Baking spree: croissants

As I briefly alluded to in my previous post, being back in my DC apartment set me off on a massive baking spree. This wasn’t just, “Oh, I’ll make a big batch of cupcakes, and maybe some cookies too!” sort of baking spree. Case in point?

…homemade croissants

Seriously!? Who sets out to make croissants by hand? And I know there are plenty of fabulous recipes out there for easy croissants, but I was determined to attempt the real thing. I mean, why wouldn’t I? The way I figured, when’s the next time I’m going to have this much free time on my hands to do the things that make me happiest?

Probably not for a while, at least six months…

(and then again, with the direction my life is heading in, who knows where I’ll be in six months?)

Anyway. When I got back to my apartment Thursday night, I browsed foodgawker looking for inspiration and saw a gorgeous picture from Anice & Cannella. The step-by-step photos and instructions on her website are lengthy, but her croissants were just so flaky and perfect, I knew that I wanted to go through the whole ordeal.

So what exactly is involved with making a croissant? A lot of butter, a lot of rolling, and a lot of time. Other than that, its really not too bad!

Ingredients: (adapted from Anice & Cannella)

500 g flour (I used all purpose, with a bit of white whole wheat when that ran out)
275 g water
25 g butter (I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be melted or soft, but it didn’t seem right to have it cold, so I microwaved it for about 20 seconds)
8 g salt
60 g sugar (I used a bit less to ensure they wouldn’t be too sweet)
20 g yeast (this seemed like a lot, so I used about 2 1/2 teaspoons and called it good)

290 g butter for the “tournage” (I used about 1 2/3 sticks)
1 beaten egg and sugar to brush on before baking
chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended)

First, make the dough. I have a weird habit of always proofing yeast (after way too many batches of failed bread!), but you may want to skip this step. If you want to follow my compulsion, mix together the water (which should be warmer than room temperature but not too hot), some of the sugar, and the yeast. Wait a few minutes for the yeast to bloom and rest assured that you are one step closer to fluffy croissants. Combine the yeast mixture with the remaining ingredients (or just throw everything together and combine if you’re not proofing) and knead until you have a dough that is smooth and elastic (get ready to knead away your troubles, it takes about 20 minutes).

Easy part! Put the dough in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let rest in the fridge for up several hours (between 3-6ish).

In the meantime, prepare your butter.

There’s a delicate balance you have to achieve here. The goal is to get the block of butter to magically transform into a thin rectangle (that will be 2/3 the size of the future rolled-out dough), but you don’t want to 1) soften the butter too much, 2) make a mess, 3) hurt yourself. Cover your stick(s) of butter with flour and place it between a piece of folded wax paper. Gently (I repeat, gently! For the sake of potential broken nails, or worse!) use a rolling pin to flatten the sticks. Once I reduced the butter’s height, I used the heat of my hands to sort of nudge it into a smooth, flat rectangle.

It doesn’t have to be perfectly-shaped. After all, this is going inside the dough. Place the butter back in the fridge to chill.

Several hours later, your dough should be chilled and bigger than it was when you put it in the fridge. Take it out, dust it with flour, and roll it out to a rectangle that’s about 1/2 cm thick (I didn’t measure it exactly, but decently thin). Carefully put your butter rectangle on top of your dough rectangle, leaving some space around the edges.

Like I said…it doesn’t have to be perfect. Butter is pretty finicky…trust me!

Now you’re ready to fold. Fold the uncovered third of your dough down over half of the butter, and then fold the bottom third (with the butter) up over that. Turn the folded dough counter-clockwise so that the fold faces the right, and pinch all of the open ends shut. Gently roll it out to something near its original size and thickness.

And guess what? You do it all over! Fold it into third, turn counter-clockwise, seal the edges and roll out. Two turns down, and the poor dough is already exhausted and needs to rest. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and rest it in the fridge for 40 minutes.

(40 minutes later!)

Take your rested dough out of the fridge and roll it out again, try to keep it pretty thin (8mm-ish if you like to measure), and fold it into thirds (just like before!). Turn it counter-clockwise, seal the edges, and back in the fridge for another 40 minutes. After that, repeat one more time (including one more 40 minute rest!)

I really highly recommend that you check out Anice & Cannella’s pictures; she illustrates each step more beautifully than I can explain them in words!

And as a side-note, I didn’t quite time all the steps too well. I finished the third round of folding around 10pm and just could not keep myself awake to finish the rest of the process…pshh! Where’s your dedication!? I know! I know! But, just in case you were wondering how strict these instructions and timings are, my dough’s 40-minute rest turned into a 9-hour coma and everything still worked out fine. (The dough was really puffy…but it was nothing a rolling pin and a bit of pent up aggression couldn’t fix!)

Now it’s time to shape the croissants, the best part! (besides eating them…of course!)

This is pretty straightforward. After the final rest (how ever long it ends up being), roll out the dough to be a long and narrow rectangle, maybe a bit thinner than you have been rolling it out previously. Slice the dough into triangles, approximately nine or ten.

Make little notches in the wide end of the triangle to help you achieve a nice wide croissant shape when you roll them. Personally, I think they kind of look like doughy little Eiffel Towers when you do that. Tres mignon!

Now is the perfect time to break out that “optional” chocolate that I mentioned earlier. Come on, if chocolate is ever an option, do you turn it down? I had some Ghiradelli dark bittersweet chocolate chips on hand, c’est manifique! Just tuck a few chips into the dough while you’re rolling it.

Seal them well! You wouldn’t want any precious chocolate to leak out while the croissants are baking. And try to tuck the points underneath the croissants so that they don’t unroll in the oven…(a problem that struck my croissants).

Almost ready to bake! The troublesome little rolls need one more nap, about 2-3 hours to rise a bit more. Go take a nap yourself! If you’re doing this all in one day, I’m sure you’ll need to rest too!

…ready now? Okay! Preheat your oven to 425 F and brush your well-rested, puffed-up croissants with egg and dust them with sugar. (I guess the sugar is optional too, but it adds a nice touch. The egg is mandatory! You will not achieve beautiful browning otherwise!)

Bake at 425 F for about 5 minutes, then lower to 350 F and bake for an additional 7-8ish minutes. Watch carefully so that the tops don’t get too brown. If you think they might, make a little foil tent to cover them.

…and after that?

Sweet or savory, buttery and flaky…the possibilities are endless. I can’t even describe how delicious these croissants were. Hands down, honestly, these were the best things I have ever made. Ever! All of the work, all of the kneading and resting and turning and folding and resting and more resting and rolling…sooo worth it. I will definitely make this recipe again.

How can I ever look at a croissant-wich the same way again when I can make things like this?

And any day that starts with a rich pain au chocolat is bound to be a great day.

In fact, any day that involves croissants is a great day!