When Hannah emailed to ask if I wanted to take on this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, I accepted without much hesitation. I have had very few baking fails in the past. Not to mention, I had totally rocked making my very own pie crust a little under a month ago. So basically I was an invincible baker. Croissants? No big deal. Not even a little deal.
But here’s something about croissants you may already know (that I didn’t): they take A LOT of time. And patience. And attention to detail. These are things I did not give myself and do not generally have (unless you’re my potential employers reading this. In which case, I am the most well-organized, patient, detailed potential employee you will EVER meet).
So, I’m gonna be upfront. This was kinda a fail.
Hannah has found it in her heart to forgive me for my failure (and my destruction of her perfect DB record). I hope you can too.
Best thing about this? You can learn from my mistakes. I can tell you everything NOT to do.
Okay, so when I got this challenge, I put it off. I’m a procrastinator (we’re learning about each other everyday!!).
First lesson: you need about two days to pull off successful croissants.
First failure: I gave myself about 14 hours. Not setting myself up for success here. I’m gonna go ahead and blame school and the job search. Definitely not my fault!
Second lesson: Don’t cut the chilling/resting time in half. This might lead to flat, messy croissants.
Second failure: I thought I could speed up the process by halving these times. DON’T DO IT. Unless you’re cool with croissant-like flatbread.
Third lesson: Generously flour your rolling surface. Especially at the last turn.
Third failure: This one wasn’t so bad, because a dough cutter makes it easy to pry this up off the counter. But just make it easy for yourself.
Anyway, all of this talk of failure doesn’t mean that these aren’t delicious. I mean, it’s carbs plus an entire POUND of butter. Seriously. They’re good. They have lots of thin layers. They’re just not proper croissants.
Lesson learned. Onward and upward. Can’t always be perfect. I just hope we can still be friends.
Julia Child’s Croissants (gotta go all out, you know)
Makes about 20 croissant (flatbreads)
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons active yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup (plus a few more tablespoons if needed) whole milk
For Butter Layer:
4 1/2 sticks (yep) cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
- Dough: Add flour, sugar, yeast, salt to a large mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer, you want to use the hook attachment. If you’re a starving grad student, my suggestion is using a wooden spoon. Add the milk and mix until incorporated. If there is still flour on the bottom of the bowl, add more milk until a soft, moist dough forms. This usually takes about 1-2 minutes. If you’re hand mixing, it might take a bit longer, as arms get tired and machines don’t.
- If using a mixer, set the mixer to its highest setting, and mix the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about four minutes. Some recipes I saw said to wait til it was the consistency of butter. I don’t know what this means. This could have been my first sign of trouble. If using your hands, knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic. This took me 6-7 minutes.
- Remove the dough. Wrap it in plastic wrap, making sure to cover the entire surface and to leave a little excess wrap. Even though you’re chilling the dough, it will still expand, and you want it to expand into the plastic wrap, not the open air. Otherwise you’ll probably get a drier layer on the outside of the dough which is not what you want. Keep the dough at room temp for about 30 minutes to let the gluten chill out. Then, let the dough chill overnight, at least 8 hours.
- Butter layer: While the dough is chilling out, make your butter layer. Take 4 1/2 sticks of cold butter, add the flour, and beat until smooth and the same consistency as the croissant dough (what!?! again, another sign of danger for me). Recipes suggest about two minutes for this process. You basically just want the butter to be an even consistency, without lumps etc. Scrape the butter into a large piece of plastic wrap, form it into a 5-6 inch long rectangle about 1 inch thick. Pay attention to the measurements here; they are extremely helpful. Refrigerate the butter until you need it.
- After the dough has chilled for 8 hours, place it on a generously floured surface. Sprinkle top of dough with flour as well. Roll out into oval/rectangle about 17 inches long and 10 inches wide. Place the butter in the center of the dough. Fold dough over so that you have a nice little envelope of butter. Now, take out some aggression with your rolling pin. Hold one side of the dough with your hand and hit the other side to distribute the butter. Keep hitting the dough to distribute the butter evenly into all the crevices. You want to end up with a 1 inch thick, 14×6 rectangle. Place on lightly floured cookie sheet, cover well with plastic wrap, and chill for at least two hours.
- Take dough from fridge onto a generously floured surface. Roll evenly into a 24-26 inch long, 14 inch wide rectangle. Fold the dough in thirds like a business letter (right side to middle, then left side to end). Make sure to brush excess flour off of the dough when you turn it. Don’t want that getting stuck in your dough layers. Place on lightly floured cookie sheets, cover well with plastic wrap, and chill for at least two hours.
- Repeat step 6 one more time, chill for at least two hours.
- Now comes the “infamous double turn.” Take the dough from the fridge and roll it into the same proportions again. Now instead of folding the dough into the center and then over itself, first fold the right side into the center. Then fold the left side into the center, leaving a little space between the two. Then fold the left layers over the right like you’re closing a book or a wallet. (I should have taken more pictures. I apologize for not having illustrations of these). Then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.
- Now you’re ready to roll the dough out a final time, cut it, and shape it into croissants! Place the dough on a generously floured surface. Cut the dough in half so you have two 6 inch-ish squares. Wrap one half and place it back in the refrigerator. Working with too warm croissant dough is not fun. Now, roll out your remaining square into a 24-26 inch long, 15-18 inch wide rectangle. Fold the dough in half, from top to bottom. Again, remember to brush off excess flour.
- It’s finally time to cut the dough into triangles! Starting from the left, cut diagonally, giving each triangle about a 4 inch base. Keep with the pattern until you’re left with a too-small scrap of dough at the end. Unfold each triangle and cut at middle into two triangles. You should have 10 or 12 depending on how large you cut your triangles.
- Moisten your hands on a wet towel, and pick your first triangle. Stretch (but do not tear!) the base and then lengthen the tip of your triangle as well. With the leftover scrap of dough, tear off a small piece, shape into a football and place on the base of the triangle. Now, roll from the base to the tip. You wanna make sure your roll these tightly. Otherwise they might just turn into a crazy mess (guilty!). Place on a cookie sheet, shaping into a crescent if desired. You will want to use a cookie sheet with sides if possible because these will release a lot of melted butter during the baking process.
- Repeat with all triangles. Then with the other square of dough. As you place more croissants onto the cookie sheet, make sure you’re giving them enough room to triple in size. This means giving them A LOT more room than you think. Otherwise they might just turn into a crazy mess (guilty!).
- Now, brush with eggwash. Then place the cookie sheet(s) into the oven with a pot of boiling water to proof for three hours.
- After three hours, take the croissants out of the oven (and water). Turn it on to 350°F. Once the oven has reached temperature, place them back into the oven, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check them around 10 to see if they’re evenly cooking. If not, switch the position of the baking sheets and bake for another 5-7 minutes, or until they are deeply golden brown.
- Remove from oven and give time to cool. Eating these warm will probably not be satisfactory because they need some time to set.
If you read my directions and are confused about steps, watch these videos:
They are Julia Child and Esther McManus walking through the entire process in about 20 minutes. I found them helpful! Though I think I was beyond help at the point when I started watching them.
Anyway, despite my inability to make these happen, they were challenging and kinda fun when I wasn’t cursing myself for waiting so long to get started. I will attempt these again. Maybe when I’m not in school. And have learned how to wait a little bit more successfully.
Until next time, bake with love!!