How to bake the perfect croissant

Published 11 Feb, 2022 10:41am

Making this buttery, flaky pastry from scratch isn't easy but it's well worth the effort.

Photo by Stephan Andrew / Freshly baked croissants
Photo by Stephan Andrew / Freshly baked croissants

If you want to kick off the year with a baking challenge or perhaps surprise your spouse or significant other on Valentine’s Day, making your own croissants is a great way to go.

Most people shy away from making these buttery and flaky pastries at home, and with good reason — because this is not an uncomplicated bake. If you plan ahead, read the instructions carefully, and follow them to a T, however, it is totally doable. You will actually be surprised at what you are able to achieve.

Croissants are a pastry of Austrian origin but are most commonly associated with France. Making them involves preparing a yeasted dough, and then proofing it twice (once at room temperature and then overnight in the fridge) to give it a nice depth of flavour.

This is the easy part and should be done on the first day. The next step (done the next day) is laminating the dough, which essentially means encasing a large slab of butter (called a butter packet) inside the dough and then rolling and folding it (these folds are also called ‘turns’) to get all those wonderful flaky layers.

It takes a bit of work and planning to make homemade croissants from scratch, but the results can be well worth the effort

Three factors are important in achieving croissant greatness:

  1. Good quality butter — use the best quality that you can afford and your croissants will be delicious.

  2. Temperature — croissant dough should be kept cold every step of the way, so that the butter encased in the dough doesn’t melt away. Either make your croissants on a cold day or work in an air-conditioned room.

  3. Technique — good lamination technique (explained below) makes the difference between good and great croissants. This comes with practice so, if your first attempt isn’t perfect, try again!

Ingredients

500g flour
50g caster sugar
10g salt
250g water (heated to 35-40°C)
12g instant yeast
100g soft butter
250g butter (for the butter packet)

Method

Put the flour, caster sugar, salt, water and yeast into the bowl or an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix on medium speed for 3-4 minutes until it comes together like a shaggy mess. Add the 100g of soft butter and mix on full speed for 5 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

The dough should also pass the ‘windowpane test’ — this means that if you take a small piece of dough and stretch it out, you should be able to see the light through it without the dough tearing (if it tears, continue kneading until it doesn’t).

Fold the dough under itself to create a smooth ball and leave in a bowl in a warm place until it triples in size. Depending on the weather, this will take between 2 to 2 ½ hours. Punch the dough down and fold it into a rectangle, wrap it loosely in cling film, and store in the fridge overnight.

You can also prepare your butter packet for the next day. To do this, use a thick marker to draw a 20x18 cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper, turn the paper over and put the 250g of butter on it. Put another piece of paper over it and use a rolling pin to roll and shape the butter to the size of the drawn square. Store this in the fridge overnight.

The next day, remove the butter packet from the fridge at least 20 minutes before you want to use it, so that the consistency of the dough, and the butter is about the same. Roll the dough out to a rectangle which is approximately double the size of the butter packet. Put the butter in the centre of the dough, trim the two side pieces and place them on top of the butter so that all the sides of dough are flush with the butter like a perfect sandwich.

Roll the dough to a length of 60 cm lengthwise. Working in the landscape position, you will make the first fold (or turn). Fold 1/3 of the dough from one side to the centre, and then 2/3 of the dough from the other side so that both sides meet. Flatten with a rolling pin and then fold the dough from left to right like a book. This is the first turn.

At this point, if you find that the butter is starting to melt a bit, you can refrigerate the dough for 40 minutes. Otherwise, you can perform the second turn. Roll the dough in 60cm widthwise, and then working in landscape, turn half the dough from one side to the centre, and then the other half from the other side on top of it.

Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. Take it out of the fridge 5 minutes before rolling and roll it to a thickness of 4mm into a 50x35cm rectangle. Trim off all sides to get a straight edge, and then cut out triangles for croissants (10cm width on top x 30cm length). Roll each croissant from the wide to the narrow end to get the classic croissant shape, and place on oven trays, spacing them at least 4 inches apart.

Brush with some milk and leave to proof in a warmish place (between 25-27°C) for at least 2 hours. When they are ready, the croissants will be bigger, the layers will be visibly separate, and they will wobble nicely.

Heat your oven to 180, brush the croissants with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes until they are golden brown, and your kitchen smells heavenly. Cool slightly on a wire rack and devour them while they are still warm.

The writer is a professional pastry chef and holds a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu.

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, February 6th, 2022