Croissants, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the laminated dough

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What do the numbers 27, 81, 243 and 2187 have in common? They are all factors of 3, and are the number of layers in laminated dough pastries.

So Pastry Joe tells me on his excellent blog all about baking and pastries:

“A folded flaky pastry for say, a galette, can have as few as 27 layers. Croissants often have 81, Danish 243, and puff pastry can have as many as 2187 (though I prefer the less flaky version of 729).”

According to Mr Google, the croissant is a relatively modern French take on an Austrian yeasted roll, the kipferl. The kipferl is made of yeast dough, without the laminated layers. Somewhere along the way, a Viennese person introduced the kipferl to Paris, and the Parisien pastry chefs turned it into the many-layered buttery fantasy we know today. Quel genius!

Genius or not, croissant is a word that strikes terror into the heart of many a home baker. All those layers, all that kneading and folding, all that butter. Will my croissant look like the ones in the bakery, should I give up and just buy one from the bakery? Will my thighs look big in this?? (to the last question, yes, probably)

I have been bookmarking croissant recipes for a few months, but never had the time courage to take the plunge. When someone in the TWD group suggested croissants as our next project, I seconded that vote. Panicked. And re-read all the croissant tutorial I had bookmarked.

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After reading (and re-reading) the tutorials, I finally gave it a go…..on one of the hottest and most humid days we have had all summer.

It was very nearly a disaster. The moment I took the dough out of the fridge, it warmed up and became floppy – gloopy even – in the wet blanket-like heat of our kitchen. The butter liquefied. But, miraculously, the croissants came together and looked kinda like real croissants. The texture and taste, on the other hand, weren’t quite croissant-like. I felt there were higher levels of croissant-greatness that I could aspire to.

I tried again this weekend.

The results were better. Not perfect, but better.

The croissants browned well in the oven, and maintained the crescent shape. The pastry crust was crisp, and shatters when we bite into it. The insides were pillowy soft when fresh from the oven, and had the layered effect. It wasn’t the kind of honeycomb that other home bakers have achieved, but you could see the hint of honeycomb.

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I added little bits of marzipan and chocolate in the centre of each croissant. And that’s how we had marzipan-choc pastries for dessert on Sunday evening, and for breakfast on Monday morning. Mmm dessert for breakfast.

The how of croissants

The basic idea behind croissant dough is to enclose a slab of butter in a piece of yeast dough, roll this out, and fold it repeatedly while keeping the dough and butter cool.

After a few folds, the dough will consist of very thin alternating layers of dough and butter. This dough is rolled into a croissant shape or other shapes. When they are baked, (I think) the water in the butter becomes steam and separates the layers of dough, creating a puff pastry or ideally a honeycomb effect.

A croissant is that tasty, yet slightly scary, juncture of science and art.

The rest of the post highlights some things I have learned about making croissants, and questions that will need further investigation. Links to the recipe and three croissant tutorials are at the end of the post.

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Don’t fear the laminated dough, or, croissant making tips

The dough

Flour is important. Some recipes only ask for bread flour, others (like Sarabeth’s recipe) use a blend of cake and bread flour. I compromised and used pasta flour instead. I think the idea is to get a dough that rolls easily, but has enough gluten strength to form those layers (or ideally a beautiful honeycomb).

Aim for a slightly wetter dough to start with, but not too wet. The dough should be slightly harder out of the fridge, and all that rolling and folding will develop gluten. You don’t want the dough too soft.

Give the dough a chance to relax and develop gluten. A stronger dough will hold its puffed dome shape when baking.

Butter slab

If butter is seeping through the dough or smearing on the counter, it is too soft – refrigerate some more. If it is too cold, it will be brittle. You want the butter to roll with the dough, not shatter and break the dough.

Use the right type of butter, or add flour. A number of recipes ask for cultured European style butter, like Lurpak, which has a higher butterfat ratio. The butter that we find in Australian supermarkets have a higher water ratio, and can ‘weep’ moisture when the dough is kept in the fridge for more than 30 minutes. The solution is mixing a bit of flour into the butter to absorb some of the extra moisture.

I was lucky enough to find organic butter which had a higher ratio of butterfat. But I added flour to the butter anyway, just to be safe.

Folding

Fold the dough in a different direction each time by keeping the open seam facing towards you. I think this ensures gluten develops evenly.

Ensure the butter slab is at the same temperature as the dough when you wrap the butter slab in the dough. Keeping everything cold ensures the butter and dough layers do not melt into each other.

Shaping and proofing

Cut the dough into triangles, and stretch the triangle by hand so they are Eiffel Tower-shaped (this was a great tip from the TWD group).

Some recipes (like Joe Pastry’s) suggest making a small cut at the base of the triangle. This gives you a wider base when you are rolling the triangle, and makes it easier to create a crescent shape.

Proof for a sufficient time. The croissants should be very puffy. If the edge of the croissant dough is puffy, it will help to stop the butter leaking onto the pan. At this point, handle proofed croissants carefully, with a velvet glove rather than an iron fist.

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Still learning, or, questions

Speed? Others do it by proofing the dough slowly in the fridge. Others ask you to freeze the dough for at least 24 hours and defrost it.

Milk? Croissant recipes use milk, or half and half, or milk and water in the dough. I’ve read that milk or half and half masked the dough softer, and water makes a crispier pastry crust.

Butter slab? Some tutorials say to break up the butter and bash it into shape. Others say to keep the butter in one piece and bash it into shape. Baking with Julia’s recipe, on the other hand, says to beat the butter and flour together in a mixer.

I bashed a whole piece of butter until the flour was more or less mixed. This seemed to be easier and did not require washing up the mixer afterwards.

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Loving the laminated dough? Verdict, recipe and other links

This is not a 10 minute cookie, but patience brings its own reward, in this case golden, buttery Viennese pastries that will impress all of your friends, neighbours and colleagues. I’m already wondering if I will have time to make croissants for a work function this week – or if I shouldn’t push my luck too far, and should stay with something safe, like a jam tart.

The recipe is available at Food + Girl = Love.

To see what other TWD bakers have done, go here.

Three tutorials that I found helpful are at Iron Whisk, Joe Pastry, and Sarabeth’s recipe published on Leites Culinaria.

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38 thoughts on “Croissants, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the laminated dough

  1. arzainal 6 March 2013 at 12:07 am Reply

    Reblogged this on ARZcreation.com.

  2. Sharon 6 March 2013 at 2:59 am Reply

    Yours look amazing!

    • saucygander 6 March 2013 at 10:49 pm Reply

      Thanks! I still can’t believe I pulled this off!

  3. breaddivas 6 March 2013 at 6:55 am Reply

    Thanks for all the croissant making tips and links to tutorials. Your croissants turned out beautifully!

    • saucygander 6 March 2013 at 10:51 pm Reply

      Can you tell how terrified I was, by the number of tutorials I looked up? 🙂

  4. oven chaos 6 March 2013 at 7:51 am Reply

    OMG – Loving the colors and the layers! Thanks for the tutorial links. Did you make any changes/substitutions to the ingredients in the recipe?

    • saucygander 6 March 2013 at 10:54 pm Reply

      Glad you liked the pictures!

      I used pasta flour rather than AP, as,I thought it had a little more gluten, but not enough to become bread-like. I think I also used a little less butter by accident because I ran out…

  5. sharron - one clever mom 6 March 2013 at 8:13 am Reply

    Mmmm. Yours look delicious! They turned out beautifully!

  6. Amanda 6 March 2013 at 11:09 am Reply

    These look absolutely beautiful! Great tips too!

  7. SandraM 6 March 2013 at 12:44 pm Reply

    Great post…very informative. And your pics are fantastic. Your croissants look so good and flaky. Well done!! 🙂

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:26 am Reply

      Thanks, still on a high – I made croissants!

  8. smarkies 6 March 2013 at 11:04 pm Reply

    Those are some great looking croissants! Thanks for all the additional information. Will help me in my next go-around with this recipe.

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:28 am Reply

      I’m sure your next round will be even better (your first round looked good too)

  9. Cher 7 March 2013 at 9:20 am Reply

    Really well done!
    Once you learn to love the laminate, a whole world of pastry is ready to be discovered. 🙂

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:29 am Reply

      So true! Apparently we still have the danish to come. Bring it on, I say.

  10. gfcelebration 7 March 2013 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Beautiful job. Love the golden color of your croissants.

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:33 am Reply

      Thanks, I was pretty generous with the egg wash to help the croissants brown more quickly

  11. Dawn 8 March 2013 at 5:48 am Reply

    sooooo beautiful!!!! Before TWD I never knew the word “laminate” was used in baking. This is such a fun project, eh? 🙂

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:35 am Reply

      I know, weird word “laminate” right? That’s why I love this group!

  12. Amy 8 March 2013 at 9:12 am Reply

    wow! beautiful job! I can’t imagine doing this in the hottest part of the summer. I think I woudl have just skipped it until the winter.
    I tried again today and mine are proofing on the counter and not in the oven as instructed. I think I have a success on my hands.

  13. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories 8 March 2013 at 9:36 am Reply

    Look how beautiful they turned out! And you did it twice!!! I see honeycombs there. Just saying. Absolutely gorgeous photos and I really appreciate all of the tips and links.

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 6:41 am Reply

      thank you for the kind words, hopefully this experience will prepare us for the Danish? (ick)

  14. Cathleen 8 March 2013 at 4:06 pm Reply

    What a fabulous post! Makes me want to try again ~ just tossed my dough in the garbage. Your croissants are bakery perfect – maybe even better.

    • saucygander 9 March 2013 at 7:47 am Reply

      Thanks for your kind words! Hopefully the next project will turn out well. Sometimes I sit on a failed project for a few months, and when I try again, it works perfectly – I guess that’s the mystery of baking!

  15. steph (whisk/spoon) 9 March 2013 at 2:52 am Reply

    These look perfectly formed– Please come and make me breakfast!

  16. ironwhisk 9 March 2013 at 3:56 pm Reply

    Wow these look incredible. Awesome job 🙂

  17. TheKitchenLioness 10 March 2013 at 6:26 am Reply

    Your croissants look like small masterpieces – perfectly done and beautifully photographed. Respect.

  18. Krissy 10 March 2013 at 3:55 pm Reply

    great learning experience…and I appreciate your post. Your croissants are beautiful. With all the problems yours look just perfect!

  19. Great post! I appreciate all the information and your croissants are lovely! Fun baking with you! Blessings, Catherine

  20. Cathy 4 March 2014 at 10:57 am Reply

    You have great tips! I’m planning to attempt my first croissants this weekend and, I’ll admit, I’m sweating bricks. I’ll be the one reading and re-reading your post for advice. Thanks!

    • saucygander 5 March 2014 at 11:59 pm Reply

      First time making laminated dough is *terrifying*! But look the dough in the eye and take your time, and it will work. I hope it went well?

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