For me, the holy grail of baking has always been the croissant. I’d tried a couple of times to make croissants, but had not met with much success. Although I followed the recipes meticulously, my previous attempts yielded flat, gummy, rolls. Maybe they were OK for what they were, but they sure weren’t croissants.
Finally, I saw a photo of what looked like a perfect croissant on Wild Yeast’s YeastSpotting column. I simply had to try them immediately. I’ve learned now to follow the pictures closely on recipes – if the original doesn’t look good, there’s no way that my rendition is going to be better.
Success!! These were perfect! Buttery. Small(ish). Flaky. Yum. Another cozy treat as I pack on calories to prepare for winter. The recipe is directly from Sur le Table’s book The Art & Soul of Baking – Unlike most recipes, this one hasn’t needed even the slightest tweaking.
1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk, warmed to 110° to 115°F
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
4 teaspoons active dry yeast, or 3 teaspoons instant yeast
4 cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
2 teaspoons (1/2 ounce) salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (8 ounces) cold milk
3 3/4 sticks (14 ounces) cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
Make the dough:
Pour the warm milk into a small bowl and whisk in 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Whisk in the yeast and set aside for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and the mixture is bubbling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, salt, and cold butter pieces.
Blend on medium speed until the butter is cut into tiny pieces. Add the yeast mixture and the cold milk. Switch to the dough hook and mix on lowest speed for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and has formed a very rough mass. Dust a work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough 3 to 5 times, to finish bringing it together. The dough will not be smooth or elastic; it will become fully kneaded and smooth during the rolling and turning process ahead. Don't overwork the dough now, or you'll have trouble rolling it later. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
Make the butter block:
Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces, toss with the flour, and refrigerate for 20 minutes. In the cleaned stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the floured butter on medium speed, scraping down the bowl once or twice with a bowl scraper, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the butter and flour form a smooth mass. You are not trying to beat air into the mixture, just make it pliable and smooth while keeping it cold. Scrape the butter onto a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap, wrap it up, and refrigerate while you roll out the dough.
Laminating the dough:
Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Set the dough in the center and dust the top with flour. Roll the dough into a 15 by 12-inch rectangle with a short side parallel to the edge of your work surface. Gently pull or stretch the dough to form straight edges and sharp corners. Brush any flour from the surface. Visually divide the dough lengthwise into 3 equal, 5-inch-wide sections. Spread the cold but pliable butter evenly over the top two sections of dough, leaving the bottom third empty and leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges of the buttered sections. This is best done with your fingers.
Fold the empty bottom third up over the center third of the dough. Then fold the top third down over the center. Pinch together the seams along the bottom and sides of the dough. Roll your rolling pin across the top of the dough briefly and gently 3 or 4 times to help seal the seams. This completes both the incorporation of the butter and your first turn of the dough. If the butter has become warm and squishy, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour before continuing with the second turn. If you have worked quickly and the butter is still cold yet pliable, continue with the next turn.
Position the dough with the short side parallel to your work surface and the long fold on your left (as though you were going to open the dough like a book). Dust the dough with flour and roll it into a 20 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Fold the dough using the book-fold method: Fold the two short edges into the center of the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch crevice between them. Line up the edges precisely and square the corners as you fold. Now fold one side over the other, as though you were closing a book. Roll your pin across the top of the dough briefly and gently 3 or 4 times to seal the seams. This completes your second turn. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust it with flour, and again roll it into a 20 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Fold the dough using the letter-fold method: Visually divide the dough lengthwise into 3 equal, 5-inch-wide sections. Fold the empty bottom third up over the center of the dough, and then fold the top third down over the center, making sure to square the corners and fold as neatly and precisely as possible. Pinch together the seams along the bottom and sides of the dough. Roll your rolling pin across the top of the dough again briefly to help seal the seams. This completes your third turn. The croissant dough is finished. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before cutting, shaping, and baking the dough.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 26 by 14 by 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Cut the dough rectangle in half lengthwise to form two pieces that each measure 26 by 7 inches. On each half, use a ruler and paring knife or pizza cutter to make nicks along the top edge of the dough every 4 inches. Along the bottom edge, measure 2 inches in from the left side and make a nick; then add a nick every 4 inches.
Form the Croissants:
Line up your ruler with the top left corner and the first bottom nick (2 inches in from the left side of the dough). Cut along this line. This first triangle will make a smaller croissant when you shape the croissants. Then line up the ruler with the second nick on the top edge and the first bottom nick, and cut along that line, forming a tall, skinny triangle. Continue lining up the nicks and cutting until the whole sheet has been cut into triangles. Mark and cut the second half of dough in the same way.
Line up all the triangles so that their bottom (4-inch) sides are parallel with the edge of your work surface. Make a 1-inch vertical slit in the center of the bottom edge of each triangle. To shape, grasp a triangle and, with the wide end in one hand and the point in the other, very gently stretch the dough until it is a couple inches longer. Set it back on the table. Pull the slit in the bottom apart slightly and roll the corners upward and outward, widening the slit. Now roll the entire triangle toward the tip, pulling gently on the tip to stretch the dough slightly. Tuck the tip under the roll (so it doesn't pull out during baking) and place the roll on one of the prepared baking sheets. Curve the ends in toward each other to form a crescent shape. Continue stretching and rolling the dough triangles until you have shaped all the croissants and placed them on the baking sheets, allowing 2 inches between each croissant.
Make the egg wash: Combine the egg and the milk in a small bowl and whisk to blend well. Brush each croissant evenly with the egg wash. Allow the croissants to rise in a cool room-temperature spot until they are nearly doubled in size and look like they have taken a deep breath, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of the room. If you squeeze one gently, it should feel soft and marshmallow-like. Don't try to rush the rise by warming the croissants—you don't want the butter to melt.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Chill the croissants in the freezer for 10 minutes or in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This will firm the butter, creating a flakier texture. Brush the croissants once more with the egg wash. Bake one sheet pan at a time, rotating it halfway through, for 17 to 22 minutes, or until the croissants are a deep golden brown. Transfer croissants to a rack to cool. until the croissants are golden brown. Transfer croissants to a rack to cool.
To serve, toast lightly to warm through.