Monday, March 8, 2010

Croissants: Part One

Top 10 "Most Difficult" Recipes: #9 Croissants
Total Batches: Three
Time: Two days to mix, ferment, retard, laminate, roll, proof and bake.
Butter: TWENTY THREE sticks of butter
Difficulty: My arms hurt so bad I can barely lift a croissant!

Okay, so croissants are no picnic, but I always knew that. Know what makes croissants harder? When the recipe from a cookbook you trust is flat out wrong and you blindly follow even though your gut is shouting: Turn back, matey! Thar be danger ahead!

Yes, my gut speaks pirate.

Anyway, I took on croissants this weekend and as per usual whenever I need a good baseline for a classic pastry recipe I pull out my CIA Baking book. It's basically my baking encyclopedia; dense, heavy and packed with recipes and excellent technical information. Unfortunately the croissant recipe in my edition is bad. The measurements are incorrect and the instructions treat your stand mixer with roughly the same tenderness that a teenager gives a borrowed sports car.

However I didn't know this last weekend and blindly followed the recipe thinking Ms. Humble would never know better than the exalted CIA. So I did and the results were disastrous. Both the milk and the flour weights in metric are wrong (granted they do give correct imperial weights, which I ignored preferring to use metric). I caught the typo for the flour right off the bat, as 1.13g of flour is obviously not going to yield 5lbs of pastry.

Yea, those weights are not right...

The milk error however was not caught before the first batch and Mr. Humble and I stared at our bowl of crumbs befuddled.

Mr. Humble: Maybe you should have used the dough hook instead of the paddle attachment on your mixer?

Me: Trust me, a dough hook isn't magically going to make this mess into a dough. This is powder. Something is wrong... did you weigh the dry ingredients correctly?

Mr. Humble. YES, I did! Maybe it turns into dough after you let it ferment.

Me: I'm not sure how that is physically possible but fine, I'll give it a shot.

So we let it ferment on the counter for two hours and then checked on it.

Nope. Nothing magical occurred and the 'dough' remained a pile of croissant sand.

Now it has been years since I last made croissants but I knew this wasn't right. So I just tossed out the recipe and threw the crumbs back into the mixing bowl and added an additional 3/4 cup of milk, the bare minimum to bring it together into a coarse dough. I toss that onto the counter to ferment and it two hours later and a quick kneading we had something that resembled a dough. That slab went into the refrigerator overnight and the next day I had the pleasure of laminating my 5lbs of intensely tough dough.

And that is WITH the 'extra' milk.

It wasn't pretty. Laminating that dough was just brutal. In fact it probably wasn't possible. The dough survived up until the final batch of rolling and folding before it started breaking down. In a dough that dry, there just isn't enough gluten development to give it the bare minimum of elasticity for lamination. I knew it was wrong but for some reason I tried to keep my faith in the recipe. So after wrestling with the dough for much of the morning I tossed it, the recipe and started over.

I came up with my own version of the CIA's recipe, adding more milk and a little brown sugar: I was rewarded with these:

Flaky, golden and delicious. Not bad for a recipe created by feel. Not perfect though. Those pesky little gaps between the spiral of dough! Grr! Something is definitely wrong there.

The interiors could also be better. Sure, the flaky golden brown outsides contain the standard soft airy interior, but I aim for perfection (is my OCD streak starting to show?). I want the honey comb like interior I experienced from true Parisian croissants.

Check out this great blog post about french croissants, he lets you see inside them! Look at those interiors! So delicate, you can tell how perfectly the dough has been laminated. Of course I'm wondering if such a croissant is possible at home (as I lack a bakery dough sheeter ). Nevertheless, I'm going to try again today.

Mr. Humble said this last batch was very good, insisting that they were the best homemade croissant he had ever had. Still, another go at them can't hurt. Besides, when the pain au chocolat were pulled from the oven, the natural light had faded and I didn't get any spectacular photos of my chocolate croissants. I need those photos. So back to the kitchen I go!

Chopping up my croissants so I--and everyone else--can peer inside
...just like with my macarons.

Tomorrow I'll post the results along with the recipes. Unless I decide a 4th batch is needed, in which case there will be napoleons up tomorrow.

Til then!


  1. This looks good already! You're on the right track for sure! :) And I've also noticed this about the recipe books... Somehow hardly any can be trsusted 100%!

  2. Purely from these photos I can tell you this: yours are a million times better than my first and only attempt at croissants. However, I might try again...

  3. I think they look absolutely great! I know, perfection is always ideal...but I think for perfection from a croissant you just have to go to France. I mean really, let's just all go to France. :)

  4. Have you considered any of Rose Levy Beranbaum's books? Definitely worth a library look-see. I think there may be a croissant recipe in 'The Pie and Pastry Bible'... and Rose prefers metric. You might get along famously, or hate each other on sight. ;)

  5. I worship Rose Levy Beranbaum and own/adore both her cake books. I don't have her pie and pastry book though and I am starting to wonder why...

  6. Yay! I am so excited that you've decided to attempt croissants, so that I may benefit from all your hardwork, and use only the tried and true method! I lived in France for a while after university, and two croissants and fresh orange juice were just what the doctor ordered to cure a hangover, so needless to say I ate them a lot! And I haven't had a proper one since, so I'm excited to try!

  7. Hmm...I think Miss Chef's go-to bread book is the Baker's Apprentice (Peter Reinhart, I think). But she's never made croissants at home. For laminating by hand, you did pretty dang well, but I know what you mean about lusting after those perfectly flaky interiors. Bon courage pour la suite!

  8. congrats on going with your intuition by adding more milk and brown sugar. AND congrats on mastering croissants! they look so good. i'll have to follow your recipe when i decide to tackle those yummy buttery pastries!

  9. 23 sticks of butter!? WOAH. Looks great though. Good luck with the next batch! Just think how strong your arm muscles will be - no need to do pushups!

  10. While I haven't made croissants since the 3rd grade (and that attempt cured me of any desire to try), I've had good luck with everything baked from the Tartine cookbook (San Francisco bakers who studied in France, Elisabeth M Prueitt and Chad Robertson).
    1) theirs has a preferment before making the full dough
    2) I'm in love - they give weights and measures in imperial and metric, so your preferment should include Nonfat milk in the amount of .75 cup, 6 oz., or 150ml (et cetera).

    Maybe I'll try again, someday.

  11. My croissants were quite good, using the Joy of Cooking recipe, though I'm not sure they were quite what you're going for. I was so excited that they worked, I didn't really look at them critically! I made them once, and if I hadn't moved to Japan, I'd've made them again. A croissant with some cranberry sauce, leftover Thanksgiving turkey, and a leaf of lettuce is an amazing sandwich. I can't get turkey here, I'm not sure about cranberries either (homemade cranberry sauce is the only acceptable condiment), and butter and flour are expensive, so I haven't had a reason to put that much work in again.

    Can't wait to see how your next batch turns out!

  12. Spectacular looking. Quite jealous.

  13. The only time I made "croissants," they came out perfect, but I didn't make them crescent-shaped. I made the whole batch of dough into one huge octopus, which I arranged to guard various cookies and candies, also homemade. I called it "Choctopus's Garden," and won a prize. It was good. For the dough, I used a recipe I found online. It was time-consuming, but not actually hard.

  14. Cooks Illustrated also has a croissant recipe. I use them quite a bit, and I've only had "failure" with a few of their recipes. Usually they end up being my favorite go-to ones. (If you want it and don't have their online subscription I could send it to you...)

  15. Wow! It looks like you did really well! I must say this hasn't encourage me to start making mine anytime soon. I'm pretty sure I have a good starting recipe but not 2 days or 23 sticks of butter! You are a baking machine!

  16. I have always hated cooking. Luckily, my husband can whip up the most amazing dinners out of almost nothing.
    To put it plainly, reading your blog almost daily has inspired me. I don't necessarily want to make the 10 most difficult recipes [yet], but I would like to master the art of something besides boxed mac & cheese. Maybe mac & cheese from scratch! So, I have a question. What cookbook[s] would you recommend for someone who is just getting started?

  17. It is easy to think of books I wouldn't recommend to beginner cooks (like the CIA book, they refuse to hold your hand through the process and many of the recipes have to be scaled down substantially for home use).

    I think How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is a good all in one beginner book. Bittman's book is packed with recipes, definitions and lots of really good practical advice for new cooks.

  18. Not sure if this helps, but my Professional Baking book by Wayne Gisslen (used at Le Cordon Bleu schools) gave this recipe. It worked when I tested it in school:
    Milk 225g, fresh yeast 15g, sugar 15g, salt, 8g, softened butter 40g, bread flour 400g, butter for rolling in is 225g. Use straight dough method and let ferment 1-1.5 hours, spread out on a flat pan and rest 30min, foll in butter giving the dough 3-tri folds, rest overnight, shape, proof, eggwash, and bake at 400 degrees.

  19. Fantastic Ms. H. I want to come over for breakfast, really I do. Can we sort that out? I'll make bloody marys.


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