Sweet Dough Series No. 5 – Homemade Croissants
I’ve neglected Let’s Bake the Books recently. I’ve had a bout of tonsillitis and a stomach bug to deal with – neither were mine, but both were blog-stopping. I have done some baking. In fact, I made three birthday cakes. I’ve given up on trying to make fancy cakes for birthdays though. It’s too traumatic. Everyone gets a sponge which may, or may not, be coloured a lurid shade of rainbow, but which will be coated in buttercream. I didn’t think the ones I made were worth writing about.
So, several months down the line, I decided to end my Sweet Dough Series with some croissants. Having seen the pro-chefs struggle with these on The Great British Bake Off: The Professionals, and, given my previous attempts at enriched laminated dough, I knew they wouldn’t be easy.
I decided that, instead of The Larousse Book of Bread which I’ve been using for my Sweet Dough Series, I’d go with a recipe from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple. There were two reasons. The first was that I hadn’t baked bread of any sort for so long, that I’d ditched the sour dough starter that the Larousse recipe required. The second was that Edd Kimber promised simplicity. His book is called Patisserie Made Simple and the recipe itself, Simple Croissant Dough. Well, I tell you now croissants aren’t simple. I don’t care what Edd Kimber says. Here’s what I ended up with.
They don’t look particularly great do they? Was it worth the effort though? Let’s find out.
Step One – The Dough
I mixed plain flour, strong white bread flour, easybake yeast, and salt in a bowl and added small pieces of cold butter. The recipe says that you pulse the ingredients together a couple of times in a food processor. It’s important that the butter isn’t mixed into the flour too much. I don’t have a food processor so I gave my mixture a quick tickle with my pastry blender. It looked like this.
The recipe said that there should be visible chunks of butter in the mix, but I wasn’t sure how big they were supposed to be. I added the flour mixture to some warm milk and water and folded it in. Once it had come together, I tipped the dough onto the worktop and worked it into a rough rectangle. I wrapped it in clingfilm, put it in the fridge and realised that I had forgotten to add any sugar.
Step Two – Rolling and Turning
The dough had 45 minutes in the fridge and half a block of butter had the same amount of time in the freezer. I took the dough out and rolled it into a rectangle. The next step was to grate the frozen butter onto the bottom two-thirds of the dough.
Ever tried to grate anything that’s frozen? You can’t hold it for a start, it’s too cold. You can’t put the grater down onto the dough either because you’ll get holes in it. I hadn’t realised how much easier grating is when you can plonk the base down onto a plate and put some force behind the grating action. I did a bit of grating, and then a bit of scraping to get the butter from the grater onto the dough. Sorry Edd Kimber, but I don’t think this method of making croissants is any simpler than putting the butter in as one whole block.
Anyway, after much huffing and puffing, I managed to grate the butter onto the dough. I folded the top third down and the bottom third up, re-wrapped the dough in clingfilm and put it back into the fridge. Oh, and I also sprinkled half of the missing sugar onto the top of the dough before I folded it. I had to get it in somehow.
I got the dough out of the fridge after twenty minutes, turned it around so that I had the open ends facing me and rolled it, sprinkled it with the other half of the missing sugar, and folded it again. It went into the fridge for another twenty minutes and then I did it again. Then I left the dough in the fridge for the night.
Step Three – The Croissants
I was planning to get up early and shape the croissants, but since they needed a couple of hours proofing time before baking they’d never be ready in time for breakfast before school, so I didn’t bother. When I did get my dough out of the fridge it felt pretty wet, I don’t know why. It wasn’t brilliant to work with. I rolled it out as best I could, but it was all a bit sloppy. Perhaps, if I put it back into the fridge for a while it would firm up. It did, but not very much.
I eventually managed to roll the dough into a rectangle. The recipe said that it was supposed to measure 20×60. I could get the 20cm across, but couldn’t manage 60. The butter had started to seep out of the dough and I couldn’t roll it thin enough for a 60cm rectangle. I’d say mine was 50cm long at best, and probably more like 45.
I cut the dough into triangles. The recipe said I’d have eight. Because my rectangle wasn’t long enough, I only got five. My triangles stuck to the worktop. They were falling apart. I managed to get a knife underneath them to unstick them, but my pastry was sticky and bumpy, the butter was coming out and they had a really strong yeasty smell. Things weren’t looking good.
Step Four – Proofing
I carefully rolled the triangles from the long end, tucked the short end underneath and made crescent shapes. I put them onto a lined baking tray and left my five bumpy-looking croissants to proof. Here they are.
The recipe said they’d need between two and three hours at room temperature, and that they needed to double in size. Mine took longer. I’m not sure whether, for the croissants to proof in two hours, they need to be at room temperature at the start of the proofing period. Since the pastry has to be cold so that you can work with it, once the croissants are shaped, it’s going to take some time for the dough to reach room temperature. It was the same with pain au chocolat. The dough needed to prove for much longer than the time stated in the recipe.
Step Five – Baking
Once my five croissants had doubled in size, I brushed them with beaten egg and baked them at 180° fan for twenty minutes. They were a bit on the dark side when I took them out of the oven, but our oven light doesn’t work and I couldn’t see that they’d turned dark brown. They didn’t smell burnt, they just looked like they might be. I left them on the baking tray for a few minutes and them transferred the onto a wire rack.
Homemade Croissants, Are They Worth It?
Well, my croissants were dark and bumpy, but there was some lamination there. They also had a bit of flakiness about them. Taste-wise I was expecting something that tasted like burnt bread. I was shocked when I broke one in half, smeared it with strawberry jam and ate it. It was lovely. Absolutely delicious. I’m not sure whether that’s because I did something right in the baking process, or whether because anything with as much butter in them as these croissants (there were 225g in the whole recipe, so that makes 45g per croissant – more than half of the maximum 70g daily amount recommended by the NHS) is bound to taste good. I like to think it was the baking that did it.
So, homemade croissants have a thumbs up on the taste front. They do take a lot of work though and, whatever Edd Kimber says in Patisserie Made Simple, simple, they are not. There’s also another issue, this it the timing. You want a freshly baked croissant as a treat for breakfast don’t you? They’re not really an afternoon tea pastry, or something for supper are they? The fact that they need at least two hours proving time after you’ve shaped the dough before you bake them means that the timings don’t really work out if you want croissants for breakfast on a Monday morning. Sundays, maybe, but not Mondays. When I made the pain au chocolat, I got up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to shape them, went back to bed while they proved, and then baked them.
Are they worth it then? I think it’s a maybe. You need to be a dedicated baker. You need to take your time. Oh, and it’s probably also a good idea to be prepared to take everyone to the nearest coffee shop if things go terribly wrong.