When I think of French pastry, I think of croissants. Full of butter and yet light as a feather, they're best eaten fresh from the oven. They require technical accuracy and patience to make. With a bit of practice, simple ingredients, and a rolling pin, you can make croissants at home that will be better than most store-bought ones.
Croissants were originally created in Austria, but France is now their well-known adopted home. During a visit to Paris, I spent most of my time in pâtisseries, drinking a café au lait and eating croissants. After my first croissant, I'd order another. There was no judgment. Only butter. I'd watch the trays of pastries rise up from the basement through the shop floor to replenish the morning's supply. I've been trying to figure out how to get croissants to rise up from the floorboards of my own kitchen ever since.
Somebody asked me not too long ago what the first thing I ever baked was when I first really got into baking. I had never really thought about it, and then I realized I had gone straight for croissants. French pastry draws me in with its simplicity and technique. Like anything in baking, if you have a good recipe to start with, you can make most things right at home.
With no success re: croissants through floorboards, for the past eight years and more seriously over the past year, I've focused on perfecting croissants at home. I've baked dozens of batches, testing all of the different variables that affect flavour, taste, and texture. I've made sourdough croissants, croissants with absurdly expensive butter, with bread flour and all-purpose flour. I've tested different rolling techniques and proofing times.
Based on my own experience, not all Canadian butter is made equal. And I'm talking about plain ol' grocery store butter: Nielsen, Natrel, Lactantia, Gaylea. With so many butters to choose from, where do you start? Is there a difference?
When you flatten your butter, you'll know whether you've got the good stuff or the not-so-good. Flatten Nielsen, and it will shatter into a million pieces (see video). Flatten Gaylea, and you'll have the perfect butter block for lamination in no time at all. The difference is that shattered butter, even reconstituted into a nice rectangular block, will not layer as well. I am not too sure why this happens. Maybe it's due to differences in water content and butterfat. But I am a mere mortal who is totally clueless when it comes to butter processing.
If you're just beginning to make croissants, I'd highly suggest starting with Gaylea salted butter. If you don't live in Canada, you might need to experiment a bit to find the right butter. It should flatten under the bashing of a rolling pin rather than shatter.
When you're feeling more comfortable in your dough lamination skills, you can upgrade to some fancier butter with a higher butterfat content, like Stirling Creamery's 84% butter.
No croissants recipe is the same. There are various tips, tricks, and techniques that a baker picks up over time and adopts to best suit their style. This recipe works best for me. Other croissants recipes often suggest refrigerating your croissant dough between turns and folds. Others do three turns instead of my quick two-fold shortcut. If you're serious about making croissants at home, this is a great place to start. Once you feel more comfortable, you can find the right combination of techniques that works for you.
If you're ever exploring French croissants recipes in your spare time, you may come across some of the following terms. I like to use them here just to signal that there is specific terminology (!) for different elements of the baking process.
Détrempe = croissant dough before the butter block is added
Beurrage = the butter block
Paton = dough that's been laminated with the butter block
My ideal croissant
It's flaky and golden, with a lovely and light honeycomb structure on the inside. Proper dough lamination is key to croissants success. My step-by-step guide can help take you through the process. The poolish method in this recipe is a substitute for yeast and involves creating a quick fermented mix of flour, water, and yeast. Poolishes add a bit more depth of flavour than straight up dry yeast. It's essentially a pre-ferment that helps the croissant proof and rise in the oven. I swear by it.
Adapted from Jacquy Pfeiffer's The Art of French Pastry
Total active time: 45 minutes
Total time before consumption: 24 hours
Servings: 10 croissants
100g all-purpose flour
5g instant yeast
200g bread flour
38g granulated sugar
15g salted butter, room temperature
Butter block (beurrage)
150g salted butter, between 57°F and 64°F
Tools & equipment
stand mixer, optional
- Heat the water to between 120°F and 130°F. Add to a bowl.
- Add the flour and yeast to the warm water and stir to combine the ingredients until there are no dry flour bits remaining. The mixture should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.
- Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, until bubbles have appeared on the surface of the poolish and it smells fermented.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, sugar, the 15g of softened butter, egg, salt, and poolish. Start the mixer on low speed and pour in the water. The temperature of the water doesn't matter since the dough is going to sit in the fridge overnight. I like to use tepid water - neither cold nor hot.
- Once there are no dry bits of flour left, increase the mixer speed to medium and continue to mix for 15 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. You can tell whether you've worked the dough sufficiently by doing the windowpane test.
- Roll the dough into a nice, even round and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 8-12 hours or overnight.
Butter block (beurrage)
- Remove 150g of butter from the fridge. Have a bowl of flour by your side and flour your workspace. Place the butter on top of the floured surface and lightly flour the top of the butter.
- Using your rolling pin, gently tap the butter into a thin rectangle, making sure to turn your rolling pin as you tap to prevent it from sticking to the butter. Add more flour to the butter if your rolling pin begins to stick, but try not to use too much.
- When the butter is 1/3 inch thick, fold it in half and begin again. We're looking to achieve a certain butter consistency prior to folding it into the dough. We want it to fold without breaking or ripping. To achieve this, it'll take a couple of rotations of flattening and folding.
- Once the butter is more pliable, grab two sheets of parchment paper. Place the butter on one piece of parchment and cover with another piece of parchment. Tap your butter out again, this time into a 4.5 x 6 inch rectangle. Straighten the edges of the butter with a dough scraper. You can leave the butter on the counter until you're ready for it, as long as it's between 57°F and 64°F, the ideal temperature range for lamination.
Dough lamination (making the paton)
- Remove your dough from the fridge and roll it out to a 9 x 6 inch rectangle. The dough needs to be just the right height and width to cover the butter.
- Place the butter block in the middle of the dough, with the 8 inch side of the butter running parallel to the short edges of the dough.
- Fold the left side of the dough over half of the butter. Repeat on the right side. You will now have the butter block completely covered, and there will be a seam in the middle of your dough.
- Gently tap the seam closed with your rolling pin. Begin rolling out from the middle of the dough towards the short edges.
- Roll the dough out into a rectangle of 20 x 8 inches.
- Now it's time for your first fold! If your short edges are uneven, trim them now. They need to be nice and straight to ensure proper lamination. This first fold is called a tourne double and shortens the lamination process without compromising on the number of layers. Basically this kind of turn allows us to do two folds in one!
- Fold the short edge of the left side of the dough 1/4 of the way into the centre. Take the short right side of the dough and bring that edge to meet the left edge. Make sure the edges are touching and that there are no gaps.
- Now fold the dough in half, taking the short right side and folding it on top of the left.
- Rotate the dough so that the book opening is on your right. This was your first two folds!
- Roll the dough out as before to a 20 x 8 inch rectangle. With the book opening still on your right, take the left side of the dough and fold it to the middle of the dough. Take the right side and fold it over top of the left. This is your third and final turn.
- Roll the dough out once more, this time to a large and thinner 20 x 7 inch rectangle.
- Refrigerate on a baking tray for 1 hour.
Shaping the croissants
- Place the dough on a clean, unfloured surface. Trim any uneven edges.
- I cut my croissants out one at a time. I like the top edge to be 3 inches wide and the length to be 7 inches long. To cut them out, measure 1.5 inches along the bottom long edge and mark the spot. Along the top, measure and mark the 3 inch spot. Using a ruler, cut downwards from your 3 inch mark towards the 1.5 inch spot and back up to the top left edge of the dough. You have your first triangle.
- To shape, gently pull down on the triangle to stretch it out slightly.
- With the 3 inch top furthest away from you, gently roll the triangle base towards you, keeping the edges straight.
- Place the formed croissant on a baking sheet. Continue cutting and shaping the other croissants.
- Crack an egg into a small bowl and whisk. Sieve the whisked egg into another bowl.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the sieved egg over your croissants.
- To proof the croissants before baking, cover them with a container (I use large Tupperware containers) to keep the environment warm and humid.
- Let proof for 3 hours or until jiggly on the baking tray. And I mean jiggly. You should only have to move the baking tray lightly to see a lot of movement. This means your croissants are ready for the oven.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Brush the croissants with another coat of the egg wash.
- Bake for 20 minutes. The bake is very straightforward. It takes exactly 20 minutes in my oven. They should be a lovely golden brown and light as a feather.
- Cool the croissants on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
Croissants are best the day they're baked, fresh from the oven. They can be left at room temperature in an airtight container for 48 hours and refreshed in the oven at 350°F for 5-10 minutes. Croissants can also be frozen up to two months. Defrost in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes.