Friday, June 21, 2013

Classic French Croissants

I'm not gonna pull any punches here.

I'm just gonna go straight to what matters in making good quality pastry.


Not pastry margarine, not shortening, not anything so chemically altered to taste like butter.

If you happen to live in Jakarta, I can honestly tell you that 95% of croissants you’ve ever encountered and, sadly, bought did not and never would contain 100% butter. Then how about the 5%? That would be if you make it by yourself or your best friend is a pattisier. Well, I never receive any formal training in cooking let alone pastry making.  I’m just a woman with a penchant for good food and who hates everything banal. So it’s making my own croissant then.

A general rule of thumb is, I also have learnt my lesson the hard way, the harder the fat is, the higher its level of trans fat. A long time ago, I purchased a piece of pastry margarine because the owner of the store said that it’s what the five stars hotels and bakeries use in their pastries. Despite my doubts, I bought it and also bought a good stick of butter. The morning after, I was about to make my butter slab so I took out the pastry margarine and my butter out of the freezer thinking it was a good time to test them both in pastry making.

Out of the blue, my friend asked to grab a quick breakfast and coffee. I went out thinking it would be a 30 minutes trip. I should have known better. We spent almost two hours at ACE Hardware after breakfast. When I got home, the butter was oozing out of its package for being left too long in the room temperature and the pastry margarine was still as solid as I took it out of the freezer. What in the name of everything holy? I did try to make a butter slab with it. Of course pounding is required. But when I pounded the pastry margarine, it was so hard it even left a dent in my wooden roller.

Now ask yourself this question; if it won’t even melt in room temperature, what chance does your body have in melting that horror when it gets in? And that’s only pastry margarine, the cousin of the real abomination called shortening. Fact is butter melts at a temperature a few degrees lower than body temperature and shortening melts a few degrees higher than body temperature. You do the math. While you do it, note that real butter won’t leave a bad aftertaste nor a waxy, weird feeling in your mouth.

So here it is. A recipe for croissants that will take you to heaven and back.

This is a Jeffrey Hammelman's recipe which I found at Weekend Bakery. I absolutely did not alter anything in the recipe. Alas I was 50 gr short of butter but the result was still absolutely stunning so the next time I want to bake these babies, I'd go for 230gr of butter only instead of the actual 280gr. Less butter, less guilt, but I can assure you, not less tasty.

For the dough:
500 g French Type 55 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour / plain flour (extra for dusting)
140 g cold water
140 g cold whole milk
55 g sugar
40 g soft unsalted butter
11 g instant yeast
12 g salt

For the butter slab:
230 g cold unsalted butter

For the egg wash:
1 egg + 1 tsp water

Note: if you live in Indonesia like me, you’d wanna turn on your air conditioner on. It’s best to work in a cool, if cold is not possible, room to keep the butter from melting when you laminate the dough.

Day 1
Combine the dough ingredients and knead just until the dough comes together and you reach the stage of low to moderate gluten development. Too much gluten development will make the dough fight back during laminating. Shape the dough like a disc, not a ball, before you refrigerate it, so it will be easier to roll it into a square shape the following day. Place the disc on a plate, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

Day 2
Make the butter slab:
Get two sheets of wax paper/ non-stick baking baking paper. Cut your cold butter and roll them between the sheets until you get a 17x17cm square. Refrigerate the butter until solid.

Take your croissant dough from refrigerator and roll it into a 26x26 square. Don't forget to dust your work table with flour. But not too much.

Put the butter slab just like in the picture. Make sure you've thoroughly chilled the butter slab so it'll be easier to work with.

Encase the butter slab by folding the dough just like an envelope. Seal the edges completely and make sure no air gets trapped inside.

Roll.. Roll.. Roll your dough. Roll it gently until it reaches 20x60cm long.

Do a letter style fold to your long dough. Cover you dough with cling film then refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you want to turn the dough 90 degrees like in picture 3 and roll it again until it measures 20x60cm and cover it with clingfilm. Refrigerate it again for 30 minutes until it again measures 20x60cm, cover it with clingfilm, and refrigerate over night. There are three rolls and folds in total.
To sum it up: 
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes
  • Rotate 90 degrees
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes
  • Rotate 90 degrees
  • Roll out to 20 cm x 60 cm
  • Refrigerate until day 3
Day 3
The actual croissant baking day!

Take the dough out of the fridge. Remember to have the open 'end' face you. roll it until it measures 20x110cm.

Measure 12,5cm as the base of your triangle. For faster cutting, make a triangle pattern on a thick paper or carton. After you cut your dough into a triangle shape, pull it ever so gently until it elongates from 20cm to 25 cm. Make an approximately 1cm incision in the middle of the base of the triangle and just roll it until you get the shape of a croissant.

Brush the rolled croissant dough with the egg wash mixture and leave it to proof for 2 hours in a cool, draft free room so the butter won't melt and ooze out of the fine layers.

Brush the croissants for one more time with the egg wash mixture and bake in the preheated oven that has been set to 200C for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 175C and continue for another 5 minutes.

So? What do you think?

Okay let me put them near my windowsills so they can bask in the glorious morning sun while I brew some coffee.. 

Yes.. Yes I know I didn't tell you that it takes 3 days to complete the whole process. But believe me, by retarding the dough in the fridge, the butter that was incorporated in the croissant dough mellows and together with the yeast it creates a pleasant tangy taste. You'd think I put cheese in it but I did not. 

I can write a whole page of encouragement but it won't do a thing to make you brave enough to attempt this recipe. But I can promise you that even if you fail and make awful looking croissants, you would still be rewarded by a batch of the most heavenly tasting croissants in the world. Even if you don't wanna cut them into triangle, just lay them flat, let proof, and bake, you'd still be rewarded by a batch of the most heavenly tasting should-be croissants in the world.

It's the process that makes these croissants champions.

And the sense of accomplishment.

Happy baking,

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