Tackling croissants at home

Croissants
Croissants

I love all things that come out of an oven. But, I have a thing for bread that makes me feel alive every time I watch them bloom. If there is anything that comes close to that feeling, it has got to be laminating pastry.

I still remember the first day I tackled croissants at home and even though they weren’t perfect, I felt truly accomplished. I had little to NO knowledge about pastry or bread whatsoever and boy! I never thought I’d do it for a living, just a year later. Life never stops surprising me !

Croissants
My first attempt 4 years ago

Quitting my job and getting myself enrolled in the pastry school was the boldest decision I took in my life. But it paid off at the end, in 10 folds. After three years of dedication, pastry school and two very satisfying jobs, I have no regrets.

Making french pastry was particularly one of my favorite jobs. I was lucky to have gotten the chance to work along-side passionate and skillful people. I learnt countless things and mastered certain techniques to the point that I could almost do them with my eyes closed.

The most important lesson I learnt, is that following a recipe is one thing and knowing what you do is another. So if anyone out there attempting to make croissants or any laminated dough at home, I hope, these tips would help in some way.

Croissants
Croissants

Choosing butter:
The flavor of the croissants depends heavily on the butter being used. The better the butter, the tastier the pastry. So use a good quality butter.

Making the butter slab:
Decide which recipe you are going to follow. Measure the amount of butter. If you are using salted butter, leave the salt out! Some recipes call for flour, some don’t. This is up to you. In the winter, I’d leave the flour out. Let butter sit in room temperature for about 5-10 minutes so it is workable. If butter has gone too soft, place it back in fridge until desired texture is achieved. It’s important that the butter stays cool to tough all the while you work with it! Use a mixer if you are incorporating flour. Bring all the butter to a single pile (if you are using several sticks). Place the butter between two plastic sheets and flatten to achieve the square shape and 1/8th of an inch thickness. place back in fridge to set.

yeast:
You can use either fresh yeast, if you can find that or instant yeast. The conversion ratio of fresh to dry/active is 2:1 . Make sure the yeast is not expired and had been stored under correct conditions. These factors matter a lot towards getting the perfect rise to the dough. Test the yeast if you are not sure by doing the following test; Take half a cup of water and dissolve a pinch of sugar. Then mix in the yeast (measured amount) and let sit in a warm, draft free place for about 10 – 15 minutes. You will see bubbles and form, if the yeast is activated. You can use this as is but reduce the amount of water in the recipe.

Making the dough:
The ideal dough should be pliable. Mix the ingredients on slow speed until everything comes together and if the dough is too tough, add some water. Mix for a couple of minutes or knead by hand. The dough should not have any lumps and it should be even, smooth and got a bit of elasticity. make sure it is soft enough, to roll by hand. If it is too soft, butter will try slide and not spread evenly. So it is important to get this right at this stage. Let the dough rest in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will do three things;
– relax gluten so it will be easier to roll out without shrinking back
– harden the dough so it is easier to handle
– cools the dough so butter won’t melt away

Lamination:
Wrapping the butter in the dough is the first step. First let the butter slab softens bit. The butter and the dough should have the same softness to start rolling. Find a method that you like, to laminate. There are several articles on-line, so I will skip explaining different methods. What is important is keeping track of the folds you did. Make an indent in the dough itself or write it down as you go. Always remember to make sure the dough remains cool. So what I do is, place it in the fridge as often and as long as it is needed. some times I chill the dough in between two turns of the same fold. Because, we use rolling pins at home and the rolling is harder and takes time, so the dough tend to get warmer and butter would start to melt. Usually on a warm day, it takes several hours for me to do 2 book folds. Once the lamination is done, chill the dough for an extended period of time before rolling out to cut shapes.

Rolling out and cutting:
While rolling out, if you feel it is shrinking back, place the half rolled dough in the fridge and roll out again in 15 minutes. If the dough is too big, cut the dough in half and roll out each half separately. Apply even pressure when rolling out, do not try to force the dough to stretch. The final dough sheet should be about half a centimeter thick. This is again up to you, the rule is;
– too thin, croissant will be skinnier
– too thick, croissant will expand unevenly and interior may not be cooked, and it is harder to roll.
when cutting:
Use a cardboard mold to cut out even rectangular shapes. Or use a ruler and eyeball the shape.
Try shaping one croissant before moving on to cutting the rest.

Storing:
Once the croissants are shaped, you can freeze these. Spread out the raw croissants on a tray and place in the freezer for about an hour to harden them. Then you can pack them closer, and wrap with plastic. Make sure they are air tight or else the croissants will get freezer burnt!

Croissants
packed to be frozen

proofing:
When you want to bake the frozen ones; take the croissants out of the freezer and place on a lined tray and bring them to room temperature.
Make sure to leave enough room to croissants to grow.
Then these need to proof. There are a couple of ways to do this;
– cover with plastic and leave on the bench top. This might take a longer time, depending on the room temperature
– place in a closed environment(oven, microwave oven, plastic tub) with a cup of boiling water. This is the fastest way.

Croissants
Size difference when proofed

baking:
When they are doubled in size, they are ready. They will be wobbly and very fragile. Do not try to handle them at this point.
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Make an egg wash, with two egg yolks and a teaspoon of water.
Gently brush the croissants with light layer of egg wash using a soft pastry brush.
Do not let egg wash drip to the sides. These will burn in the oven.
Even application of egg wash gives even color.
Place the croissants in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes and reduce temperature to 180 C and bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes or until golden brown in color.
If the croissants are stuck together or touching the sides, you can separate them and turn them at the half-way mark. (when you bring the temperature down). This will ensure even cooking and coloring.

Once done, cool on a wire rack and serve.

Croissants
a light and even egg wash

If you have left over croissants, they can be used in many ways. Wrap them in plastic and leave at room temperature for up to a day or refrigerate to keep for up to a week.

  • Reheat in the oven for 5 minutes to freshen up and server with a spread
  • use them to make ham and cheese toasties
  • make almond croissants
  • make bread and butter pudding. (simply replace bread with croissants)

If you want to keep them for longer, place in a airtight container and freeze up to several weeks.

almond croissants
Almond croissants

My favorite is almond croissants. For this you need some custard, almond cream, a bit of sugar syrup(optional) and almond flakes. Here is how to make them;

  • Preheat oven to 180 C.
  • Move the oven rack one position above the center. This prevents the bottom from burning while the top bakes.
  • If frozen, bring croissants to room temperature.
  • Split open the stale croissant in half , length wise.
  • Brush with a little sugar syrup. (sugar syrup:1 part water to 1 part sugar and bring to boil and let cool)
  • Fill the center with a generous amount of custard.
  • Sandwich the two halves.
  • Spread a thin layer of almond cream on top and roll over almond flakes.
  • Place on a baking tray. (use two trays or line with two layers of baking paper to stop bottom from catching/burning)
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, until almond cream and flakes show color.
  • Cool on a wire rack before serving.

And there you go!

If you have got any more leftovers, freeze them and turn them in to ‘pudding’. Use any bread and butter pudding and replace the bread with croissants. I usually split the croissants in half, length wise and count one half to be a slice of bread.

bread and butter pudding with croissants
‘Bread and butter pudding’ with croissants

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