the dough was resting in the fridge, I got the butter ready. The point of this step is to make sure the butter is malleable and spreadable, yet still cold. You need the butter to be cold so it doesn't soak into the dough and make it gummy but it needs to be spreadable so that once it's sandwiched between the dough layers, it spreads as you roll out the dough.


After the dough had finished resting in the fridge, I combined it with the butter. It's important that you pinch the dough together tightly and form a seal so that no butter squishes out when you're rolling it.



Once the dough was rolled out, I had to do what pastry chefs call a "turn." Basically, it's the process of rolling out the dough, folding it, and rolling it out again and repeating.








By this time, if the dough is too mushy and difficult to work with, you can refrigerate it for a bit. And if you do a little math, you'll know that you have 81 layers of butter at this point (3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 81).


Once all of the croissants were formed, I covered them with saran wrap and put them in the refrigerator overnight. Some recipes say to let the croissants rise for 1 hour, egg wash, and then bake, but I prefer a flakier croissant so I figured that letting it chill before baking instead would harden the butter and make the croissant flaky, not bubbly with air. Plus, the timing worked out well because I was done forming the croissants by around 10pm and I wanted to go hang out so I just shoved the pan in the fridge and forgot about them until the morning. You could also stick them in a ziploc bag and put them in the freezer if you don't plan on baking them for a while.

Just before baking, I brushed the croissants with an egg wash, which helps promote browning.
I baked the croissants for about 18 minutes until they were golden and brown. Watch them carefully because they'll overcook rather easily since they're so full of butter.
I cooled them on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before digging in.
Don't they look scrumptious?
Flaky, fluffy, golden, crispy, chewy, airy, and delicious.
When you take a bite, hopefully you'll see all of the hard work you put in the layers and layers of butter and dough.
instagram!
Bon appetit!

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