How to make perfect Croissants

Croissants are delicious. Flaky, buttery bread is the thing of gods. They are rightfully regarded as difficult to make. But if you follow the recipe as found here you will succeed in making them.

If I make something I keep going until I get it right and until I get why I got it right. So I prepared batch after batch of flaky pastries, not fully happy most of the time and secretly cursing myself for insisting on making these things. But I got there in the end. I actually did more than 4 attempts, I made 7 batches in total, with one extra batch between attempts 2 and 3 and two between attempt 3 and the final methodology I am happy with, but here are the ones I (semi) documented.

Attempt number 1, well-recieved but could be improved a lot.

I made these pastries for a bus-ride to Paris, where a sugar fair was being held. We were with 40 ladies and we’d all bring something. I brought three types of croissants and a bunch of beef pastries.
So I made the dough the regular way. I made the dough, folded in the butter and did two bookfolds (folding both ends inwards, I have pictures later on), then three-fold, each with 30min cold rests inbetween.
The dough ended up like this:
1a-Dough When rolled it seemed quite good:
1b-Rolled Dough I filled some with homemade pesto and some with chocolate chips:
1d-Chocolate Rolls1c-Pesto Rolls Now please listen to me when I say that homemade, real croissants to not store well. They do not get better over time. I was smart enough to make them relatively late as well, so the pesto and chocolate refused to cool down in time and they went in the containers lukewarm. If you ever think of doing that, please slap yourself and go buy croissants in the supermarket instead.
They went down a treat none the less, but I learned my lesson. I had already learned that lesson before but somehow it is a lesson I keep forgetting about until it is too late.

Attempt number 2. Not so very good.

So… you would think the second attempt would be better? No such luck…
I did take pictures of the process for this so I will take you through it one by one, you can see that the next attempt is much better and also which aspects I have changed.
First you roll out the butter into a square. Wrap in cling-film and lay in the fridge. Then roll out the cold dough until the butter would fit in at a 45 degree angle:
2a-Rolled Dough As you can see there is quite some dough at those corners, which will create doughy bits. Not good.
Continuing, fold over the corners to make an envelope, and seal the edges:
2b-Folding Butter I roll it out lengthwise, up and down (also not good but I will explain later. It seems I did just about everything wrong here):
2c-First roll Now I made a book-fold, which is where you fold the top and bottom down in the middle:
2d First book turn - wrong
I then decided to leave some space to be able to fold again and avoid a dreaded build-up of dough right in the middle (ok seems I wasn’t completely stupid here after all):
2e First book turn - right
And fold. Make a dent in the middle so I would remember this is the first turn. Cover with clingfilm and set in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool:
2f-First turn done Now I rolled it out again and did a triple fold, which is where you first fold the top third in, and then the bottom third over it:
2g-Second turn three-fold Dent again to leave it for 30 minutes in the refrigerator once more:
2h-Second turn done And another triple fold to make up the last turn. You can see that the butter has cracked and come apart. This has two reasons. First: the butter was too cold or I left it in the fridge for too long. Second: too many folds will make the butter either draw into the dough, making buttery, doughy bread instead of flakes, or it will just end up cracking.
2i-Third turn done - cracked butter After resting 30 minutes, I rolled the dough, formed long triangles and shaped them into croissants. The other half I formed into pesto rolls. I brushed with eggwash and left them to rise until doubled and puffy.
2j-Croissant Rolled2l-Pesto roll rolled After brushing with eggwash again, they went into the oven. As you can see, the croissants didn’t puff up enough, the layers seem to be stuck as well. For the pesto, limited layering as well and the pesto pushed down the dough.
2k-Croissant baked2m-Pesto roll baked One reason is that the dough had been left to rise for too long prior to the butter being folded in, causing the dough to start fermenting. Usually for bread this enhances the flavour, but for croissants this makes the dough too unstable and weak, causing a doughy croissant. Combines with the other errors in methodology, this resulted in disappointing croissants.

Attempt number 3, definitely getting there

I have figured out some things. Too many layers is not good. I figured that 4-3-3 actually had better layering than 4-4-3. The reason the croissants didn’t go up high enough last attempt was likely because of the butter cracks and the fact that a sealed edge will not rise properly. I just brush that eggwash on it like it didn’t matter. But I know that for puff pastry you don’t want to seal those layers on the cut edges, so why would you do that for croissants?
So first I made the dough:
3a-Dough3b-Dough I rolled it with a French rolling pin instead of a straight rolling pin. I always struggled with getting thin edges and thick centers, but the French excell at all things pastry, so I decided to buy a French style pastry rolling pin. It was a cheap one but it works amazingly well, creating wonderfully uniform dough with (probably, I don’t have x-ray vision) uniform layers of butter inbetween.
3c-Dough rolled I added the butter to the top:
3d-Butter plastic Notice how there is much less dough sticking out?
3e-Butter on The dough was folded and sealed.
3f-Butter folded in Roll the dough in a single direction. Not up and down (and definitely not sideways), but only up or only down, depending on your preference. It stretches the dough less out of its comfort zone, resulting in better layers. Now I did a book turn. I forgot to take a picture, but notice those little strips of dough laying there? I cut those off the ends before folding. This means that the dough won’t retard the rise from the inside. You ensure that the distribution of layers of butter is about the same all over. Only cut those edges that are folded inwards, to make sure the butter stays well sealed in the dough overall.
3g-First bookturn done - notice cut-offs For the second turn, I cut off the last strip of one end, as I did a triple fold instead of the bookfold.
3h-Second turn - cut off end The second turn:
3i-Second turn done And finally the third:
3j-Third turn done After resting 30 minutes I formed the dough. As I wanted to fill the croissants, I also decided to try different shapes:
3k-Rising And here they are baked:
3l-Baked I thought they missed some height, the air pockets on the inside were not large enough and the filling had risen and cracked, which was aesthetically not pleasing to me. I am absolutely not a perfectionist whatsoever.

Attempt number 4, happy now

Ok, like I said, this wasn’t really attempt number 4, but the seventh batch I made instead. I checked the difference between the amount of folds, trying 4-3-3 (36 layers of butter), 2-4-4 (32 layers) and 3-3-3 (27 layers). 32 yielded the best result, with 27 following a close second.
The cut-through of 27 layers:
4d-cut-through 27 layers I even tested transportation methods on batch 6, seeing what differences were between the following:

  • Plastic container, croissants in plastic bag
  • Plastic container with kitchen paper
  • Paper box
  • Paper box, croissants in plastic bag
  • Paper box with kitchen paper
  • The croissants stayed best in the paper box with kitchen paper, and paper box without kitchen paper wasn’t far behind. Because of the butter in the pastries, they turn soft and will always be tricky to store.

    The final batch I made first had an English fold (also called the inside out method). I haven’t taken a picture of it, but please allow for my limited drawing skills to sketch the situation. Click on the image to get a larger view:
    1-First turn You roll the butter out to a rectangle, a bit longer than it is wide. The dough is rolled to the same width but a third longer. You place the butter on the bottom half, then fold the leftover dough on top. Fold the bottom (which also has butter) over the top. Seal well.
    Because you haven’t actually rolled the butter and only folded the cold slab, you can do the second turn immediately, which is a bookfold, cutting the edges off before folding the dough inwards. You can also smear room temperature butter on the dough before folding, and then resting the dough before doing the second turn. I prefer using a slab of butter, as it is of uniform thickness, and I prefer not to risk it with room temperature butter instead of cold butter, because warmed butter might leak out when sealing the edges.

    Roll out the dough after the English fold (remember to roll in one direction, only up or down, to not upset the dough’s feelings) and the two bookfolds, and shape them as required. Don’t use the leftovers, when you knead the dough or roll it out more, the butter will mix with the dough and the flakiness will be gone.
    Brush the croissants with egg wash, but be careful not to brush the cut edges of the dough, which would retard the rise. Brushing croissants from the middle to the side works well, and don’t use too much eggwash. Leave to rise on a semi-warm spot. Not too warm as that will make the butter leak. Rising can take 2 hours easily.
    When they are done rising (the last rise is called proving, proofing or proof rise), they should be very puffy and jiggly, you can see some of the layers. They will be about double their size. Underproofing them will have the croissants lack puffiness, because the butter leaks out during baking. Overproofing can have them sink in. But I have found they are not easily overproofed in a cold room.
    4b-after final prove Heat the oven to 210°C. Place the croissants in the oven, spray some water over the croissants and on the bottom of the oven. Bake the croissants for 5 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 190°C and bake for 10 more minutes.
    4c-done 32 layers When making the real croissant shape, fill the little slit you make in the base with some scrap dough (don’t knead the scraps), which will create better shape and higher croissants.

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