Croissants

Buttery, flaky croissants. Wow. These are every bit as incredible as I hoped they would be. These were the Daring Bakers challenge in January 2007, which was about six months before I joined. I have been wanting to go back and attempt the challenges that I missed as well as the ones that were difficult for me (I think I’ll be appending all of these to my current “My 100” list), so when Erin asked if I’d be interested in making these croissants with her I jumped at the opportunity. It was also great timing because I knew that my grandparents were coming to visit and I had already planned on making chicken salad, and what better to eat chicken salad on than a croissant?

These are definitely not something that you can just whip up without some substantial planning ahead. There are a few places in the recipe where the dough can be refrigerated for a long period of time and I took advantage of this so as not to overload myself while I prepped the rest of the food for our lunch. I started the preferment on Thursday evening and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight, then worked on mixing and laminating the dough on Friday, and after another rest in the freezer/refrigerator, I shaped, proofed, and baked the croissants on Saturday morning.

I didn’t run into any issues while working on these, and I was really happy with how they turned out. This was only my second time working with laminated dough (the first was the Danish challenge for DB back in June). I suppose I could have been a bit more liberal with the application of the egg wash on top of the croissants, but all in all I couldn’t be happier with the result. One note – these are HUGE. Like, insanely big. My mom called them “colossal”. I baked 8 croissants on a 13×18 pan and they were all touching by the time they came out of the oven. We’ll just refer to that as the gourmet/bakery look ;-)

Croissants

Yield: 8 croissants

Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (active) 17 hours (inactive)

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 2 to 3 days

Ingredients:

Preferment:
¾ cup non-fat milk (6 oz/150 ml)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (15ml)
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (6 ¼ oz/175g)

Dough:
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (20ml)
1¾ cup whole milk (14 oz/425 ml)
6 cups all purpose flour (28 oz/800g)
1/3 cup sugar (2½ oz/70g)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt (20 ml)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (15ml)

Roll-in butter:
2¾ cup unsalted butter (22 oz/625g)

Egg wash:
4 large egg yolks (2 oz/60 ml)
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch salt

Directions:

1. To Make the Preferment: In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

2. To Make the Dough: First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated.

3. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next.

4. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough, which will result in a tough croissant that also turns stale more quickly. Remember, too, you will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing you do to achieve that goal, the better. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1-½ hours.

5. Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours.

6. To Make the Roll-in butter: About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough, put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not resolidify.

7. Laminating the dough: Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal in the plaque.

8. Second turn: Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1 ½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or "turn".

9. Third turn: Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

10. Making the croissant: When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef's knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.

11. Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges.

12. As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced, on the prepared half-sheet pan. When all the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F. A bit cooler or warmer is all right, as long as the temperature is not warm enough to melt the layers of butter in the dough, which would yield greasy pastries. Cooler is preferable and will increase the rising time and with it the flavor development. For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.

13. During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly "firm" and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.

14. About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.

15. Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.

16. Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving.

(Source: Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)