Daring Baker Challenge September 2011: Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Before you read any further, you must watch this. Really. Take 29 minutes, and really enjoy it. I sat for a rare half hour and watched it, smiling the whole while. Not much more could entice you to give croissants a whirl for yourself, after watching it yesterday I certainly felt well equipped to tackle these pastries.

I have never made croissants before, but thanks to the Daring Bakers, I have made one other laminated dough: puff pastry. Other than being extremely fun to say, laminated doughs are fun to work with - enormous rewards coming not from intense labor, but from a fair amount of anticipation. Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking is, according to our host (and her copy of Larousse Culinary Encyclopedia), technically more Viennese than French, but wherever it hails from, it is absolutely perfect.

I started my batch of croissants yesterday around 11 a.m., and by 9 o'clock this morning, I was enjoying the first fruits of my patience. The yeast dough is incredibly active for only containing 1 1/4 t. of active dry yeast, twice it forced it's way through the plastic wrap when it was under refrigeration. The first 3 rises happen without the butter, then the flattened butter is made malleable with a mallet and rolled out encased in the soft. This was the first time I used a small rectangle of my Mom's countertop as a substitute for a marble slab. (It was leftover from her kitchen renovation, and I have had it for quite a few years now just taking up space really...) I wished it were larger so I could have rolled directly on it instead of on my maple board, it keeps it's coolness well, and aids in keeping the butter cool too. If I can ever build a dream kitchen, I will include a marble slab for rolling pastries.

The best thing about the Julia Child video above is her descriptions of her rolling pins. The rolling pin I have is the pin she describes as useless, the one she doesn't know why she keeps at all. It's about 7 inches long, and I don't even know where I got it. I've had it so long in part because I just never bought a large pin and in part because I like that the small size works in my small counter space and fits in my small drawers. This challenge, however, makes me confident to invest in a new, heavier, pin. A pin with some heft would have helped me have an easier go of rolling out this dough to be sure.

prior to rising.

There are many points during the making of these croissants that you can pause the process until you have time to get to it. I'd suggest making them on a day that you'll be home, then holding them overnight until you can bake them for breakfast, since the final roll and rise takes just over an hour. I loved that there were more than 50 steps to this process - so I have included them here. You can also find a printable version of this recipe here. It really reads more complicated than it is.

Croissants (Julia Child via the Daring Kitchen)
  • 1¼ t. dry-active yeast
  • 3 T. (45 ml) warm water (less than 100°F/38°C)
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 3/4 c. (225 g.) of strong plain flour (bread flour)
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 1½ t. salt
  • ½ c. milk
  • 2 T. tasteless oil (I used grapeseed oil)
  • ½ c. (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, for egg was

1. Mix the yeast, warm water, and first teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.
2. Measure out the other ingredients
3. Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar
4. Place the flour in a large bowl.
5. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour
6. Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated
7. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl
8. Knead the dough eight to ten times only. The best way is as Julia Child does it in the video (above). It’s a little difficult to explain, but essentially involves smacking the dough on the counter (lots of fun if you are mad at someone) and removing it from the counter using the pastry scraper.
9. Place the dough back in the bowl, and place the bowl in the plastic bag.
10. Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F/24°C for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.

11. After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips.
12. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop, and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches (20cm by 30cm).
13. Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up)
14. Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and the bowl back in the plastic bag.
15. Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge

16. Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter.
17. Once the dough has doubled, it’s time to incorporate the butter
18. Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board.
19. Using the rolling pin, beat the butter down a little, till it is quite flat.
20. Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth. You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.

21. Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two.
22. Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
23. Remove the butter from the board, and place it on the top half of the dough rectangle.
24. Spread the butter all across the top two-thirds of the dough rectangle, but keep it ¼ inch (6 mm) across from all the edges.

25. Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third of the dough up.
26. Turn the dough package 90 degrees, so that the top flap is to your right (like a book). (Photo 19)
27. Roll out the dough package (gently, so you don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
28. Again, fold the top third down and the bottom third up.
29. Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 2 hours.

30. After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter.
31. Tap the dough with the rolling pin, to deflate it a little
32. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes
33. Roll the dough package out till it is 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
34. Fold in three, as before
35. Turn 90 degrees, and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
36. Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic, and return the dough package to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising)

37. It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants
38. First, lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready
39. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter
40. Roll the dough out into a 20 by 5 inch rectangle (51 cm by 12½ cm).
41. Cut the dough into two rectangles (each 10 by 5 inches (25½ cm by 12½ cm))
42. Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold
43. Roll the second rectangle out until it is 15 by 5 inches (38 cm by 12½ cm).
44. Cut the rectangle into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches (12½ cm by 12½ cm))
45. Place two of the squares in the fridge
46. The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime. Roll it out again till it is nearly square
47. Cut the square diagonally into two triangles.
48. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles.
49. Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.
50. Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet
51. Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, creating 12 croissants in total.
52. Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 1 hour

53. Preheat the oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
54. Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water
55. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants.
56. Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are browned nicely
57. Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

These smelled delicious as they baked, were feather-light and buttery, crispy and flaky: perfect croissants. After they cooled ten minutes, I ate only one. To mark this occasion, I opened the first of the Summer preserves, choosing the Limey Rum Cherry Preserves to eat with such a powerhouse of a pastry. It seemed French enough to me!