I found an amazing recipe for homemade croissants on Mamaliga's blog. It's originally a Julia Child recipe, so you know it's authentic – this is the lady credited with introducing French cuisine to the American public, after all! And Mamaliga has done a wonderful job of illustrating the entire process, step-by-step. Making delicious homemade croissants is so much easier than anyone gives it credit for. It is a little time consuming, so I would recommend doing it on one of those days that you just want to laze about the house in sweatpants, and watch TV between steps, while the dough is chilling in the fridge (which it does for 3-5 hours total in this recipe). Let this be your yummy weekend project, and enjoy a traditional French croissant fresh out of your own oven. :)
French Butter Croissants
1 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt (separated into 1/4 tsp and 3/4 tsp)
1 1/2 tbsp sugar (separated into 1 tbsp and 1/2 tbsp)
1/4 cup warm water (not more than 110 degrees, otherwise you’ll kill the yeast)
2 cups unbleached low-gluten flour (mix of 1 part all-purpose, 2 parts pastry flour works well!)
1/3 to 1/2 cups milk, room-temperature
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 stick butter
1.) First, we'll wake up our yeast, the little micro-organisms that'll give our croissants their airiness! Mix dry yeast, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tbsp sugar into warm water until dissolved. Let sit for 5 minutes, until mixture forms a bubbly mass on its surface.
2.) Now, let's start that legendary dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients: 2 cups of your low-gluten flour mixture, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix. Then add wet ingredients: milk, vegetable oil, and the bubbly yeast mixture. Stir it until it forms a doughy, sticky mass, then plop it down on your work surface.
3.) Knead roughly (punch, throw at the table, just work out all your negative energy) for about 3 minutes, until it stops sticking to your hands and becomes smoother and more elastic.
4.) Now it's rising time! Plop the dough into a bowl and make a criss-cross cut with scissors (like in the photo above) to help it rise. Allow it to rise at room temperature (no warmer than 85°F) for an hour, hour and a half or so. After it finishes rising, form the dough into a flat circle, wrap in wax paper, and chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Chilling is important, because it makes the dough much easier to work with in the next steps!
5.) It's time for another somewhat violent step... Take a rolling pin and beat your butter flat. The point is to make it malleable and smooth without warming it up. We need cold butter for our wonderful croissants! Use the heel of your hand to smooth out any remaining lumps.
6.) Okay, now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty of croissant making: forming all those delicious, flaky layers! Press your dough down into a circle about 9 inches in diameter, then form the softened butter into a square of approximately 5 inches on top. Carefully lift the edges of the dough over the butter and seal the resulting little pouch by pinching the dough.
7.) Sprinkle a little flour over your work station, and flour-dust your rolling pin as well. Now you're going to roll out the little butter-stuffed dough packet into a rectangle that measures about 15 inches long and 5 inches wide. Try to stick pretty closely to these dimensions, because croissants are quite particular about these things. Actually I don't really know why Julia recommends these dimensions, but I'm a believer in following the rules (well, sometimes). When the rules are handed down by a master chef, it's probably a good idea.
When you roll out the dough, if you see any bits of butter poking through, just re-pinch the dough over that spot. Also, if at any point the dough starts becoming rubbery and warm, just re-chill for about 20 minutes. That'll get it nice and malleable again, and you can resume working with it.
8.) What we'll do next with our dough is known in the pastry business as a "turn." We're going to do 4 of them in all: two turns, followed by a 1 to 2 hour chill sesh in the fridge, and then the other two turns. Check out how to do a turn in the picture above. It's like folding a letter into equal thirds so you can fit it in an envelope. Easy! Keep the edges as straight as possible as you do it – use your rolling pin to re-align them when necessary.
After folding, roll the dough out into another 15" by 5" rectangle, and repeat the folding process. By now, it's definitely time for the dough to chill out, so sprinkle a little flour on the folded dough-velope, wrap in wax paper, and let chill for an hour or two. Do some laundry. Watch a movie. Take a nap. See why making croissants is so fun?
Post-chill, remove the dough and repeat the process above for the third and fourth turns. After the fourth turn, another chill sesh is in order. Back in the wax paper and into the fridge for another 1-2 chill.
9.) CROISSANT TIME IS FINALLY APPROACHING. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it into another long rectangle, this time 20 inches long and 5 inches wide. Keep those edges straight!
Cut this in half. Put one half back in the fridge to chill while you work with the other half.
Roll this half of the dough into a 12" by 5" rectangle. Now this next part sounds confusing, but it really isn't: cut the half into thirds. Check the photos above for a visual explanation. You can chill the other thirds while you work with the first one, if you like.
10.) Roll each third into a 5 1/2" square and cut it along the diagonal. Take each triangle and follow this protocol: roll out until it's about 7" in length. Form it, inasmuch as you are able, into an isosceles triangle (where both sides are equal lengths). Starting from the wide base, roll the dough towards the tip of the triangle, and then bend it into a crescent shape. Make sure the tip of the triangle is on the bottom, so your beautiful croissant doesn't unroll during cooking. Place on a buttered cookie sheet. Repeat this process until you form 12 croissants! Aren't they cute?? Now cover with plastic wrap, and let those beauties rise at room temperature for an hour. Remember, the best things in life take time!!
11.) Pre-heat the oven to 475°F. It's been a long road, but I can almost taste the buttery goodness! When your croissants are fully risen, beat one egg with 1/2 tsp of water. Use one of those cool food paintbrushes to glaze croissants with egg wash. This will make them come out shiny and golden brown!
12.) Oh man. I can't believe it's finally time. Are you ready for this? Go ahead – PUT THEM IN THE OVEN. Keep a close eye on them during the cooking process. Bake for 10-15 minutes, removing them as soon as they reach your desired level of brown-ness.
Let your croissants cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack before you try to eat one. Trust me, it's the longest 10 minutes of your life. But afterwards, you will be rewarded with a delicious, warm, buttery, HOMEMADE French croissant, pastry of the gods!!
Well, what do you think? Was it worth it? Remember, once the croissants are formed and risen, you can freeze them and then just throw them in the oven when you want one. Maybe try making double batches of dough, and keeping one in the freezer for the next time the croissant craving strikes!
If you like to cook tradition French favorites, check out my Classic French Recipes collection! I have a lot of fun translating many of the recipes myself. :) Bon appétit, croissant lovers!