Sunday, December 25, 2011

Croissants

Fresh baked croissants.
This croissant was enjoyed with some Nutella.

The first time I made croissants, I think I was in high school.  It was a warm summer day, and they turned out flat and greasy.  Very disappointing.  I don’t think I tried them again until I moved to Iowa, at which point I was an adult with a Kitchen-Aid mixer and about 15 more years of baking and cooking under my belt. 
I was preparing for the Iowa State Fair food competition, and I wanted to make a cinnamon roll with croissant dough.  I must have tried during cooler weather, because they actually came out pretty good.  Not awesome, but not flat and greasy either.  I eventually won first place for a non-traditional cinnamon roll made with croissant dough, and in the process, I’ve honed my croissant-making skills.  I’ve also won ribbons for these butter croissants and chocolate croissants.  Now, they don’t seem like a tricky big deal.  They still do take a lot of time, but most of that time is time the dough is in the fridge.  Actual hands-on time doesn’t amount to much, so once you get the hang of them, they're pretty easy.  
In the process of learning to easily make croissants, I’ve discovered some things that I’ll pass along here:
1. If you’ve read other croissant recipes, you’ve probably seen the instructions about making a “butter square” that you either freeze or refrigerate and then envelope in your dough.  Somewhere along the way, I found a recipe that called for beating cool butter with a little flour and spreading it over two thirds of the rolled out dough.  I’ve found that this method works for me, as the butter square method produced nuggets of butter that created pools of butter that my croissants would fry in.  Gross.  I’m certain that there are tons of bakers out there who can successfully pull of the butter square, but I am not one of them.
2. Make sure your kitchen isn't too warm.  Wintertime is fine if your house is about 70 degrees, but in the summertime, the heat and humidity will mess with the dough.  I suggest keeping your house cold if you’re doing this during warm weather.
3.  Go the extra mile and use UNsalted butter for this recipe.  It makes a difference.
4.  The dough isn't as delicate as you'd think.  Don't be afraid of it.
5.  Make sure the butter you fold into the dough isn't too soft and that your dough is cold.  It keeps the butter from breaking through.
6.  A couple of handy tools are a quilting ruler (not sure of the official name, but it's big and plastic) a pizza cutter, and a clean, dry pastry brush to brush off excess flour.
7.  You can prepare the dough, and even shape the croissants, the night before you want to bake them.  The dough and/or the shaped croissants can do a slow rise in the fridge over night.  If you’ve shaped the croissants the night before, pull them out of the fridge while the oven preheats for 30-40 minutes.


Croissants
Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups milk, cold
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, but not hard
  • 1 T unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg plus 1 tsp water, beaten
Instructions
1.  Whisk 3 cups flour together with the yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.  Place the milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and kneed at low speed until a ball of dough forms.  Cut the 2 T butter into small pieces and add to the dough.  Continue to knead until the butter becomes fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, begins to form a ball, and clears the sides of the bowl.  Add up to ¼ cup more flour, one tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky.  Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.
2. Place the 2 ½ sticks of butter and 1 T flour into the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat until butter is uniformly smooth and creamy. 
3. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface.  Roll dough into 10 x 14-inch rectangle.  Spread butter evenly over the bottom 2/3 of the rectangle.  Fold unbuttered third onto the middle third.  Dust off any excess flour with a clean, dry pastry brush.  Then fold that onto the bottom third.  Seal edges with side of your hand.
4. Gently roll the dough into about a 7 x 12-inch rectangle, and fold into thirds again.  Roll out again into a 10 x 14 inch rectangle.  Make sure that the butter doesn’t break through.  IF it does, sprinkle with flour.  Fold into thirds so you have a long rectangle.  Fold once more so you have a chubby square or rectangle.  Wrap loosely in wax paper or plastic wrap and place in an unsealed gallon size zip top bag.  Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
6. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place chilled dough on a floured surface and gently roll dough into a 20-inch square.  Using a pizza cutter and ruler, cut the dough into two equal rectangles.  Cut each rectangle into thirds widthwise and then into triangles to make a total of 12 triangles.
7.  Form each croissant by taking a triangle , hold the base in one hand, and the tip in another.  Gently stretch into an isosceles triangle with two sides equal in length.  With the base closest to you, cut a 1-inch slit into the center of the base of each triangle.  Fold the two sides of the slit outward and then with both ands, roll the triangle from the base, gently stretching the dough as you roll, leaving ¼ inch of the tip unrolled.  Transfer the croissants to the prepared baking sheets, facing the croissant tips downward.  Bring the ends of the croissants toward each other to form a crescent shape. Cover the croissants loosely with plastic wrap.  Let them rise at room temperature until puffy, about 45-60 minutes.  (They will not double in size.)
8.  Preheat the oven to 400°F.  When croissants are done rising, place one baking sheet in the refrigerator while you bake the first one.  Brush the croissants with the beaten egg.  Bake until croissants are golden brown, 18-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through baking.  Cool the croissants on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.


The croissant on the left was cut from a long strip of dough,
creating isosceles triangles (see below),
and the one on the right was cut from a rectangle
that was cut into two triangles.

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